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It's important to be silly, to be serious, to be strong, to be frail...for what is life if we only shared a mask?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Grief, Gratitude and a tribute to the ancestors

It was an intense November, to put it mildly, juxtaposed with themes of grief and gratitude.

When we found out my mother in law died in her sleep, we experienced deep sadness and regret. To me as I thought of her life and how she led it, I was struck by her refusal to be cowed down by the Indian stereotype of a widow who needed to be under a man's protection to survive. She raised her boys, she built her home, she battled breast cancer and won, she lived her life through its ups and downs on her own terms. My clearest memory of her was at her home in Delhi basking in the winter sun on her patio with a few of her friends drinking chai while giving instructions to the electrician to fix the phone, telling the vegetable vendor that his vegetables were not so fresh and having a side conversation with the tenant about his water problem.

She became, over time the architect of her own life. As I mused about that, I realized that power is not something that is granted to us through our titles, our degrees, our marital or economic status. Those are temporary manifestations that don't stay when you lose your job, or go through a divorce or suffer from financial setbacks. Inner power is about the conviction that you are the driver and you own your route. To be able to own your failures as gracefully as you embrace your success. Setting boundaries, refusing to be cowed down and understanding that you have a right to ask for what you deserve.

Two days later, my lovely friend and neighbor had a heart attack and when she was in ER, they discovered she had invasive cancer which had apparently led to the stroke. 36 hours later, Hypatia was no longer with us. Those of us who knew her were shocked at the callous way Death decided to claim her. She was 55.

I attended a beautiful service last Saturday that our neighbors, Katy and Jim organized. As we stood remembering Hypatia, we thought of her varied interests, of people she touched, of kindness, compassion, gentleness and authenticity. Hypatia had a masters in Architecture and at some point in her early years developed a profound interest in vedic astrology. She was one of those rare individuals who was whole brained. She had no problem accepting and embracing her right and her left brain. Seeking to dismiss neither as lesser or greater.

She and I would go on long walks with her rescue dog, Ruga and discuss everything including the moon, the stars and the planets. I remember discussing Facebook with her and telling her "Hypatia, you have to join FB and have a forum to discuss your thoughts on these subjects." She did join FB. She used it sporadically. Towards the last few weeks, she was in incredible pain. Strangely, her beloved dog died a week before she did. I still expect both of them to walk down my pathway expecting to go for a long walk.

She taught me about the courage required to be authentic. No matter who is pushing your buttons to conform, you can stay on your path and continue to weave in the patterns in your life. Life unfolds like a painting which is never completed till we draw that last breath and the colors shine or dim depending on who we invite, share, care, dare, envy, touch, fear or love...

Twas November and gratitude ran through the veins of the month as families and friends congregated celebrating Diwali, Eid or Thanksgiving in different parts of the world.

I found this beautiful tribute from Angeles Arrien's website that I have included in this post.

Blessed be for those who have been here on earth and those who still claim a physical presence. For nothing ever dies as long as we keep it alive.

A Tribute to the Ancestors
In the rising of the sun and it's going down,
We remember them.
In the glowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We remember them.
In the opening of buds and the rebirth of spring,
We remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
We remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
We remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us,
As we remember them.
-- A Jewish Prayer, From a Rabbi's Manual

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Lanie Chronicles

Happiness is a warm puppy ~ Charles Schultz

Yes, that's right. Status updates, pictures and now the note. And more to follow. I agree, we are not the first to get a puppy. Many have paved the path and stores like PetSmart and PetCo make a living charging $10 for a plastic chew toy that is very often ignored by its customers and bling doggie accessories that can dent that wallet.

So when I yielded to tremendous family pressure, including tears, tantrums, accusations including one that insinuated that I hated all animals, I had no choice. My back was literally pushed to the proverbial wall and this ever moving deadline of "we will adopt a pet in six months" finally caught up with me.

Seven years of relentless persistence had finally taken its toll. I must tell you, if you didn't know this, that children are like elephants. They may conveniently forget any promises they make but will remember yours and hang on to it like a life boat in shark infested waters.

Three girls, a full time job and all the curve balls life throws at you isn't exactly the right time to add another member to the family. But life is elastic. Your capacity is elastic. Just like your love can contain a few or contain many.

June had caught up with us and I kid you not, the only topic of conversation, morning, noon and night was THE DOG. My daughters would put up reminders on the fridge, on the wall calendar, sms messages and even sent a calendar invite. We went to the pound a few times. Registered and talked to the counselors there. Spoke to friends and family and scouted online.

I put up a status update and my friend Deb told me about Debbie Lloyd and her wonderful program for autistic families and mentioned that her three dogs just had three litters. Pups needing homes. We saw Lanie hanging out with her siblings and cuddling with her mom, a gorgeous Border Collie/Pyrenees mix and it was love at first sight.

Did I want another baby that would pee and poop and whine at night? No. Had been there done that three times. Did I want to train another to obey the rules of the house. No. Been there, doing that and not sure it works some days. Did I need another who needed vaccines and tests. No. Hate those sterile clinics and waiting to be told about dangerous diseases that can get them.

But here we are again. Little Lanie, puppy of mine who could pass for a baby panda. Lanie who is now chewing on my hand as we speak because those expensive chew toys are not doing it for her. Lanie who has a free flow bladder and an affinity for carpets

Crawl, walk, run...Lanie. Just be gentle on me, please.

Monday, June 7, 2010

If Not Now

picture courtesy www.fotosearch.com

Do you hanker
While it spreads
Like a canker
Within your soul

Sending ripples
Of unease
That ricochet
Never to cease

The starving embryo

In need
In want
A time to gestate
A time to be reborn

The hungry ghost
Cannot be appeased
With stories
Of conformity

If not now, when
If not you, then who
It's not later
It's not them

---Shaku Selvakumar© 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Icarus In Flight

Picture courtesy Herbert James Draper

I have wondered
About the road ahead
It twists and turns
It craves and burns

I have wondered
About the flight of the Dead
Where do souls converge
In oneness or splintered to return instead

I have wondered
About the colour of Love
Is it green, or black, is it blue
Or blood, a reprieve of a fearless vow

I have wondered
About the path of Dreams
Lifting, soaring, flailing, crashing
Breathing barely, fearing a requiem

I have wondered
About the burden of Stones
Gathering, growing,
Silently groaning waiting to be thrown

Now I wander
Through rows of Marigold
Wading in murky waters
Looking for Lotuses to unfold

Who dared the Sun
And touched the Sky
The Gods did he slight
To be Icarus on his flight

---Shaku Selvakumar© 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothering Day

Got back from Vegas where billboards promised pleasures untold. Huge hotels kept their occupants in the dark, addicted to casino tables, night clubs and other entertainment so they would lose track of time. Was it morning, noon or night…did anyone care. The conference was successful and a few days later, I was happy to be back home. Back to springtime in green Central Texas in time to celebrate Mothers Day weekend.

As you know thoughts are like clouds, they start as a puff, they grow, they disperse, they morph, they shapeshift. I started thinking of all the wonderful mothers out there and like that cloud, it changed to the concept of mothering.

Growing up, I took my mother for granted. Even today, I take her for granted. Something I shouldn't do, I know but I view the love of my near and dear like sunshine. I wake up and I expect a sunrise. I wake up and I expect my mom's love to be there, constant and always present. She lives in Madras (yes you know, I can't call it Chennai...I am trying hard) and we talk weekly or should I say, she talks and I listen. Mom's talks are filled with family news, with loads of advice about my girls and more advice on how I should take more calcium for my bone density. She always says "Just like your girls come first for you, you come first for me. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else."

We then spoke about my sister who just had her third baby, a beautiful boy, on May 2 who decided he couldn't wait till the agreed date. Babies don't give mothers any advance notice about their arrival. Despite the doctor and the parents deciding on a convenient date and time, they look at their own schedule and decide when to make their arrival. Some are early, some are late and those few considerate ones, are on time. When I spoke to her this morning, she was cheerful as a lark despite the lack of sleep and planning gone awry.

Though Mother's day is special and it means that our kids and partners and others will raise a toast to us, it need not be gender specific and confined to the role of child bearing or rearing.

Mothering is defined as "to give birth to; create and produce; to watch over, nourish, and protect maternally". I think of my friend Elizabeth Mendoza, who is a nurse who does this everyday. I think of Diana who helps foster families. I think of Kristen, Hypatia and Poonam who mother all their friends. I think of my friends who mother their pets and take in strays. I think of Karen who mothers her girl scout troop. I think of my friends who mother me from all over the world. I think of teachers who mother their students. I think of others who mother their god children, their nephews, nieces and volunteer as big brothers and sisters.

Most of all, I admire the men out there who push away the world's view of machismo and have no qualms about showing their gentler side.

To quote Oprah, "Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother."

It is not just the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world.  It is also the hand that is held out that moves the world.

Happy Mothering Day!

Monday, April 26, 2010

On Starfish, Teachers and Appreciation

This note is dedicated to my beautiful aunt whose fight with the deadly cancer ended today.  May her soul rest in peace.  She was a wonderful mother, a devoted wife, a considerate aunt and along with the family she loved, she was a teacher for 30 years.  As was my grand mother and my grand aunt.  Women who taught and left an impression in so many hearts. "Do we ever die, if we can touch one life, change one destiny, inspire one verse."

This post is about celebrating the legacy left behind by these teachers who have spent their lives throwing so many starfish back into the sea.

Coincidently, next week is Teacher’s Appreciation week at my daughters’ schools. A wonderful concept and so well deserved. PTAs have spent time pulling together a schedule to show their teachers that they are truly loved. We will have flowers, lunches, handmade cards and other little tokens.  

As I see my girls in their different stages of growth, I can remember the teacher who told me not to worry that my eldest was so shy. “She will find her way” she reassured. “And I will be there to make things better.” I remember my second one crying when her favorite teacher, Ms Plevich, left school and my little girl was so angry that “she had to get married and move away”. I remember the youngest naming two pillows after Ms Lana and Ms Maribel and talking to them at night.

I can also go down memory lane and like Dumbledore taking a wisp out of his Pensieve, see Ms Carter igniting the love of literature in my heart. Of course, I wince when I think of Mr Delaney’s tiring Math classes on Monday mornings but there was drama and debate and Pierette Spetz’s passionate French classes that kept me spellbound. Indian teachers, American teachers, British teachers…the good ones left footprints in my heart. Some would push us to reach for the stars.  Like beacons and in Gandhi’s words, they helped “turn the spotlight inward.”

If you were paying attention and listening to the clues, some very apparent and some subtle, you experienced an “aha”. Seeing talent and potential that we couldn't yet grasp. The good teachers would take time to write in your report cards. Little notes on your strengths and areas you could improve upon. I didn’t appreciate those notes when I was younger. I would get irritated that someone dared find fault. Oh, the arrogance and impatience of youth. As Jacques Barzun so aptly puts it “In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.” Or more… 

In India, the role of the teacher used to be sacred. Highly revered, teachers or gurus held sway even over kings. And in the order of the universe, they occupied a place of prominence. Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam…Mother, Father, Teacher, God. Gurus demanded complete faith and obedience in return for knowledge and enlightenment.

Many of us have been mentored or been "guru-ed" at some stage or another. People who have come into our lives. To teach, to guide, to ignite and to lead by example. You can immediately recognize a mentor at an instinctual level. There is a keen desire to listen, to absorb like a sponge, whatever you can. 

Of course, the opposite is true as well where unhealthy relationships are characterized by an over dependence on a mentor. Here you feel paralyzed, unable to take decisions without their express approval.

When you strike gold, you find good mentors who are there to untap potential and provide a feedback loop so critical for development. And when their work is done, they move on naturally.

So here’s to teachers and mentors…may your clan increase. And may we close the loop by passing it forward. Salutations!

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Kahlil Gibran

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Seven for Spring

The idea for this post originated on Facebook which I recently likened to my virtual living room. It started simply enough last week. After visiting mail jail again, I put an update out that went something like this "Don't be an email hoarder. Junk those emails that are more than 6 months old. It aint relevant no more." Soon my friends were commenting and I thought hey maybe there are more tips out there. Here are Shaku's Magnificent Seven as my limerick loving friend, Manjul puts it.

Spring cleaning tip #1
Keep what is important throw away the rest. Or the trivial will make all what is important trivial.

As I had to start clearing out emails from years past, I was horrified to find out that I was a secret email hoarder. These emails that were jamming my inbox and my outbox about things that nobody even cared about. Though I tried to have folders, I realized that if you don't clear regularly, you end up cramming your life with so much that is trivial that you lose sight of what is important. This applies from emails, to tasks, to meetings, to lists, to pantries, to refrigerators. I love the Stephen Covey big rock little pebble analogy. Attend to the important and the trivial will sort itself. Ask that question. Is this important? Should I waste XX time over this. Is this argument important or is it trivial. Can I let it go? Do I have to add another after school activity for my kids, can we not just focus on a select few. Once you decide, make peace with the decision. I was watching Robin Sharma's vlog and he says that every year his team decides on what they should focus on and then even if opportunties come by they get tough and only pick up what aligns with their focus areas.

Spring cleaning tip #2
Apply the 70:30 relationship principle. Spend 70% of your time with the 30% who matter.

This is so simple, right. So how come we have trouble applying this principle. I know some folks who make this a priority. Others think they have all the time in the world. Growing up, all I remember is my Dad telling us that we were the most important people in his life and that he was happy spending his time after work with us. Of course, that meant that we would get dragged to all these boring parties with people who would peer at us and say "Oh Selva, what charming daughters you have." or "So when are you getting her married." Like I was some invisible object waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, the point is, he made it clear that there were a few people who were important to him and that was that. We all know about Harry Chapin and the Cat's in the Cradle. "When you comin home, Dad." "I don't know when. But we'll get together then, son. You know we'll have a good time then." Who, why, when and where. You and in the now with those you love because time flies.

Spring cleaning tip #3
Make friends with yourself. If you don't enjoy your own company then why should anyone else be interested in you.

Ask yourself this key question. If you had one hour to spend. Would you spend it doing nothing or rushing off to make a phone call, picking up groceries or making a long to do list that made you feel good. Of course, you have to do all the things you have to do. Or bills would be unpaid, careers floating in the toilet bowl, dishes piled up, laundry languishing in the dryer etc. Yes, yes, I know. Been there, doing that and keep doing that everyday. But do you seek yourself out. Do you enjoy just sitting down and allowing your mind to roam. To think, to understand. To replay your reactions to certain incidents. Take a ten minute walk alone everyday. If you can't walk, then go out and sit in a quiet space. Lock yourself in your closet. You don't need to close your eyes and Om. You just need to get one step to understanding yourself and your motivations. Why, because understanding yourself brings you one step closer to understanding your reactions to others. When you do that constantly you will stop being on the defensive.

Spring cleaning tip #4
Let go of toxic emotional cellulite. Get rid of BAGgage. Bitterness | Anger | Guilt. Travel light.

This one belongs to a good friend of mine. Rules of engagement for relationships. Like that Katy Perry song, hot and you're cold, up and you're down. We fight we make up, we kiss we break up. This is true for most relationships. Friends, family, lovers. Over the years we have accumulated so much emotional cellulite that sits like a camel's hump on your back. This cellulite is a living, breathing alien that is made up of bitterness, anger, guilt, jealousy and it is dormant and when you least expect it, it will send out a volley of spite. How do you break regular cellulite, by regular exercise, eating right and it takes time, but at some point your body starts to show the results. With emotional cellulite you have to pretty much do the same. You make a conscious effort to trace the affected areas. Recognition is key. Awareness. Followed by honesty. You have own it and then shield, forgive and love. Forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness and then let it go. Every day is a new day to do it differently.

Spring cleaning tip #5
Recall faded dreams and unused gifts. Plant new seeds of possibility. Doesn't Spring symbolize resurrection?

This one is my personal favorite. I was wandering in my garden discovering new plants and amazed at how quickly growth took place with branches sprouting green. I felt like Jack waking up to that overnight beanstalk. You go for a walk and you see more people smile at you because that is what fairweather brings with it. Spring, flirting birds, blue skies and butterflies make people happy. Just like nature is resurrecting around us, this is fertile soul environment to start something new. Plant a project dear to your heart in the garden of your heart. Invest in it and feel the emotional wellness. The common thread is people saying well I don't really know what I like or what I want to do. But if you go to tip # 3 and spend some time with yourself you will figure it out sooner than you think. There is something that each one of us will do before we tackle the mundane tasks in our lives. For me, I am sitting here on a Friday night, writing. Some like scrapbooking, other's want to open their own restaurant, others want to play in a band. So you may not be able to fund a restaurant, perhaps you join a cooking club. You may not have time to play in a band, perhaps you could learn an instrument. Or you may decide to leap and follow, like Martha Beck would say, your North Star.

Spring cleaning tip #6
Go 3D. Drop the entitlement. Defend your boundaries. Deny energy vampires.

The problem with entitlement is that makes us all a bunch of whiners. It is quite tiring to hang around people who constantly expect to be served a slice of some imaginary pie that was supposed to be baked by someone else.
We have heard this many times and we still let people invade our boundaries. We end up getting into a loop where they invade, we submit and then we complain.
What can I say about energy vampires that hasn't been stated so many times. These aren't even Edward Cullen cute. You don't have to wear garlic around your neck but you do have to figure out the Debbie downers and disengage. According to James Redfield and his ground breaking novel The Celestine Prophecy, we typically steal energy from each other engaging in four key control dramas. So ask yourself, are you dealing with a "poor me" or "the aloof" or "the critic" or "the intimidator". Each one has a way of drawing energy and each encounter will leave you tired.

Spring cleaning tip #7
Create and own your personal mantra. If you want it, chant it.

Find a quiet spot and create your affirmation to bring renewed energy to that area of your life that needs a makeover. I can't tell you how many times, I have written it down and let it go. A year would have passed and when I go back and read it, I am always amazed at the gifts that have come to pass. Say you want to sell your house, write down exactly what you want from the sale.
But there has to be a clause that is part of every mantra that you ask for it to be aligned to your greatest good. Many times we can't see the bigger picture. We can only see the present because the past is over and we are not meant to peek into the future.

There is a common link across the wisdom of ages, that you have to align with the passion for life.  Nature resurrects every spring.  Demeter goes insane looking for Persephone during winter and finds her and rejoices in Spring.  She unveils her Spring masterpiece every year...without demur, without fanfare, without complaint, without resistance, without judgement.

When you do what you do just because you enjoy it, that is the spark that sets off a chain reaction. The more you fret about what everyone thinks of you, the less you are able to trust yourself.

This quote from Joseph Campbell sums it up so well "When you go through life ... it all seems accidental at the time it is happening. Then when you get on in your 60s or 70s and look back, your life looks like a well-planned novel with a coherent theme. Incidents that seemed accidental, pure chance, turn out to be major elements in the structuring of this novel. Who wrote this novel? You did."