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.

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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.

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Sunset on a Biking trail

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’.

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

I held back..

I held back, not wanting to feel. I held back, protecting my innocence and my purity.

I held back, fearing the wrath of emotion. I held back, forging a defense.

I held back when I was happy and I held back when I was sad.

I held back until you touched me and scattered my being into pieces.

Shredding all the pain, all the grief, I stood beside my broken light.

I hold back no more and have begun to flow uncontrollably.

I hold back no more and allow my heart to feel it all. The pain, the hurt, the joy and the love.

Encircled in your light I stand in all my might.

Thank you and the you that has found its place in me.

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Nature heals

Dead wild goose

My typical drive to work wasn’t as typical today. I left home knowing that I was running late ( well..coz I woke up late). I was driving on my normal route which had regular traffic as you would expect in a busy Chicago suburb. While passing through one of the intersections and singing along with the radio, I couldn’t help but notice a goose fluttering its wings by the side of the road. It was a busy intersection with an exit to an interstate. I couldn’t stop right away and drove a couple of miles while my mind was trying to reason whether or not to turn around since I was already late. My conscience won the battle since I knew I wouldn’t have been at peace knowing that I could have perhaps done something to help the innocent creature lying on the street. I turned around and prayed that I get some help if I need any. Right when I turned by the spot, another man did too. We knew why were there. Our hearts couldn’t simply pass it by. I asked him if he thought we could help the bird. He looked and said it’s probably dead and checked to confirm the same. I asked if we could just move the body to a place where it wouldn’t be hit again although it was dead. He said, he would if there was something to lift it with. I searched my car and found some papers I didn’t need. The gentleman then moved the bird and we parted ways.

If it was me alone over there, I would have simply acted out of emotion and tried to move the body with my own hands without bothering to protect myself. I wouldn’t know how to check whether or not the bird was actually dead.

What I learned here was that while we try to do a good deed, we also need to think about our safety which is easily forgotten or frowned upon several times. Also, letting your conscience take the final call is a good idea. It only hints to the notion that one is capable of compassion despite the busy mechanical lives we lead. I also knew in that moment that I perhaps did what I could and worrying about how the body will be dealt with by some landscapers working there wasn’t going to help. I prayed over it while I was with the body.

As I am getting ready to post this blog, an image of a white swan pops up on my reader. Wonder what’s that about:)

Sending my best to you,

Pooja

Hello again..

I know it has been a while since I last spoke to you. My last conversation with you here was about the changes I was experiencing in my life. In the midst of those changes I had to ask myself- Who I was and who I wanted to be? Whoever tells you that this process is fun is definitely not telling you the truthJ

The environmental factors which weren’t in my control were reshaping me in such a way that I saw no better way but to surrender and quieted this side of me.  I had surrendered with a prayer that if this piece was still needed of me then it would flow back in with ease.  What I can tell you is that it has been easy in a way and not so much in many other ways (internally).

When I saw it coming back I questioned it and felt like I didn’t know anything yet again. This isn’t a comfortable feeling to have if you have experienced it. The thing about questioning is that it can soon turn into self-doubt.   It very easy to feed into a mind trap which makes you believe that you perhaps aren’t good enough to dive back in. It took a couple of months  of battling with doubt, asking for signs to guide me and promising myself that I would take action when I get my sign.

One of my signs was in the form of a woman whom I admire and her mere presence reignited the life within me. You know it when you feel it and there’s no other way to describe it. After a 2 year hiatus, I logged back in to my WordPress and clicked on ‘forgot password’ and ‘reset my password’ which is only another metaphor to my current state. Simply loving this! There couldn’t be a better time for this to occur than the spring season.

Thank you for reading and relating to this,

My best to you,

Pooja

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Tidal Basin, Washington D.C.

P.S: I only write when I so choose to and I am grateful that I can do so.