Saturday, December 15, 2012

Judgment vs Compassion

This post is different from most others on this blog. It is not so much about self discovery as it is about the loss of faith in our human race balanced with the hope in the same race! Confusing? Read on.

This is a true story. I have changed the names of the main characters but the events are true.
The Family
Baby 'Sunny'
Ajit is an IT professional who worked for an organization in Kolkata, India. He was given an assignment to work at a client's establishment in New Jersey, USA. He arrived in USA end of July 2012 with his wife of four years, Bina and their 11 month old son Sunny. They moved into a one bedroom apartment that was partially furnished with a bed and a few chairs. Ajit started working a couple of days later and the young couple were still planning how they would divide his first paycheck to buy necessary furniture, groceries, toys for Sunny and other necessities when there was a tragic accident.

One afternoon two weeks into their arrival Bina and baby Sunny were playing on the bed. Sunny was bouncing off his buttocks as he had just discovered that he could, and it made him laugh in joy. He did not have toys to play with and this seemed like a harmless way for him to enjoy himself. Bina sat on the bed watching him when suddenly Sunny bounced a little too high, lost his balance on his way down and toppled sideways slipping off the bed. Bina lunged forward to stop his fall, but missed by a fraction of a second. There was a thud when Sunny's head hit the hardwood floor. Bina jumped off the bed picked him up, rushed into the washroom and put cold water on Sunny's head. Sunny was awake but seemed stunned. He was not crying but Bina knew all was not well. She wiped his head and rushed with him to the telephone. She called Ajit and told him she needed to take Sunny to a doctor immediately. She did not know her way around town, did not know where she could reach a doctor, had no car, could not speak a word of English and had an injured baby in her arms. Imagine the agony of this 24 year old mother. It only got worse.

The surgery was successfully performed the same night. A clot was removed and the prognosis did not appear good for complete recovery. Ajit and Bina sat watching over Sunny, praying and hoping that their darling baby would recover fully inspite the grave prognosis. When the lady from Division of Child Protection & Permanency (DCPP) came up to them, they presumed this was procedure so went in willingly and described exactly how the accident had happened. The nightmare began then.

The DCPP agent seemed determined to prove that Sunny was being abused. This was because there was another clot found in the baby's brain. Sunny was a hyperactive baby and had tumbled off a sofa about 6 weeks before leaving India. He had been rushed to a doctor then who had given him a clean chit. No tests were done which was why the clot had never been discovered. The DCPP had reason to be concerned and did the right thing in questioning the parents, checking the scene of the accident, working with the doctors to determine that the baby was not in jeopardy. What they did wrong was the methodology they used! 

The case worker spoke to Ajit and tried to convince him that if he implicated his wife and said she was abusive the Department would work with the family. She also said that if the baby was taken away from them under suspicion that the baby was being abused and if the case lingered for more than a year, the court would put Sunny up for adoption here in the USA. They questioned Bina for over 2 hours inspite her story remaining consistent about the accident. Remember Bina does not speak English and spoke to them via an interpreter. The doctors at the hospital (not the operating surgeon) gave a report stating that Sunny's injuries were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. The symptoms that prompted the surgery were one sided - the baby was responding well to stimulus on the other. The injury of the muscles of the neck were also one sided. The child did not have seizures and has recovered completely from the injuries.

Sunny has been placed in foster care by a judge awaiting a full investigation. The DCPP is supposed to have the best interest of children as their driving force. The actions of the case worker are not consistent with this at all. She is unresponsive to the concerns of the parents, clearly has no understanding about the cultural issues of Indians (in her report she states concern over the fact that the mother stayed under her mother's care for 5 months after the birth of her child with the father paying regular visits to his wife and son. This is a common practice in India and not indicative of any strain of relationship between couples, or concern over the capability of the mother to care for her child!). The parents have suggested ways to increase their interaction with the child who is only 14 months old now. They have visitation rights of 2 hours once a week. The time chosen by DCPP is Fridays at 11:00 AM at the DCPP offices. This means Ajit (who is driven to and from work by a colleague while he works towards a drivers license) has to take a day off work each week thus jeopardizing his job. The reason evening or weekend visits are not acceptable to DCPP is because their office is closed during those hours and supervision by an authorized person is not available (does not show interest in doing what is best for the child, does it?). The case worker's response to the concern was that the father need not be present for the visit. I guess that would be best for the child according to DCPP policies. The father suggested setting up Skype sessions with the baby during the week while the baby is in the care of the foster mother. The response was that the foster mother does not have access to Skype. In today's America that is absurd. The foster mother has a computer and internet access which was why the request was made in the first place. The child has been placed in a Caucasian home and has no exposure to his native language or culture. Sunny had just started communicating through baby words when the accident happened, but has forgotten those words in the last 4 months. His vocabulary has not developed in the English language either. The surgeon had prescribed speech therapy and when questioned about it the case worker says she will consider it when the baby is 18 months old. Another indication that the best interest of the child is not her main concern. 

During a hearing the lawyers for the parents requested increased visitation which the judge approved. The DCPP lawyer suggested that the parents find someone to supervise the extra visits and the judge agreed. The parents were able to get a friend who was willing to open her home and supervise any extra evening and weekend visits. The case worker then requested a CPR certification for the lady, which was then submitted. This time the case worker wanted the supervisor to go to a recognized hospital to demonstrate her ability to perform CPR before she would approve her fitness to supervise the visit. To-date the details of where she needs to go has not been provided. 

The judge also approved that if a suitable relative in India is willing to care for the child while the case is being decided, Sunny could be repatriated to India. DCPP said that the International Social Services would need to approve a foster home in India and requested names of willing people in India. The parents supplied 5 names and addresses of relatives who were all willing to care for the child. DCPP also said that they would need background checks and home studies to be done before repatriation process can be considered. The Consulate General's office requested such a study from the Government of India. A non-government organization was assigned by the Government of India to do a home study on Ajit's parents. This report was submitted by the Consulate General's office to ISS - who then said that it would not suffice! They needed the study to be done by their sister organization in India. They refused to divulge the name of this organization citing confidentiality as the reason. They also claimed that it could take months to get the study done. Clearly no concern for the best interest of the child.

The parents requested more information so they could prepare for repatriation in terms of process, information and any other requirements so there is minimal delay. DCPP provided a website address via email that does not open and when a request was made to provide a working URL - the response was that was the only URL they had. 

The baby was taken for follow ups to the hospital without any notification to the parents or asking if they wanted to be present to speak to the doctors. The child fell while in the care of the foster mother and his upper teeth cut through the inside of his lower lip and that was deemed an accident based on the word of the foster mother. Sunny has difficulty re-connecting with his parents every Friday and by the time he has warmed up to them it is time for them to hand him back to the foster mother. The psychological trauma that the child and the family are going through is unimaginable.

We are a pretty large Indian community in the States of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and yet this family has no one here helping them deal with the situation. A very kind woman S.A. in New Delhi is a lawyer by profession who has helped them acquire an attorney through her connections at Universities in the USA. There are non-profit organizations run by local residents who are standing by the couple and helping them gather information, provide connections who can assist, showing them ways to gather the support of people in positions of power so that they are strengthened and don't appear alone - and hopefully are not bullied into giving up their child. There is maybe one or two Indian families who are standing by this couple as they go through this ordeal. There are many passing judgment on the 'negligency' of the mother based on their 'personal investigations' on the case. Judgment in the court of the people of our community is that 'the mother is negligent. How come the child fell twice in such a short span of time?' Maybe we have forgotten the time when we were raising our children. Could it be that we were just fortunate that our children did not fall on their heads, but on their bottoms, their knees, their arms? I am not so bothered about this quick judgment about the mother as I am about the total disregard for the child. Sunny is an innocent baby who would benefit from being in a culturally similar environment as the one he was born in. I would have understood if our community had said they had personal limitations because of which they cannot take the child in, but to waive that option away so as not to be involved with a child who has been deemed as one from a negligent mother confuses me. If this is an unfortunate child of a negligent mother this child would benefit more from being in the care of a caring person who could help him develop in a culturally similar background.

The people from local organizations that deal with issues like these and help families get together again have picked up the ball where our own community has dropped it. There are some amazingly kind people who make time out of their busy days to help this family every way possible. They strategize, apply pressure through the right sources, think about the welfare of the child and let the family know they care! It does not take much, just a call to ask how things are going and if they can help in anyway. There is one family in Pennsylvania who have befriended them, taken them to temples during the festival season, driven them to places and even welcomed them to spend a weekend in their home. It gives the couple a much needed break and also helps to get to know them better. As a community we can help the mother learn English, teach her some parenting skills, show her that she is part of us. Rallying around a family in need is a very animalistic instinct and we are humans!

Today, as parents hold their children a little tighter after that horrible shooting in Connecticut, keep young Indrashish in your thoughts too. Is there no one in NJ who is in a position to foster Indrashish and can look beyond their need to judge and simply say, "He needs me. I will be his hero?" He will probably be repatriated to India or handed back to his parents eventually. For a short time please stand by him!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

This Day

November 3rd has special significance in my life. My hero died that day. 37 years ago, on this day, my father left this world and went away. He never left me, though, because by then his presence had been established in my young life of 18 years. Oftentimes I think that I may be fantasizing about his greatness and his importance in my life, that I may have this grandiose idea of a man who was really an ordinary, simple man. In reality, it is his ordinary-ness his simple-ness that made him so important for me.
Baba - many say this painting does not capture his looks, but to me it captures his soul!

Baba (I called him that) was a larger than life person in the literal sense. He was tall, broad and bulky for most of the time I had with him. He was also very principled, honest, disciplined and straight forward. He had only one side and that was the side everyone saw. What I learned from Baba was not so much because of what he preached, but from how he lived. His likes and dislikes were always evident; his views and opinions were clear; his convictions were apparent. He was open to learning new things and was always willing to listen to the opinions of others. It was hard to sway his opinion but if he was convinced that his views needed to change he was more than willing to dig in and change them.

Baba had a painful childhood balanced only because of the love and compassion of some very important people who supported him when he needed it most. He was a proud man who never asked for sympathy, but there was something about him that made me feel extremely compassionate towards him. This compassion was drawn out of me, as if, instinctively. I hated to see him disappointed. To me, he deserved joy after being disowned by his father because of a wicked step-mother. The pain that caused him never ever left him. I was too young to know what it meant but I was human enough to know that it hurt him to the core. This 'knowing' only grew with time and has extended towards others too. Emotional pain can be crippling but Baba never let it cripple him. He did contest his father's will - not for the inheritance of wealth - but for the establishment of his right as a son. He also gave up the contest when he realized that his energies spent on fighting for a right from a man who was dead, took his energies away from his wife and children who needed him in life. From him I learned the importance of being present - of acknowledging the importance of being there for those who need you - even if it means giving up on your own need to be acknowledged.

Expressing love in words is not the way of the culture in India. Love is expressed through action and Baba had many little ways of showing his love. The way he would look at our plate of food while we all sat down to dinner each night. He always made sure we had what was both nutritious and what we loved. Every night he would ensure my mosquito net was properly tucked in so I was protected from bugs. He polished my shoes when he polished his own to make sure I was always presentable. He was the one who ensured my school books had brown-paper covers and labels; the one who stood by me when I wanted to take Arithmetic instead of Geography in my final year at school; who let me go to college 40 miles away instead of the one next door even though he was afraid of losing another child. I remember Baba taking me to the Handloom House in Kolkata before I started college and basically walking around the store and simply picking saris randomly, one from each cluster of shelves for my wardrobe for college! We were not rich but his heart made me a princess!


I learned so much from my Baba, and every year on November 3rd I pay special homage to his memory. He never ever left me because he had established his presence in me long before his demise. What he gave me only helps me grow into a better person every day. His life lessons makes me a better mother, a better wife, a better sister, a better aunt, a better friend - every life role I play is better today than yesterday. I love you Baba and I know you would be proud of your daughter if you were here today. I miss hearing your voice saying how proud you are of me; miss seeing your face break out into a smile at a glimpse of me; miss seeing you waiting at the kitchen window for me to return home; miss running up to you when you return from work - but those moments are all sweet memories that I can call up anytime I need a smile. Your memory is always sweet - never attached to pain of any kind. My relationship with you had no room for regrets and I have continued living life ensuring that every relationship I develop always remains regret-free from my end.

I will love you always!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Responsibility

Bookstore
Late in 2010 I read about a large, renowned on-line retail bookseller selling a book written by a self-confessed child molester. The subject of the book was how to indulge in what is immoral and perverse. There was a furore amongst the public and a demand that the book be removed from the bookseller's site. The bookseller in turn slated such removal as censorship which according to them was not their responsibility. Thousands of customers joined forces and boycotted the bookseller, canceled memberships and soon after the company removed the book from the site. Many customers chose to go back to using the site and continue to make purchases through them again. I choose not to.

That incident has stayed with me as an example of how groups of individuals can abdicate responsibility by passing the buck to another. Maybe censorship is a big deal for the bookseller and so that was their first thought, but I truly believe that all the rules, regulations, institutions in our world should not rule over basic human values. This retailer probably refuses many authors for various reasons, was there really a reason to say yes to this one? Freedom of speech is a right of all, but that freedom abused cannot be a right. There must necessarily be a line that is determined not by written rules rather from our basic respect for one another as human beings. The innocent, the marginalized, the oppressed need us as individuals and as communities to protect them with every cell of our bodies. No one needs to know how to molest a child! The two words, 'child' and 'molestation' do not belong together. For me that is a no-brainer and yet the author gave an interview justifying writing the book to protect the children from harm. In his mind there is a 'humane way' in which the act may be performed. That can only come from a deranged mind. Such a person needs to be kept under surveillance because his thoughts are against basic human values.

When the top executives of an organization can justify the selling of such a book - they are not deranged but are calculating the profits and have shut off one side of their brains so as to let the other side do its job.

Two sides of the brain
Their brains are in an imbalance and this imbalance is rampant in our society today. The analytical side of our brain has placed a spreadsheet with a set of columns with specific headings and formulas, smothering our sense of values so thoroughly that our morality has become subservient to the glitter and glamour of materialism. This is evident when we see who we look up to as role models today. The ones with big homes, multiple luxury and sports vehicles, tons of money with faces and bodies that have completely lost their originality. We emulate celebrities by bragging about wearing clothes or jewelry that a star wore at an event, or one by a designer who caters to a celebrity. We are excited if we are in the presence of an athlete of a major team or a movie star. What is it about them that we admire or aspire to emulate - their name, their fame, their money, their lifestyle? None of these define them. We know very little about the real person within. Yet their outer persona is our ideal. These ideals only take us further away from our own personal humanity and divinity.

As individuals, communities and organizations our social responsibilities are multifold. They do not begin with donating a few bucks to charities or supporting a cause - that is a very small part of social responsibility.

Some Responsibilities
Our responsibility begins with being good human beings who care about the self, family, friends, neighbors, other people, other creatures, our environment, our earth, nature and our collective existence. When we consider this collective existence as an extension of us and us as an integral part of the whole, then and only then can we be truly charitable.
Sharing




Then it is possible to share what we have and gracefully be part of what others share with us.







I choose not to go back to the bookseller even though their repertoire is bigger, their prices are lower, their customer service is second to none - all great business qualities - but I hesitate because I doubt their integrity. If they can so easily compromise the well-being of children, they undermine their social responsibility and I prefer not to do business with those who may abdicate from their duty that demands they make this world a better place by responding to their inner truth and not only to their pocket-book.We need to slow down and take stock of who we have become as a race and champion change, be the change. Value the truth, measure the people we associate with and learn both how to be and how not to be.


Make a pledge to give up one action or habit today that is immoral or unethical but outwardly profitable so we can turn our own life inward and find that spark that takes us to a higher plane. As the human race, let us recognize that our existence is in jeopardy if we continue to compromise with our own humanity. It is my responsibility to increase the level of humanity and the only way I can, is by being more humane myself.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Concession vs Compromise

I just realized I have been misusing the word 'compromised' - I have always 'conceded!'


Be happy about it :(

Life has been a series of concessions. Give in, be happy about it, and proud of myself. I am not sure why I chose to fool myself this way. Maybe it is because I am a woman and an East Indian woman at that, who needs to consider everyone else's needs before my own. I never thought about my truth. Even as I write this I can feel the hesitation about being blatant regarding what I really want to say. It may hurt some people in my life. This, though, has nothing to do with anyone else. It is how I have treated myself. No one asked me to concede. I could just as easily have stood my ground, but chose not to.

I am queen!

My father, who is still my only real hero, always told me that I could be me and achieve anything I wanted to. Unfortunately I only had him actively in my life for 10 years. I took his lesson to heart and passed it on to my sons, but never really imbibed it myself. I live in this make-believe world where I am queen of everything and everyone around me, but in reality I simply hand my power to anyone who asks for it and pretend it is in my best interest too. It never is, I end up giving a part of me away.


There is no way to get the power back, as once given away it cannot be recovered. The power is inherent and I need to learn to use it wisely by drawing from my deep sense of self worth and self awareness. Over the years I have learned so much about myself and each discovery has surprised me, since what I thought was the right way to be, was harming the real me. Insidiously I self inflicted pain while vicariously celebrating the joy of others. For fulfillment life must be balanced. The joy of others is just as important as ones own joy. There is a joy in seeing others happy but to truly appreciate that joy one must nurture and respect ones own passions too.


I have given up careers for the welfare of family. It is not the giving up of careers that I am concerned about, it is the expectation that I should and would, that is the problem. To go from being a physician to an accountant to a home-maker because of the needs of my family have taken a toll. Being versatile is a great asset, but it also means shutting ones passion off. I am a healer - I believe I have the skills to help people who are ill. I am a writer - I can express my innermost experiences through the written word. I am not an accountant, nor am I an administrator, though I did well while I held these positions at work. When I ease the pain of another I feel complete, when I balance the books I feel........ job completed. No work is right or wrong, but how I feel doing the work is important and I feel rewarded when I help ease the pain of others and joyous when I write. I do not need to earn money doing these - I almost feel dirty using these as a means to an end, but the economics of family life has required me to sell my skills for a price.
Priorities are better aligned! :)
Today as I face another challenge in life I am wondering what I will be called upon to do, and how I will handle it. I know better and I should handle it well. I will go within me to find the answers and not accept what the materialistic world outside is demanding of me. Life priorities are better aligned now. I can truly compromise if the need arises, but I need not concede.



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Struggle

Difficult times visit us all as we go through life. Pain, struggle & heartache are always intertwined with pleasure, joy and jubilations. Just as we open ourselves to what brings pleasure we need to learn to open ourselves to what brings pain and do so fearlessly. Both will pass, since both are transient.





Fear only makes pain more pronounced and perpetuates more fear. The challenge lies in dealing with fear. Fear is an overwhelming emotion that affects our capacity to think rationally. Deep breaths and a conscious effort to overcome the fear is essential and constructive. The question, "What is the worst that can happen?" gives us answers that can be equally frightening, but may help quell the fear. 







Simply answering the question is never enough. We must find solutions to overcome or combat that worst case scenario by gathering more information, soliciting advice, discussing the problem and taking necessary action. This process gives us the feeling of being in control and of knowing more, some things that do help to dispel fear.

Sometimes the answer to the worst that can happen maybe as drastic as "I could die" or "so-n-so could die." Well if I could die then I need to ensure that those I leave behind do not undergo hardships due to things I may have neglected and so I could expend my energy in dotting my 'i's and crossing my 't's. If so-n-so will be gone, I need to develop a plan to cope. Often times, though, that is not the answer to the worst that can happen and finding things to do to help dispel the fear is much easier and the process itself helps ease the overwhelming fear.

Struggle is what teaches us important life lessons. Often if we stay aware and have foresight and the skills to make decisions by using the what-if method we can avoid the fears that bad times bring into our lives. To develop these skills requires a calm mind and an awareness about ones infinite potential.

Rat race!!

Constant rat races make it impossible to give the mind the rest it needs to be calm.


Nature Walks

Having a calming hobby like gardening, painting, running, nature walking or being in the habit of meditating, listening to soft music, caring for pets, gives us the opportunity to get in touch with our inner self.


Caring for pets.

Always looking outwards tires the mind. As humans we have the capacity to calm our mind ourselves. Just a few minutes a day of coming in from the rat race of life gives us the opportunity to ratify and strengthen the belief in our inherent potential to achieve what seems impossible - inner peace. Not that calming down is enough - from that calmness comes the capacity to develop skills that helps call on the inner strength to overcome fears and make intelligent life choices.

Struggle can break you if you do not develop the capacity to deal with it, but it need not. Look around at people, you can be sure that each has had to deal with struggles, some have stood on the back of it and grown to be better, stronger more compassionate people and then there are those who have cowered down and given up on themselves and stopped growing or being productive. There is a method to overcoming hardships and it is possible to learn the skills. Don't ever give up, find answers, take action and do it with confidence. Every life event will pass.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let's have some fun!


 We are all looking to be happy. Lets develop a pathway that can take us there, together. First let's define happiness, though. It is different for each of us. There is no wrong or right answer, so simply lets say what we feel and take it from there. Any suggestions that will help us define happiness will be greatly appreciated. :) So let's go!

Monday, May 21, 2012

You are Divine


Man is the human manifestation of divinity. Therefore the potential to behave divinely is inherent in each of us. We are capable of portraying everything that is good and productive. Our power of speech is a way for us to express our inner strength and quality, just as much as our actions are. When we align our actions and our words we have the best opportunity to portray our true self.
As I read, watch and hear about the events all around the world I sometimes wonder if somehow, somewhere we humans decided that knowing or manifesting our divinity was not worth it. Then perchance I meet someone or read about someone who is a true reflection of divinity and realize that it is not the world that is not aligned - it is I! I choose to give my sight, my ears, my mind to the negative influences and in the process lose sight of this divine world!
FB, e-mails, news, TV serials, movies, and more is a perfect platform to showcase what is beautiful and yet 90% of the time there is either negative or even useless nonsensical topics being showcased! I wonder why news about a movie star gaining weight after childbirth is a topic of discussion? Why? - because people are watching, reading, listening to and discussing it. The days on which I am less in touch with people and media and more in touch with myself I find myself appreciating ever aspect of every experience! All around me there is no lack, only opportunity; there is no failure, only striving for success; there is no evil, only an attempt to do good. 
I am part of an organization that is raising awareness about the plight of the poor in India and it heartens me to see that more and more of such organizations are cropping up and that many, if not all, are honestly tackling different aspects of life that make it possible for those less fortunate to change their lives one day at a time! Yes money is tight and yes many family and friends are not helping out - but the few who are helping are making a positive impact. It is not about quantity - are we changing the life of 5000 or of 5 is not what matters - what really matters is that the 5 we are serving are doing better and have more opportunities! They will successfully walk out of a lack-centric life into an opportunity-centric one! Would it not be better if we could help 5000? Sure it would but let me not lose sight of the fact that each person is the microcosm of the Universe and when one small change happens it impacts us all - including me!
I know of a young man who was determined to be a successful business owner and struggled hard for many years only to lose a lot of money and time in the process of ‘settling down.’ But the life lessons he learned in the span of about 8 years has made him a better, stronger, more balanced person than when he began the journey. There was no failure there - for even if he did not reach the goal of owning an island at 30 - he has recognized that his richness comes from his capacity to be happy from the inside out! His material dreams may have shrunk - but his joyfulness and his capacity to care has given him a taste of success that is clearly visible to me! 
I see stories about social injustices by powerful people and they are horrific. It is unfortunate that so many of us are suffering at the hands of unscrupulous people - but there are many amongst us who stand by others and fight against injustices! It is because we have lost touch with our inner self that many do not stand up for what is right. We as parents and the older generation owe it to our next generation to re-connect with our inner being and bring out the best from within us! We preach goodness to our children but we do not practice goodness. When we see an injustice we walk away - we have to be responsible for the world becoming a more prosperous compassionate one - and the only way to do so is by getting involved. We have to broaden our outlook - we have to think of more than me and mine - only then will we leave an even better world for our children and grand-children. We owe it to them! The bad influences are there but they instigate the good to act too!
This is a beautiful world and the more we look at what is bountiful, what is good, what is beautiful the more we will surround ourselves with abundance, goodness and beauty and the better this world will be. With it though, we must also share this abundance, this goodness, this beauty by expressing gratefulness, generosity and gentleness. It is inherent in us to be divine and it does not take much effort to be so. A smile, a kind word, a helping hand is all it takes!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Childhood Impressions!

Childhood leaves a lasting impression. Often times these impressions happen subconsciously and we are so entangled within the throes of its results that we cannot differentiate it from life itself.

I was born as the youngest of three children in what I considered a loving home. I am now in my mid 50s and have consistently claimed to have had a very happy and fulfilling childhood. Little did I realize that there was much in my childhood that I had chosen to block out of my memory. I may not remember the challenging parts but those events have definitely impacted me too and have played a major role in how I live life today. I live life wanting to improve my ways. I like contemplating on what I say and do so as to judge myself and consciously make an effort to be a better person. I am far from perfect and I am constantly learning from my own mistakes and improving on my better aspects. I am a loner, I like my own company, I enjoy listening without being heard, I enjoy observing without being seen, I enjoy serving without being acknowledged.

The more I contemplate on who I am now - the more I feel one with myself. I hardly identified with the physical me in the past. There was a distinct divide between me and my body and I think this comes from being more or less in the background for the first eight years of my life. I don't believe I was purposefully ignored or not cared for - but I was definitely not a priority. How I imbibed that aspect of my childhood and what impression it left on me is secondary simply because I cannot change what happened then. What I am now teaching myself to do is to care for myself in the now, to make me a priority for myself, to love every aspect of myself, to identify with me as a whole. This is new to me. For years it was the intellectual me that I identified with. All other aspects branched out from me the reader, the writer, the researcher, the listener, the consultant, the counsellor. It was as if the emotional and physical aspects of me were just to support that me. This separation was not obvious but I know now that it was definitely there. I flourished and was joyful when I was thinking, helping, serving, reading. My health, my fitness, my physical makeup or my emotional involvements were simply offshoots.

Being invisible to oneself is hard to comprehend for those who see themselves in the mirror and recognize themselves. I did see my reflection but never connected with it. That image was not me - it was never the person I was in touch with. My image was non-physical. Not that I saw someone more important or more anything. To me I was a dark skinned - because that was what I was told - intelligent person. When my good friend first told me I was beautiful I smiled - 'she was just being kind,' I said to myself. To me I was a featureless, dark but intelligent person - physical appearance had no place in my image of me.

Childhood impressions can last an entire lifetime. I am fortunate to have recognized and acknowledged it as now I can work towards overcoming any handicap it may have left me with.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Am

"I Am" - is spoken so often and with ease. These two words do not complete our sentence in everyday life. "I am" is usually followed by a description or a feeling or an action or maybe something else. In my opinion it is words we hear very often but we rarely listen to because we are waiting for the speaker to complete the sentence. As a matter of fact we treat these two words as if they don't exist. In reality, though, these two words are the most vital part of the person speaking. When we don't give it importance we deny the existence of the person - often we deny our own existence.

"I am" when denied becomes the ego - the 'i'. It is time to pay attention as soon as those two words are spoken or heard. It is the sound of the spirit of the person - it is what each of us is within. It is the true identity and the moment we tune ourselves to the sound of those two words we can connect soul to soul and with our own soul. "I am" is the sound of the Universe and the need for each of us to be heard. Each of us is looking for a connection so the separateness we feel from one another is destroyed. It is the sound an infant makes that brings his mother to his side with a knowing of exactly what her baby needs. The oneness that is between mother and child is the oneness that is Universal to all of us and the words "I am" is our cry to the Universe and an expression of our need to be acknowledged as part of the whole.

No matter what language is used to express the "I am", the essence remains the same. It is our state of being and comes from a deep space of identification with one another. Let us start by paying attention to the expression everytime we use it ourselves - let us use the expression to connect with our inner self - wait for a split second - connect and then complete the sentence if needed. I have been told that looking into my own eyes in a reflection will give me a view into my soul. I have tried it silently and find no one in there. So I decided that since words speak to me more I would use words to connect to my soul. I tried chants and I tried music but somehow they did not seem mine. So I decided to ask myself to define who "I am." I racked my brains to complete the sentence with words that would help me connect with who "I am", instead I found peace in just those two words! "I am."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Competition

The other day there was a comment on FB about a Yoga Competition and one of my friends asked if that made sense - since Yoga was more about serenity and tranquility done for ones own peace. Does it then make sense to hold a competition to see who is better at it? Well if Yoga is just about who can contour their bodies more attractively then the competition makes sense - but that will require the definition of Yoga to be re-written.

There is a bigger question about what the purpose of competition is. Competition in my mind is not about comparison between people trying to defeat one another - it is more about raising each other to be the best that we have the potential to be. In short doing better than the other cannot be my goal! If I am declared as the winner amongst others it cannot be about holding the others down - it must follow that everyone including the winner must work harder to surpass the established result fairly. When a sprinter wins a race and goes out and continues to practice to improve his own time while motivating others to meet and surpass his time it is a healthy competition - but when that same sprinter goes out on his own, takes performance enhancing drugs to keep his position of number one he has corrupted his path and introduced an unhealthy competition within the sport.

I must hold myself up to the highest standard and compete with my own potential. The moment I say, "I am better than the other" I limit myself. My success is not about being better than someone else, my success is about being the best I can be at all times. Today India is competing with the rest of the world for economic supremacy but we have sadly lost much of our traditional values to get there. The result is visible in the gap between the rich and the poor growing wider, visible in the way progress is often defined and visible in the way corruption and political mayhem is overtaking the country.

In my opinion competition is about progressing together and raising the bar at every level for all of us within a realm. When we satisfy ourselves simply by being better than someone else we lower the bar of what we expect from ourselves and others. No matter what the field we must strive to do the best irrespective of what the others in a field are doing. Winning is not always about first place it is about entering a field and improving it continuously and with single minded perseverance. Winning is about being the wind below ones wings and those flying with you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Balance Is

Place a 6 feet plank of wood on the ground. Stand on one end of the plank and get a friend to stand on the opposite end. Now seesaw. Silly girl, you say? I agree. The plank of wood is the world, the ground is the Universal One. If placed on plain ground the plank maintains its entity but remains in perfect balance rooted to the ground. Similarly if I consider myself as an entity and you as one too but know that we are part of the same source, there need not be a separation. The moment I raise the plank off the ground and place it on the edge of another plank it becomes capable of causing an imbalance and there can only be a limited amount of points on that plank at which there maybe a chance at balance. It is the same with me - the moment I see myself as an entity separate from anyone and anything else I cause an imbalance in life and there is a constant struggle between balance and imbalance which is the premise of duality!

This does not mean that I suffer no pain nor that I do not empathize with the very 'real' pain of those around me. It only means that I am part and parcel of the pain and joy of all around me and that I impact the lives of all around me by my actions, words and thoughts whether it be directed at one, the other, or at many! If I truly believe that I need to be kind, compassionate, giving, forgiving, empathetic towards the destitute or the sick then I must be the same with the wealthy and healthy too! If I am unkind to the simple and friendly with the rich then I am causing confusion in the Universe! Lying or being deceptive maybe the path I follow in some aspects of life while being true, kind and compassionate in most other aspects - this can only cause stress! It is better to stay centered and true to the core and live up to the higher principles in all aspects in life. Only then is true balance possible. Is this possible when the world is so full of deception? I believe it is not only possible it is essential! The reason why we choose to compromise with values and standards is because we are afraid of the backlash or the consequences that will come from the 'outside.' That is we separate ourselves from the Universe! The true consequence of all our actions comes from within - never from without! It comes from how we FEEL first about our own actions and then about how others judge us for that action!

Judging and being judged is a perfect example of imbalance. When we label ourselves and others, when we talk about us and them, we are calling up our sense of separation. Simply because you are doing something different or in a different manner than me does not separate you and me. Duality is a concept. All the possibilities together make up the One. Our ego hates to be judged by others but is quick to judge others itself. I am always right and even if I can see that you have a viewpoint that is different I have to continue being the one in the right - which according to principles of duality means you are wrong. Instead if I am peace and joy and you are peace and joy then you and I have views that spread peace and joy. Does this mean that there is no anger and sadness? Not at all - there is and I empathize with that feeling and share in it with you in peace. I do not add to it!

A group of people are trying to clean up the streets of Bangalore in India. They simply take their brooms, their cleaning agents, paints, masks and go down to the streets and clean them up, paint the walls, repair the pavements, remove the posters from lamp posts and trees, place garbage bins and walk away. They then hire a few people to clean the garbage bins, sweep the roads and simply maintain the small stretch of road. The shopkeepers along the street help them by making sure their customers do not litter and take pride in their small part of the street. These young men and women do not say a word to anyone, they simply keep doing their part. When asked what if you ruffle the feathers of a politician whose poster you have scraped off the wall and their followers act rowdy with you? Their response is a, "We smilingly let them know that this is public property and we all benefit by keeping the place clean and beautiful. We do not fight back - this is not about being against anyone - this is about being in it together. Most times people appreciate it and if they do not we leave that part alone. We simply clean the place around it and leave that spot ugly! The poster stands out like a sore thumb and eventually gets removed." What a great way to make a difference. Not only does the street get cleaned up but it adds peaceful vibes to the environment! That is balance!

We can all do this. Speak to one another from a deeper sense of personal peace. Maintain silence within, no matter how noisy it is around. Stop the clutter in the mind. Stay focused on this moment and wholeheartedly do what is at hand now. Small steps that maintain the balance that already is!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Resolution

I have spent the first month of 2012 retrospecting on my life and ways. There is a lot of good and there is a lot I can do to make it even better. For one I am determined to stay out of conflict. It is draining and counterproductive. Conflicts arise because opinions differ - truth is, opinions are only products of perception. Conflict cannot change perceptions especially when inflated egos are ruling the conversation. When perceptions differ and egos clash blame mongering, hurt and pain can be the only possible results. Negative vibes that this environment is overflowing with anyway do not need my input!

In the last few years ever since being introduced to separating the ego from my True Self I enjoy watching ego trying to overpower Me! It succeeds often but invariably I am able to pull it back and go into my essence and withdraw the little me from the foray! It is also very interesting to compare my egocentric behavior with those of others and be able to relate to where that behavior is coming from and how easily inner peace can be shattered....... or established!

Essence of any kind can be completely covered by the gross but the essence is never lost! When we see through the gross we can invariably find the essence. This is true with taste, smell or any other sense. It is also true with people. When we stop and look beyond the outer appearance whether it be physical appearance, behavior or expressions we can invariably see glimpses of true essence. The challenge lies in finding ones own essence! This requires silencing the mind, which takes effort, time and perseverance but once that can be achieved it is blissful and energizing.

In the last year I have spent very little time meditating and I am in the process of changing that. Worldly tasks no matter how noble disrupt my inner peace and unless I balance it with equal time spent in silence I am not joyful. So 2012 is going to be spent in creating balance. Each morning is now about centering myself and spending time being in touch with Me. Music, meditation, healthy food, early to bed, and a definite separation of the ego from my true Self are all in again! This is going to be the year of True Bliss!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Being the CHANGE

Bringing about CHANGE is a process that goes beyond simply thinking or talking about it. Change comes about because we DO something to make it happen. The process starts off with thinking and talking about it - but unless action is taken change is not possible. Inaction can be both Satvic and Tamasic. The two inactions are very different in nature. Tamasic inaction comes from procrastination and laziness while Satvic inaction comes from a deep understanding of the so called mysteries of the Universe. This is the inaction that is not defined by 'no work', but by working silently, selflessly and without being attached to the goal. We must assign a goal post that we aim for but we must be flexible enough to recognize that the field of action is much larger than the goal.

I am learning this as I become more enmeshed with The Wisdom (www.thewisdom.in), an organization that is working to bring about change in the conditions of the poor in India. We are a very small organization in terms of the number of active members and yet what we are doing cannot be termed as small. In a country where 25% of people live below the poverty line it is a monumental task to bring even 0.1% of people above that line. It is also time consuming and requires the remaining 75% of Indians to be less self absorbed.

The challenge is not in serving the poor of our country - that is the easy part. The so called 'poor' may be financially so, but their openness to learn and do what it takes to climb up makes them the group with the most potential to enrich our nation. The real challenge is in taking away the fear of poverty from the minds of a large portion of the 75% of us who live above that poverty line. We have chosen to de-sensitize ourselves from the pain and suffering of those less fortunate than us. We do not realize that we are poorer than the poor when we begin to love money and possessions more than we love people! Service towards others opens up a window within us that helps us see beyond this need to possess things and build a large bank account.

As I view pictures of the children of The Opal Project of The Wisdom and see their bright faces and hear first hand accounts from people who have visited them during sessions in class it is well near impossible to say that these children are any different than my own. They portray the same dreams, fears and hopes! They have begun to see life as an opportunity rather than a problem - they have developed the strength to stand up and face challenges and the will to expect better for and of themselves. I realize that this has come about not only because of the class they attend with us - it has come about because through the little we have been able to do for them with the money raised from very generous donors we have succeeded in showing them their own potential and self worth. It has taken compassion and love from those of us who are working directly with them that has opened them up to better know themselves and the power within them. They work hard and diligently through their day to day struggles of being poor and they shine because of this perseverance.

What has been undertaken requires a lot of work and yet I know that underneath the visible work that goes into it is the invisible 'no'work' that is doing it all. The subtle pat on the back, the smile when looking at them, the disciplining when they make a mistake, the enquiry about their family, the handing down a shawl when they are cold - it is these that have made the biggest difference. It is that inherent passion within our founder Sukarna that is responsible for the change that The Wisdom can and will bring about.

Sukarna has a lot of passion and it is this passion that drives her. Passion cannot be tethered easily and so she can appear very aggressive at times. Her passion shows through every aspect of life. She likes with passion - she also dislikes with passion (cooking is an example I think I see of her dislikes!). She probably does not dislike cooking because of cooking itself - she dislikes it because she likes doing other things more and I can relate to that! She has shown me how love and compassion can bring about change and for that I bow down to her. She cries when she sees pain, then wipes her tears and stands tall all ready to assuage that pain. She is incapable of inherent unkindness but dislikes any hint of hypocrisy. Tell her what you feel with truth and she will not hold it against you even if she disagrees with you - but do not tell her one thing and do the opposite then our mother tiger will pounce! The Wisdom is her dream and she has successfully made it mine. I cannot be as passionate as her but I can definitely fan her passion and help the organization grow and flourish. Change is already happening and I can foresee quite a few families soon stepping above that line holding our hands as they do so. As they climb up and out these same families will help raise others in their community do the same and one family at a time we will prosper! That is our goal, but our work in the field is much bigger and an opportunity for us to fulfill our own purpose in life! Those who make the most of this opportunity to help others will be the true winners all around.

As our Republic Day (January 26th) arrives I want to say a heart felt thank you to Sukarna for being the CHANGE! Those of us who are working in close proximity with her can see this diamond in the rough causing kind ripples under the surface and I am certain that one day our dream of seeing India in full glory will become a reality. Our people will become more caring, more compassionate, more giving simply by watching what these qualities can do. More of us need to join in the process of bringing about change not by donating funds alone but by going out into the field and being selflessly caring, compassionate and giving and spreading Satvic Inaction.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fulfilling a Purpose

Approximately 25% of people live below the poverty line in India alone. In a country with a population of 1.22 billion it seems like a simple equation where it would take 3 people to help 1 person to bring a semblance of dignity to the 300 million! I am not talking about providing just food and shelter - rather helping provide sound education so they may attempt to be self sufficient. Utopian - maybe but if we aim for perfection maybe we will reach somewhere.

The challenge is in identifying what is needed to help someone living below the poverty line to reach a level of self reliance. It no longer remains just math and numbers then. The human element becomes paramount. There are organizations that arrange a meal for a day during a special occasion or the distribution of blankets or a medical camp for the poor. The intentions may be altruistic - but I wonder if such spurts of charity does much to help in the long run. Yet it may save the life of some who are really in dire straits. I think it is important for organizations to measure the true benefit of such kindness and assess if maybe it would be more effective to spend some percentage of their funds on providing more long term help like education and vocational training along with training on personal and community hygiene.

It begs the question - is there a purpose to charitable work? Is it to feel good about being charitable or is it about making a difference? Of course it is important to help the sick, the hungry, the homeless in their moment of immediate need and this is a very important aspect of charitable work and must be continued but it must be as a complement to other sustainable efforts that will help those who want to step out of this cycle of poverty and be productive, successful citizens of the world. One cannot thwart the other.

There are many of us who are in the field of voluntary service and we all have a vision about why we want to be involved in this work. I am sure that most also have a vision that is larger than a 'feel good' need to serve. We want to make a positive impact on the lives of those we serve. It is not so much about making someone world famous but more about making someone feel good about their life and themselves. That is a great motivation for someone who is afraid to dream and teaches one to open up and begin to imagine good things for oneself.

When we lose sight of the bigger picture and get caught up in the need of the moment, we begin to lose the capacity to make a lasting effect. We bring about a drastic change in the capacity to dream. We make them short sighted and stop them from reaching out to the stars. We limit them to the dream of the light of a street lamp. A bright young man who wants to be an accountant is taught to be satisfied as a cashier. He is told that the faster he goes out there and earns money to feed the family the more he will be valued by his loved ones. In the process we tell him to stop valuing himself! Poverty is a horrible curse and an easy cycle to perpetuate. A major element that nurtures it is lack of self worth. There is no love in stunting the growth of a loved one - only greed. Yes I believe that it requires unconditional love towards a child to encourage that child to grow to his/her full potential. Any parent who is unwilling to give up their life for the betterment of their offspring does not know the meaning of love. If a child has not learnt how to dream or only dreams of being a cashier and becomes one, that is fine. It is not that a cashier is less than an accountant - but for one who wants a career as an accountant in a corporation, a cashiers position in a supermarket is a major let down.

When we undertake education of the poor as our purpose in life and we encounter forces that are bent on thwarting this effort we begin to understand why those living below the poverty line are unable to cross over. The sad part of it all is that those who are thwarting personal growth of our future generation forget the child and hold the condition of family and the community as their justification for doing so. In a culture where thinking about others before thinking about oneself is looked upon as an essential life quality it is easy to see why the child willingly gives in. Unless we teach our next generations to value themselves first it will be well near impossible to bring about a shift in the statistics of poverty in India.

We must stand up for the children! We must teach them to value their dreams and their ideas. We need to teach them to include others in their dream not exclude their dreams for others! We must teach them to stand up for their beliefs, to be strong and courageous and show them how to fulfill their dreams and dream bigger. We have a purpose in life and that purpose is to serve this world so more of us are living courageously, unafraid of evil forces and willing to stand up for right. We must lead by example and unless we stand up and fight for the children of today we will not have fulfilled our purpose.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Spring IS Coming

By mid January the ground is usually frozen solid and the yards and sidewalks are covered in piles of snow. That is a perfect time to welcome the idea of spring! It helps tide over the rest of winter with hope of the senses being tickled by the sounds, smells and sights of nature literally coming back to life! Mid January 2012 though is proving to be an anomaly in the East Coast of USA!

We had our first snow fall in late October - it was way before time and had devastating effects! The trees were not ready for the onslaught of heavy snow and they came down on power lines and plunged many of us back into a time when electricity was a luxury! We had all our modern appliances and fixtures but nothing worked! Slowly but surely we limped back to normalcy but it appears as if nature felt so guilty about what it did that it decided to keep snow away from us for the remainder of winter!

Here I am sitting in my living room bathed in sunlight pouring in through the windows unobstructed by a snow cloud or any cloud for that matter! The trees left standing have shed their leaves since that snowfall in October but the ground is an unusual color. It should be covered in fresh white and shoveled grey snow and ice, not this almost brownish green grass and clear tarmac road! The high heels, spring jackets and wind cheaters are still the fashion instead of the long down coats, woolen caps and snow boots. How then are we going to transition from winter to spring?

I know how - we will simply go with the flow! Nature knows when to bud and when to blossom and instead of waiting for the month of spring or the week of cherry blossoms we will watch and embrace the sounds of chirping birds, smells of blossoming flowers and refreshed pine; and the sights of colorful flowers and fresh green leaves as they come forth. We have spent our lives depending on the man made clock and the man designed calendar - it is time to let nature guide us now and enjoy every moment for what it is - a beautiful ‘present.’