Not afraid to be ordinary

I have to admit right at the outset that ever since I was a kid I disliked anything which was ‘normal’, ‘regular’, ‘conventional’.  I would often ask why rituals are done a certain way or why do I have to follow social rules which my brother didn’t have to follow. And you know what the rest of the why’s would look like..

The story began one afternoon when I was sitting in our family’s apartment balcony and looking at what people in the apartments living opposite to us were doing( I know it wasn’t a nice thing to peek but hey..everything was too close not to watch when the curtains are open) . It was yet another sunny day in Mumbai and I had just returned from school. While I was watching,  I noticed one apartment in particular where the kids were playing and the maid was drying the clothes in the balcony. They weren’t doing anything extraordinary and in fact they were doing exactly the same thing as they did the day before and the day prior to that. It was then that I wondered:

  • Will I die one day and no one would know?
  • Will my existence go unnoticed?
  • How can I be different?

Trust me when I tell you that I was all of 10-11 years old thinking about such glum stuff. In that very moment

  • I decided to be different.
  • To not follow the routine, mundane and mechanical life.
  • To create my own rules and
  • To learn everything on my own ( this wasn’t a smart intention to set but I did set it that way)

This existential thought storm also triggered a resistance towards anything normal. If someone had a normal childhood i.e. sans any major struggles or discomfort then that didn’t interest me, two people who got married with ease didn’t give me as much a kick as did an odd couple i.e. Older woman marrying a younger man, if everyone was afraid of the walking alone in the dark then I would surely try and see what the fuss was all about. I wanted to be above the rest but not in the normal competitive manner where you tried to score better than your peer. I got above the rest using some spiritual and philosophical understanding. Being competitive also meant being normal so I wasn’t going to engage in it.

Fast forward some years and some first-hand experiences , I craved normalcy and all I wanted was a normal life. I was at a point where I was tired of ups and downs and desperately wanted the comfort of the plateau, the known. I needed certainty/ stability and thankfully I was able to achieve it after some challenges. The truth is that had I not tasted these challenges where being able to make ends meet in a foreign land was my daily concern, then I wouldn’t have been able to value normalcy. I am stubborn like thatJ

With this new found respect for normalcy and my 10 year old still inside of me, today I have reached a point where I can say that no matter how ordinary you are, there is an inherent uniqueness in each one of us which can never be suppressed (unless you choose to suppress it). You don’t have to try too hard to be extraordinary.

Accepting the beauty of normalcy takes courage. Accepting somewhere that most of life is lined with routine tasks which are not to be fought with but won over. The ‘difference’ lies in the choices we make while leading an otherwise ordinary life. There is an ease in this approach to life. An organic wisdom if you will. It is the beauty of a homemaker who sings while she cooks, the compassion of a man returning from a 9-5 job who helps a wounded animal on the street,  the courage of an otherwise ordinary bystander to stand up for a woman who is being eve teased.

In my opinion, if we can simply learn to be good at being ordinary with an elevated consciousness/humanness then we will never be ‘just another’ person who lived/died. As long as we keep fighting the normalcy, that’s what we stay busy with and staying busy in our own head doesn’t mean that we aren’t ordinary. This constant battle we create for ourselves can induce more fear in us than needed.

I am not suggesting here that you shouldn’t challenge yourself or try to grow or be complacent. If you do any of the above then you are not respecting your inherent uniqueness and not allowing it to express itself. What I am saying here is that not everyone needs to be a Mark Zuckerberg or a Bill Gates to make a difference or to live a life that has created an impact. If you live your life with authenticity then it will indeed be a life well lived. Some of us spend too much time and energy focusing on what we are NOT in this moment. You don’t have to know everything OR be restless at all times because you aren’t doing enough to get somewhere.

Cruising the skies or waiting in the Hangar?

I do not know what is it about air travel or travel in general and the flow of thoughts combined with the urge to pen them down. It’s almost like an irresistible urge. Something very similar to when you just have to go to the bathroom and can’t control your pee any longerJ Wonder if I could have given a more subtle example but then the relatability factor of natural instincts in unquestionable. Right, and now that we have established that…

Enroute to the airport today I got consumed by the sight of airplanes on the runway waiting for their turn to get the OK signal for flying. Then there are planes which were simply standing by which are even farther away in the process of taking off and nowhere close to the runway. Can you guess what I am getting at? Perhaps it’s too early to have you guess. All those airplanes standing over there and also the ones closer to the runway have their routes planned and their times of flying set. The mere act of ‘waiting’ close to the runway or being farther away in the hangar does not negate the fact that they will indeed fly. They will fly but only at a certain time and on a certain route.

I have often wondered…

What’s the need for yet another life coach, doctor, healer, teacher, dancer when so many already exist and what could this yet another person could even dream of contributing that hasn’t already been done.

What’s the point in starting yet another company if you are not the pioneer in the industry?

What’s the point of doing anything if I am only going to be lost in the crowd of me toos??

The starting point here is the thought that knowingly or unknowingly we all strive to contribute/make a difference. Even if you think are you are not the ‘helper’ or ‘social worker’ or ‘activist’ type, no matter what you are doing, you chose it to make a difference and to contribute. Some of us who work a job simply to meet ends and take care of a family are making a difference in that exact manner- providing to the family. If you are driven by intellectual kung-fu and have chosen to be a business analyst or forensic psychologist , you are making a difference. If you have chosen to be a full time home maker then you are making a huge difference in several lives at once. No matter what hat you are wearing, you are making a difference.

The second point is discovering our own uniqueness (I know that’s such a clichéd term but please bear with me) that lies within us. What is your USP? It’s everything about YOU. The type of family you were born in, the school you went to , the religion you follow or chose not to, major life events that have occurred and shaped you, are all factors that are unique to you and you alone. These experiences impact our thinking in unique ways, the way we make decisions, the way we interact with the world etc. You are a me too only until you see yourself through a different lens. And yes another important factor is that you need to honor your unique gifts yourself i.e. be authentic and embrace all the crap you have been through.

Much like the different routes for airplanes and a different timing to fly, each one of us has followed a unique route and will continue to do so. Even if you are doing the same job with the same set of tasks, you do it and process it differently than the next person who does it. There always are differences.

In a spiritual/philosophical sense your plane will take off when it is the exact match of your abilities with a time of need which is much larger than what our rational minds can comprehend. All airplanes never cruise the sky at once and neither can we have all on the runway at the same time. If we can get out of our heads and appreciate the ‘whole’, we would perhaps be able to see that not all people who have been successful did it at age 20 or 50. Each one has a different story. What is the common is their ability to acknowledge their uniqueness, embrace some level of uncertainty and take action. Don’t beat yourself up if 5 of your friends are millionaires and you are not right at this time. (On second thoughts, you could absolutely choose to do so if you do enjoy self-torture.)

I don’t have a count for how many airplanes exist today and how many cruise the global skies at once but there’s always room for more or so it seems. There’s always room for YOU to BE YOU! There’s a difference that ONLY YOU can make living in the most ordinary circumstances. A certain set of people with whom ONLY YOU will interact in the way YOU do. There is a micro in this whole macro that can only be touched by you.

Would love to hear if you have been able to relate to any of this..

 

Creative birthing..Are you in labor yet?

On a flight to California from Chicago, unable to rest my mind which is stimulated from reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet, here I am struggling to move my fingers on my laptop (courtesy the person in front of me who decided to extend his back rest) and yet experiencing no discomfort penning down my thoughts. At this point I don’t know whether it’s a blog or the beginning of a book and I am OK not knowing it.

Let’s dive into the subject at hand!Like most creatives who have experienced this, birthing of an idea is similar to child birth where conception occurs long before the actual child is born. There is gap between when an idea germinates in your conscience and the day you act on it. It is not that you as the bearer of the idea don’t want to act on it but it’s the fact that not everything else has come together yet for the successful birthing of that seed thought. Much like farming, you sow the seeds and it grows into a plant only when all the other conditions around it are just right.  I am one of those people who believe that the child chooses its parents and the surroundings in which it would like to be born and where the utmost growth could occur for her. Similarly, we don’t choose the ideas we work on but the ideas choose us. More often than not the bearers of the idea will experience anxiety and restlessness within themselves because they know they are not acting on something but if the time isn’t right yet, it just won’t feel right and will evaporate into thin air. Just like a woman always carries an egg inside of her and waits for the right man to co-create a child, so does the bearer of an idea have to wait until she finds the right time to fertilize her seed thought. This happens to be a very private, personal and self-consuming affair. It isn’t meant for someone who can’t be comfortable with solitude. In some ways, bearing a child is easier on one’s mind because for the most part, one knows what to expect and is aware fully well that she is bearing a child. When you are carrying an idea, you don’t even know that you are pregnant and how are you to know that you will need to carry this mixed bag of anxiety and joy inside of you until such time as deemed fit to deliver it. You are also aware that you will know when the time is right to birth it and you also know that you will doubt yourself when that happens. It is at this point that one makes a key decision. This decision is let go of the ‘I’ in you and surrender yourself to this entire process as it occurs. You choose to roll with it and take a leap of faith. Not everything from this point on will be a known and yet you will know that the birthing needs to continue. That’s the only known and you are aware that you aren’t the owner but a trustee here. A vehicle, a vessel, a medium through which the idea needs to be conceived, received, held, nurtured and delivered. It is perhaps the most selfish and selfless act at once.

Drawing parallels with the delivery process of a child, a creative idea takes form in the following ways:

  • Organically i.e. with less intervention or help from others. This could be a single person or more than one person acting in synergy without much input from anyone else. It could be closely guarded until the idea has been born and taken form. You could utilize the assistance of people with special skills like midwives who are present and hold space while assisting you in giving birth. These could be people who have necessary skills that you don’t possess yourself but find it imperative to the birth of the idea. Examples could be people who could assist in marketing, finance, networking etc but who are veru rightly holding the space for you and not threatening your rights as the idea bearer.
  • C-section- this is perhaps when an interventionist who was not party to the idea germination process acts as a doctor who advises a C-section for the health and safety of both the mother and child. This albeit would never be the most preferred option, is much needed for the idea to come to life else it risks never seeing the light of day. Such an interventionist could be a mentor or a close confidante who enjoys trust and credibility with the idea bearer.

In either of the above cases, one will have to experience first-hand the process of going through labor. This is the phase when you know that you can no longer hold the idea in. It is asking to have a life of its own as was intended. These are the times when you are compelled to act whereas earlier you could get sidetracked by other thoughts and go through a normal routine life. You may not be able to sleep//rest until you create the right conditions for the idea to be born. This could mean anything from starting a website, to begin prototyping your idea , incorporating your company , attracting other like-minded individuals, buying office space etc. More often than not, once the ball is set rolling, the other things do fall into place or you could say that you find the strength to make everything else happen.

Besides the two birthing possibilities, there are also possibilities of miscarriages, still births and the child dying right after birth. One thing that I have learned from life is not to beat yourself up over things which are not in your control. You may have been attached to your idea but when its dead for reasons other than your desire to birth it and bring it to life, you can only take it as a learning. In many entrepreneurial books, I have read that an entrepreneur’s success depends on discerning the right time to move away from a stagnant idea. You know it when it is dead but you don’t want to give up because you thought it was yours. It is here that one needs to apply the concept I suggested above in which ideas choose you and it does not work the other way round. We tend to get too involved with failures and lose time. The purpose of that failure was to help you grow and learn. It is when you understand this death, that you can respect it’s life and what it gave you in the short span that it existed. It was perhaps your first idea which gave you’ the confidence to go and talk to investors or the first piece of art you shared with the world and it is exactly this nudge that it came for. If you knew from the beginning that it would die, you wouldn’t reach here. And then one can wonder..does it really ever die? Perhaps not.

Creative birthing isn’t for the faint hearted and if you are one, then watch out..you are about to receive an upgrade..whether you like it or not!

Spiritual & Worldly..The Dichotomy.

My tryst with spiritual contemplation and exploration began with the questions: Why do I exist? Why am I here?

Most of us have struggled with these existential questions at some point of time in our lives. Some of us chose to ignore it and agreed to bury it deep down inside forever.  One way or another, it’s not an easy path to tread.  I was born, brought up in India and lived there for the first 26 years of my life and then moved to US. India is a land which is synonymous with almost everything spiritual/religious/mystic and US is the epitome of materialism. In this blog, I would like to share some parts of my life journey with you dealing with the spiritual/worldly dichotomy.IMG_2094

I was born in a Hindu family but was fortunate to not be forced to do things a certain way. I explored my way through the questions of ‘why’ chant certain mantras, follow certain rituals and visit temples. I never bought into ‘this is how it is’ type of responses. I read a lot of books on different religions and alternate modalities, dived into different prayer rituals, the concept of idols (I don’t think I ever was an ‘idol worshipper’), contemplated on why I was born in a certain city to a certain family etc. You get the idea. I was bursting with questions and searching everywhere. Through most of my searches in India I did realize that most ‘spiritually’ inclined people didn’t pay much attention to everyday life which was filled with the challenge of facing ‘desire’ in many forms. Renouncing your family duties and not wanting to associate yourself with any material wealth was what most people aspired to do. I internalized that allergy to material wealth and never focused on trying to make more money and living a comfortable life. I could never relate to my friends who talked about their 5 year plan of getting married, buying a house, car etc. This was all gibberish to me. I could respect but not relate to their goals. It was easy for me to not place money and material goals on my priority list when I was 25 and living with my father in a good two bedroom apartment in Mumbai.  Having completed my MBA, I found a decent job with a company and made good money just for myself. My worldview completely turned topsy-turvy when I came to US as a student and had to do odd jobs, study , pay my rent, buy a car with working heat to survive in Chicago’s winters. I am not a quick learner though or should I say I am strong-willed and I couldn’t grasp the fact that I needed to align myself with the realities of the world where you ought to have a certain amount of money to feel safe, have a car to commute etc. I took my time but I learned my lesson.

My understanding  with respect to this dichotomy of spiritual vs material is that one is asked to be like a ‘lotus’ where one is in the dirt( you are free to question whether this world this needs to be referred to as dirt in the first place) but not of it. In my opinion, it’s easy to simply renounce everything and not have to perform any duties. It’s like being an addict whose life revolves around his drug of choice. The drug of choice here being the illusion of self-realization and nirvana. During my search I also came across a Buddhist thought which said something to the effect that: Before you are enlightened, you chop wood and carry water, after you are enlightened (which isn’t an end), you continue chop wood and carry water. This thought made perfect sense because it isn’t all or nothing. It doesn’t have to be ‘either – or’, it is meant to be an ‘and’. It’s about striking a balance. A few weeks ago, I was reading The Quran and was impressed by the clarity with which it portrays the need for this balance between spirituality and materialism.

The truth is that understanding these spiritual concepts is one part of the struggle and like any other subject, you need to be able to apply it in your everyday life. It is this application which isn’t easy and makes people want to find an escape and run away. I meditate everyday and there are times when I don’t want to come out of it because it’s a state of pure joy whenever you manage to tap into it. Despite feeling this joy during meditation I cannot say that I always emanate joy from my being in all my dealings on this earth. This is where one needs to laugh at oneself (am a huge work in progress on this one). It is easier to sit in the Himalayas and say that one needs to love thy neighbor as himself because all is one and a totally different thing to apply that thought when your neighbor’s dog shat on and ruined your first go at having a herb garden( On second thoughts, isn’t that manure for crops).

Be true to yourself on your journey as hard as it may be. Strike a balance with an ‘AND’ not ‘OR’.

Affirmation- My Best Life

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My Best Life

Affirmation- My Best Life

I am living my best life, right here, right now.

I intend and life provides.

I take the required action in faith when guided to do so by my divine intuitive self.

I love life and life loves me back.

 

Pooja Joshi

Stress, stress..go away.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with a close friend. She and I were first roommates and then turned into friends sharing the same wavelength on philosophy, humor etc. Life took us to different cities and we both became occupied with our lives. In the past few months her work and studies demanded a lot of her time which led to us not being in touch daily. Now that you have the background, let me get to the core.

She mentioned that there was a lot of stress at work, school and personal life too (sounds familiar?). For someone who believed in planning everything in life and being calculative about each decision, she gave into the stress and booked herself an ‘escape’ trip all by herself to a city she had never been to. She told me that she had fun for two full days where she cared for nothing and splurged with abandon. While she was giving me descriptive details of all the fun she had, it also took me back to times where I had indulged in some kind of escape. It struck me that often times when we feel like breaking free and escaping from any stress we tend to choose activities like drinking, smoking, drugs, casual sex, and extreme sports. Any mood altering activity that lets us numb ourselves and the vehicle we choose is our body.

I wondered why is that in an attempt to numb the pain and to create momentary pleasure, we end up abusing our bodies. While we are engaging in these band-aid/feel good solutions, I don’t think it even occurs to us that we could perhaps be abusing ourselves.

The other question being, does this approach really work? Perhaps for a short time (if that’s the goal) and then it resurfaces the next time our emotional immunity is at a low. If only we could learn to be kinder towards ourselves, then we would think of learning different ways of coping with stress. Having said this, I know that we are not meant to be perfect and can take a fall every once in a while.

Some of my favorite coping mechanisms include talking to a friend, writing, exercising and being in nature. What are yours?

My best to you,

Pooja