Connect with understanding

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive,” says the Dalai Lama

connectwitheveryoneThis is indeed true for humanity and all human beings in general. The fact is all positive emotions are interlinked and hence when we connect, love increases and therefore our world seems a much better to live in. This is a fundamental truth of life itself.

We do need to know here what to take seriously and what not to. Most of the problems in life itself is because we do not work on understand all kinds of people in the world. The world does indeed consist of different types of people but it is entirely in our control to see how we handle each kind. This is indeed one of the primary tests of life. One of the stories that I still remember in this context is that of a heap of skulls.

A Sufi mystic was passing through a cemetery and he came upon a heap of skulls. Out of curiosity he took one skull. He had always been of the thought that all skulls are almost the same, but they were not the same. There were a few skulls whose ears were joined together; there was a passage. There were a few skulls whose ears were not joined together; there was a barrier between the two. There were a few skulls both of whose ears were joined to the heart but not joined together; there was a passage running to the heart. He was very surprised. He prayed and asked God, “What is the matter? What are you trying to reveal to me?” And it is said that he heard a voice. God said, “There are three types of people: one, who hear through one ear; it never reaches anywhere — in fact they don’t hear, just the sound vibrates and disappears. There is another type, who hear, but only momentarily — they hear through one ear, and through the other ear it is lost into the world again. There are a few souls, of course, who hear through the ears and it reaches to the heart.”

And God said, “I have brought you to this heap of skulls just to help you remember it when you are talking to people. Talk only to those who take whatsoever you say to their hearts — otherwise don’t waste your energy, and don’t waste your time. Your life is precious: you have a message to deliver.”

This tale shows us that though there are different kinds, we need to know how to handle each one of them. Essentially, it is our attitude we need to try to improve. After all, we all have messages to deliver and this is exactly what we need to focus on.

Say goodbye to worry

As long as we are alive, we have two options, either to live in fear or live fearlessly. To live fearlessly, we need to work on driving it away, thinking there is no other option. In fact, long ago, the when success and failure were the only options, the leaders of ancient Greek armies burnt the boats upon landing on shore so there was no going back. With no way to make it home besides victory, the resolve of the soldiers was strengthened. Similarly in our case, as the only option is to live, let us follow through and face our fear.

I used to be worried about falling down and hurting myself after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  then slowly began climbing starts one floor at a time and was soon able to combat this terrible fear of falling and moved on in life. It then felt like no big deal at all. After overcoming my fear, I suggest the following steps to everyone –

  1. Start facing the fear daily – Once we have awareness of the fear the most effective way to knock it out of your life is to face it. Start off with small steps and build up your confidence until the fear is more manageable and you are ready for the big action. As you work with the fear more, you’ll also gain more and more awareness of how you can tackle it.
  2. Repeat – Don’t stop taking bold actions until the fear is minimized. The more the action is repeated, the more negligible it becomes. The fact is when we handle fear, whatever it may be, and later realise we actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seems to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear. We start thinking that what we thought was a fear before wasn’t that much to be afraid of at all. Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending to what you compare it to. The fact is to gain a wider perspective of human experience and grow we really have to step up and face our fear. In this context, facing our fear can be surprisingly anticlimactic. From a distance and in our mind things may seem very difficult and frightening. Most of the time, it is not true at all..
  3. Take action and get busy -‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow’ says a Swedish proverb. We can’t sit around think and waiting for courage and confidence to come knocking on the door. If we do, you may just experience the opposite effect. The more you think, the more fear we build within.The reality is that 80-90 percent of what we worry about never really comes into reality. If we combat fear, then more than half the battle is won.

If fear is the enemy, who or what can combat it? The answer is surprisingly simple. Fear can be combated only by its arch enemy, love. Love of all that is wonderful in the world and love for every little event we come across in the world and indeed love of all that is present in life,

Ultimately, the one and only thing that can improve our chances of becoming better is actually in our control, as fear can never be cured by anyone else but our own self.

 

Power of positivity

In most areas of life, all positive traits are interlinked just like negative traits are. For instance, we can never feel sorry for ourselves if we accept reality, focus on gratitude and most of all focus on love.

Some techniques that I suggest everyone as it has helped me are

Accept your Feelings

Don’t question whether your problems are fair, or convince yourself if you have suffered more than those around them. The best way to deal with any feeling of discomfort is to just get through it.

Be active

The combination of negative thinking and inactivity fuel feelings of self-pity. We need to recognize when in  a trauma that we are at a risk of becoming caught in this downward spiral and  take action to prevent ourselves from living a pitiful life. The control as always is with us.

Question what we perceive as luck

We need to ask ourselves questions like, “Is my luck always bad?” or “Is my entire life really ruined?” Asking ourselves these types of questions allows us to recognize when their outlook isn’t realistic. This allows us to create a more realistic perception of the situation.

View all experiences as experiments in life

Do not allow their negative thinking to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, when if in a challenging situation, let us deal with it in the best possible manner.

Reserve energy for productive activities

Instead of leading life in a self-pity mode, devote your time to productive activities that may perhaps improve the situation.

Be grateful

Gratitude is a common factor in all positive emotions. It’s impossible to feel self-pity and gratitude at the same time. While self-pity is about thinking, “I deserve better,” gratitude is about thinking, “I have more than I need.” Mentally strong people recognize all that they have to be grateful for in life – right down to the fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Reach out

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re helping those who are less fortunate. Rather than ruminate on our own inconveniences, let us strive to improve the lives of others.

Never Complain

Venting to other people about the magnitude of our problems fuels feelings of self-pity.  We may think we are being listened to but this is only a myth. Most people either ignore the complaint or begin to avoid you after a while.

 Remain optimistic

 Focus on a positive outlook is the only thing that can make our own life better.

Some of life’s problems can’t be prevented or solved. The loss of loved ones, natural disasters, and certain health conditions are problems that most people will face at one time or another. Mentally strong people keep an optimistic outlook about their ability to handle whatever life throws their way.

Make friends with yourself

Learn to make friends with the person you are with all the time.  This is you. We often take the trouble to be nice to others but not to our own selves. This is one thing we should never do.

Give yourself a pep talk

Everyday learn to give yourself a pep talk saying the day would be wonderful and most often, it would turn to be so.

Convince yourself that you can overcome anything

Even if you are not perfect, you have overcome many more things than others have. You need to keep telling yourself you shall indeed be able to overcome everything.

Essentially, all of the above is about developing mental strength that is similar to building physical strength. If we wanted to become physically strong we would need good habits – like lifting weights. However, we would also need to get rid of bad habits, like eating too many sweets. Similarly, developing mental strength requires good habits – and it also requires you to give up destructive habits, like self-pity, jealousy and its cousin envy.

Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. By developing an increased ability to regulate our thoughts, manage our emotions and behave productively despite whatever cards life gives us, we all can  grow stronger and become better.

Last but not the least, pray. Whether we believe in a higher power or not, prayer is very helpful to us. We could call it prayer or anything else that resonates with us. In my case, One of the best prayers that I resonate with is The Serenity Prayer  written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It says,

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

In a nutshell, it teaches us how to lead a complete life by understanding ourselves and the life around us.

A Thousand Rupees

 

There is enough in this world to meet every man’s need

But not even one man’s greed – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

‘Could you give me a letter allowing a friend to stay for a month’, my maid, Heera, asked.  She looked uncharacteristically anxious.

thousandrupeesWe lived in a defence colony which had strict security guidelines for allowing outsiders to stay.  Heera was a verified member and lived in a small room close to our home.  She had worked with us from the time we had arrived in Mumbai, and I knew we would miss her a great deal when we moved to another city, something that could happen anytime.  Transfers were a part and parcel of an Indian defence officer’s family after all.

This was the first time Heera had asked us to give her this kind of letter.  It must be important to her, I thought, and completed the necessary formalities.

Her friend, Sona Bai, arrived soon after. I realized in a couple of days that she was partially blind.  Yet, I could see her doing her best to be helpful by cleaning Heera’s room.  The month passed and Heera asked for Sona Bai’s stay to be extended.  This was a little difficult, but we managed to get the required permission.

It was then that I found out more about her.  Sona Bai’s eyesight had gradually failed and she had been supported by her daughter, her only living relative, for a few years.  A few months back, her daughter had developed high fever and suddenly died.  Sona Bai now had no one to call her own.

It was then that Heera had met her.  Even with her limited means, Heera had not hesitated to immediately bring her home, though she was just a casual acquaintance.

Would I have been so large hearted ? I wondered.  So called ‘educated’ people like us tend to think too much about long term implications:  ‘How long can I keep her’, ‘What will I do later ?’ and so on, and stop ourselves from a natural, human response; simple folk like Heera have much stronger values and courage.

Soon after getting Sona Bai’s permission extended, I realized we needed to try and help Sona Bai settle down in a more permanent manner because of the colony’s restrictions, and also because, once we moved, Heera might not be able to ask her next employer for permission.

However, this was easier said than done.  Options were limited as blind homes in Mumbai could not take her in; they were already fully occupied and, besides, her case was weak as she was only partially blind.  She was not old enough for an old age home.  And her blindness did not allow her to take on the kind of job she could do earlier.

As I was pondering on what could be done, I got a call from one of the blind homes that I had approached in Mumbai. ‘We understand the difficulty of the lady and have just got information that there is an ashram for the blind in Surendranagar in Gujarat, which has room for Sona Bai.  Would you like to send her there ? the director asked.

This seemed suitable, but I wondered whether Sona Bai would want to move so far from her friends, and to a place where she did not understand the language.  I spoke to her hesitantly and was amazed at her equanimity. ‘God has opened yet another door for me’, she said calmly, ‘yes, I shall go’.

We completed the formalities.  Just before the social worker from the blind home came to take Sona Bai to Surendranagar, I gave Sona Bai a thousand rupees – a small amount, but enough to see her through for a couple of months at least.

When we got a call after three days from Sona Bai saying she had reached and was comfortable, I felt at ease and was happy that I could play a small role in making it possible for her to have a home.

There was one more surprise in store for me.  The social worked called me in a few days saying she wished to meet me.  Wondering what the matter could be, I went to meet her and was handed an envelope with a thousand rupees.

‘Sona Bai asked me to give this to you’, the social worker said. ‘And she asked me to write a letter to you on her behalf’. She opened up a sheet of paper, and read out:

‘I am very happy here.  We spend our time weaving and knitting.  Thank you for finding this place for me.  Please don’t feel bad that I have returned your money.  I took it thinking I might need it for travel or for some expense I might have in the ashram.  But I spent nothing on travel.  The social worker told me you had already paid for my ticket.  When I reached here, I found I am given food and two sarees every year.  What more do I need ? The money is probably more useful to you.  So, please take it back’.

The sheer courage of the woman and her perception of ‘need’ astounded me.

This remains the most precious thousand rupees I have ever received.

 —————————————————————————————————-

This was one of the first stories I wrote and it got published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. It remains one of my favourite stories and  I feel truly proud to have shared it.

Cinnamon, the balancer

 

In all the research that is going on in the world, it would greatly benefit if the entire scientific community, particularly the doctors know  the power of spices. For instance, cinnamon is a spice that is not just aromatic but also has a lot of medicinal properties and has always been recognised for this since time immemorial.

cinnamonCinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon and the south-eastern coast of India, while the closely related Cassia is native to China. Cinnamon and Cassia are both small tropical evergreen trees that grow up to 20 – 30 feet tall, with aromatic bark and leaves.It has been used as an ingredient throughout history, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt. It used to be rare and valuable, and was regarded as a gift fit for kings. In fact, even wars have been fought for cinnamon and the Taoists have called it the ‘food of the Gods’.

Coming to our body and health, a paradox in metabolism is that, while the vast majority of complex life on the planet requires oxygen for its existence, oxygen is a highly reactive molecule that damages living organisms by producing reactive oxygen species.

Consequently, organisms contain a complex network of antioxidant metabolites and enzymes that work together to prevent oxidative damage to cellular components such as DNA, proteins and lipids.

In general, antioxidant systems either prevent these reactive species from being formed, or remove them before they can damage vital components of the cell. Thus, the function of antioxidant systems is not to remove oxidants entirely, but instead to keep them at an optimum level. Here, cinnamon is supposed to be very good. Apart from this, it is  considered to be good in controlling diabetes, heart ailments and arthritis.

In my case, I did and do include cinnamon in my diet, particularly after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For those who are not aware, multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder of the CNS (central nervous system in which myelin components are particularly targeted by the immune system resulting in demyelination of axons and associated debilitating symptoms, In spite of intense investigations, no effective therapy is available for this disease yet.

Personally, I have benefitted from various therapies (all natural) as I did not and doo not wish to be a guinea pig on all the scientific research going on in the allopathic world. Here, cinnamon has become a part of my life. The best thing of course is that this can be easily done by not making major lifestyle changes. Side effects, if any, are only positive.

Apart from the herbs, my entire journey on recovery has taught me that health and life in general is all about maintaining balance in all areas and yes, listening to what our body, mind and spirit is telling us.

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Means are as important as the ends

Very often, we justify all kinds of actions of ours by justifying it in various ways. In various ways, we point out a finger at others when we have done something wrong. We do know two wrongs don’t make one right but that is the most commonly used philosophy/ justification today.

moralcompassWhy just personal life ? Even in social and political life, the way we function is more or less the same.  Which is why it helps if we examine morally sound people and movements.

Many may deride Gandhi today still if we think deeply, he was one who  genuinely believed that a freedom won by bad means would be a bad freedom. He has been proved right by every other country freed from colonialism by adopting any means possible (Indonesia, Kenya, Algeria, to name a few).

“The guns that are used against the British”, Gandhi once said, referring to those Indian freedom fighters who saw assassination of British officials as a reasonable retort to British oppression, “will tomorrow be turned against Indians”. The need to build a group where the discourse of ideas, not the discharge of weapons, would win the day was evident to Gandhi, but was not evident to impatient but short sighted hotheads across the country. Here, Chauri Chaura is something we all need to note, remember and learn from, at least now.

When Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement was in full swing in 1921-22, a group of non-violent protesters was beaten up by some policemen in the small town of Chauri Chaura in Northern India. The instructions to the satyagrahis was very clear, they would take the beatings but not respond in kind.

In this instance, however, the protesters were provoked enough to chase the policemen who, finding they were outnumbered, locked themselves in their police station. The crowd then set fire to the police station, killing 22 policemen.

That the atrocity at Chauri Chaura happened despite Gandhi’s efforts to keep the movement peaceful, that such misfirings were rare in a huge national movement involving hundreds of thousands, made no difference to Gandhi. He took total responsibility as the leader of the movement, and staked his entire career upon it. What happened later, something everyone keeps taking about, is not as important as the fact that Gandhi never compromised on his principles and hence set a remarkable example for us.

Let us all strive to at least recognise people like Gandhi, whether they are leaders now or not.  This is the way morally sound movements are born.

For the world to survive, what we need now more than ever before, is a moral compass guiding us.

This shall happen only if we ourselves are morally sound. For this, change needs to begin from within. This can and shall happen once we recognise it as the right direction for us and the world.

Rays of hope

In an era where there is so much of confusion  and conflict in religions, there are rays of hope that do show us that humanity is still alive.

perspThere are some  who have struggled to restore balance and justice in society and some who have achieved this by just being who they are. These are not just famous people but ordinary, commoners who know what is right and wrong.

This reminds of the time I had spoken sometime back to Teesta Setalvad,  who was and is passionate about communal harmony and amity.

Teesta Setalvad had resigned from mainstream journalism only because she was keen on promoting justice and peace. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace, the editor of Communalism Combat and runs an organization, KHOJ, www.khojedu.net, that encourages children to discuss and understand issues in society.

When I asked her what was her most memorable event in all the work she had undertaken, she shared, “In December 1992, post Babri Masjid violence  had made Bombay burn with the Shiv Sena-BJP leading the violence. I encountered an amazing story there. A building with entirely Muslim residents had been attacked on the night of December 6-7 and they survived only because of Vimla Tai Khaonekar the mother of the Shiv Sainik leading the mob set to burn the building.

She came out, fully clad in her nine yard Maharashtrian saree,and dared him to go past her. The aggressive Shiv Sainik confronted with the moral force of his mother, slunk away. The grateful residents narrated the story of their saviour, I wrote about it in The Sunday Observer and fortunately she received the Mayor’s medal for bravery. It is such acts of unsurmountable courage and conviction that need to be told so women like Vimla tai become our role models.”

I completely resonate with her and truly echo her sentiment of trying to focus on real courage and bravery.

On another note, we know Teesta has faced and is still facing a lot of travails but the hope that she still has in humanity is laudable.

Teesta and yes, people like Vimala Tai make me certain that we will surely overcome the malaise in our society of hatred of all kinds, slowly but surely.

A heartfelt review

dancingwithlifeThank you, Kanika Juneja for this wonderful review. It means a lot to me as the greatest reward for any writer is to give a wee bit of hope and inspiration to others.

“Although I tried to remain positive, I had wilted with worry by the middle of my visit. Would there be a quick deterioration in my condition? Would I also end up in a wheelchair? Would I need to use a walking stick? Would I be able to continue to speak properly, without slurring? Would I become blind? ”
A chill ran down her spine when Jamuna Rangachari pondered over these devastating questions. At thirty three, she seemed to have it all : a job she loved, a wonderful family and perfect health. Her world came to a stand still when the doctor diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis in 2002.

The questions were so many and the answers, uncertain.
However, one night she decided to take the charge of her life and started to wage a war with her auto – immune disorder. She went ahead to try all the possible alternative therapies to finally find solace in acupuncture, a therapy that changed her life.

From talking about various useful therapies to sharing about her changed life perspective and how faith and determination can help one in overcoming any challenge, this book is a must read for all the people suffering from this debilitating disease.

As an M. S patient myself, I could resonate with not only her fears but her life philosophy that talks about the importance of love and gratitude in one’s life. I would like to conclude by quoting my favorite lines from the book :
” On my M. S journey, I began to understand that every natural thing exists on several different levels at once. It is like a multilayered pudding that had a base, jelly and icing. Every layer is necessary for the pudding to be tasty and all of these layers when combined make it a thing of beauty. In this life, the gross level at which we can see and easily understand things ends at the tangible body…. Above these layers is another layer, which is even more powerful. This is the layer of what is called karma, fate or destiny. It is essentially acceptance of the cards that are dealt to us by life. We can communicate with this layer only through prayer, positive belief and gratitude for the small mercies God or the universe has bestowed on us. ”

When one has such a powerful view point, one can not help but ‘Dance with Life.’

Food is NOT religion

 

Food is a need we all have. Why has this become such a confusion and controversy? We need to remember we eat to live and survive and not really something that we need to obsess on, be it in the name of religion or anything else. This is the worst thing we can do to each other.food_02

religions

The fact is, religion has been formed as guidelines in every era.  Some religions used books, some stories and many used diktats. It is often said “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. The fact is this is true for all religions as every religion has evolved as a way of life in whichever region they were born.

As far as belief systems are concerned, we must remember that these happened because of the region and the conditions where the religions were born.

 

Food and religion

All religions have their own guidelines regarding food mainly because of anthropology.

For instance, both Islam and Judaism have the similar guidelines. Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines.

In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.

The fact is both halal and kosher meats are likely to decay later than the method where blood is not drained. They also believe in killing instantly and though the blood drains gradually, according to them, the animal does not feel this.

Christianity does not have any particular practice but it is believed that meat consumed by Christians should not retain any blood, just like Judaism and Islam.

The fact is as these came from an era where the climatic conditions made it more likely to decay this was a major parameter in the times where there were no refrigerators or ACs.

In the huge debate on whether or not this is cruel to the animals, we need to remember food is just food and meat is just meat, however one kills it.

Eastern religions

Early Buddhist monks depended on food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant. This included fish and meat. The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many do consume meat. This again depends on the region in which they originated.

The basic tenet of Jainism is non-violence. Jains do not believe in killing anything, be it even plants hence do not recommend eating root vegetables. From a higher perspective, one needs to remember that non-violence actually means not offending others and not just about food.  A Jain who truly understands this will never offend others about their food choices.

From the Hindu point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged as Hinduism was born in an agrarian society. Swami Vivekananda often pointed out this obsession with food and had said “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef.” We went on to aver that “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”

Food is not who we are

We must remember religion is about spirituality not about what we wear, what we speak and most certainly not about what we eat.

One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. Definitely, we do a much greater wrong when we make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than we do. This is one of the basic tenets of freedom and yes, about bonding too. Let us make food a medium of bonding not growing apart.

 

True Heroism

I do think we should not focus on the negative but the greatest challenge of all is defining terms that are negative or positive. Most of all, who is it that makes these definitions?

gurmeharkaurLet us take the example of Gurmehar Kaur. I had heard about her a long while ago when she was encouraged when she began on a mission towards peace.

Her father, Capt Mandeep was with 4 Rashtriya Rifles when militants stormed his camp in Kupwara in August 1999. He was killed in the gun battle that followed when he was just 30.

Gurmehar has spent almost all her years missing her father. She was two and her sister, Bani, was five months old when their father was killed.

In May 2016,  she was the subject of a silent video by Ram Subramaniam, an ad filmmaker whose Facebook page — Voice of Ram — aims to “create a positive change”.

In the video, Gurmehar recounts how as a six-year-old she tried to stab a burqa-clad woman because she believed Muslims killed her father. Gurmehar is who she is today hugely because of the parenting and the right values she has received from her mother. She explained to her that it was war that killed her father, not people and certainly not a particular community. “I fight for peace between India and Pakistan,” she has often said and considers herself a soldier of a different kind.

Though her life has been quite tough, she has learnt that hatred does not take us forward in any way. “Try and affect people in a positive way, that’s the only way to bring about a change,” she said in a Facebook chat on 30 January 2016.

This day is of course significant as it is the day we lost the greatest peacenik of all, Mahatma Gandhi. I am certain had he been here, he would have surely been proud of this young girl. Having lost her father and suffered more than many of us, the fact that she has embarked on a journey towards peace shows her as a person with tremendous emotional maturity.

Gurmehar has written a book on life in the forces and peace between the two neighbours. “We can have a cordial relationship, we don’t need to hate each other,” she said during the chat, as she took questions from people.

Her peace push has not gone unnoticed. She has quite a following in Pakistan and she hopes to visit the neighbouring country this year.

People are now blaming her for asking for a right to freedom of expression. This is not directly related to her but she knows this kind of freedom is very important not just for her but for the students and adults too. If friendship and peace and thought to be negative, where are we heading towards?

It is high time we join hands with her to understand what true heroism and maturity is all about and raise a toast to her and her ilk.

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