Monday, April 28, 2014

Watch your tongue (Zubaan sambhaal ke)

A double edged sword, sharper than the knife,
No balm can make whole,
the wounds it wreaks for life.
Be sure you bring forth with it,
words of joy, laughter and love
like holy hymns, from the heavens above….
The tongue is known to be amongst the strongest muscles in the human body. If we ponder a little deeper, we realise that its strength doesn’t lie in the form of its musculature, rather it exists in its function. The raison d’etre of the tongue is twofold - eating and speaking. The first function (eating) is related to physiological survival, a very basic need for human beings. The second function (speaking), is related to a slightly higher order of human needs – the desire to express oneself and communicate.

How often do we pause to think and direct awareness towards the tongue? Awareness that the tongue could hold the key to a healthier and happier life, if only we could steer it better. 

We are what we eat! So, the kind of food we eat can influence our personality. If we eat sattvic food, then our mental tendencies will be sattvic. Similarly, rajasic and tamasic food will generate rajasic and tamasic tendencies respectively. Not just the kind or quality of food, even the quantity of food has to be right for the body. Too much food will not get metabolised by the body, and will merely accumulate as fat, leading to obesity.

And what happens to the tongue as soon as we smell delicious food? It starts drooling! It seems as if the food is calling out to us to eat it. Before we know, we have overeaten. And, with that comes the slew of problems – stomach ache, heartburn and not to forget the discomfort and uneasiness. Famous nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar talks about the practice of yogic eating, which ensures that we leave space in the stomach for the food to move around and get digested properly. To do this, we need to bring more awareness to our tongue, and refuse to surrender to it’s whims and fancies. This will surely go a long way in helping us lead a healthier life.

The second function of the tongue is speaking, and its one that is oft spoken of!

The great sage Kabir spoke
“Aisi baani boliye, mann ka aapa khoye,
auran ko seetal kare, aaphu seetal hoye”
Translation – “Speak such words that calm down your anger, bring peace to others as well as to you”

Again, just a little bit more awareness, a small pause, before the unbridled tongue takes over could help us have more loving and warm relationships. The Bhagwad Gita uses the excellent metaphor of horses to understand our five senses. It says, these five senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste) are as powerful as horses. They need to be reined in so they don’t go amok, dragging our soul along. If the horses are reined in well, the soul which is the passenger in this chariot will arrive safely at its destination, else it will just keep wandering around in circles at the mercy of the undisciplined horses.

Amongst all the five senses, I believe the tongue has the greatest power to create as well as to destroy. Eating primarily impacts our internal world (within our body) and speaking primarily impacts our external world, our relationships with people. Therefore, what the tongue decides to feed the body, and what it decides to voice out can impact our lives tremendously.

Choosing wisely, pausing to think if the food I am eating will increase my well being, or merely the size of my girth. Choosing wisely again, will the words I am uttering increase the love, joy and warmth around me, or will they merely serve to increase the already rampant verbal pollution in this world.

Awareness, awareness and still more awareness…..that is the only way to go. Wish me luck as I try to practice this awareness in my own life and with my own loved ones…….

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My lesson in life skills

Some of the loveliest moments in life are absolutely free of cost. This thought was reinforced when I recently volunteered with an NGO called Dream – A – Dream. They work with underprivileged children and one of their highly successful initiatives is called Udaan (teaching Life Skills – interpersonal skills, communication, empathy etc to underprivileged children between the ages of 12 to 18 years). Now! wait a moment, before you conjure up an image of me as “Ms. Life Skills Incarnate”, let me remove all misconceptions through a disclaimer “I am no expert at Life Skills, but I sure can talk endlessly about them!”.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I walked into the activity centre of a small school building. The moment I entered I exploded with childlike glee. My eyes beheld a gorgeous view of 2 little girls, dressed in long, shiny skirts dancing unabashedly to Kannada movie songs. Rasathi and Revathi, were the two livewires in the activity centre. They were about 8-9 years old, and they captured my heart. Their energy levels together were not R+R = 2R, they were actually R X R = R square, because they energized each other through their antics. When I jumped onto the “dance floor” and started dancing along with them, they hugged me and starting shouting “Aunty, Aunty”. Some more children joined us in the dance. Only after a couple of minutes did it register to me that the staff was smiling and wondering who I was, though they soon realized that I was a volunteer with the NGO.

Imagine my joy when I heard some Daler Mehndi beats in Kannada music! It touched some Punjabi chord in me and I did a few Bhangra moves, much to the delight of the little livewires who followed suit. We also did a bit of “desi” Salsa and the little girls jumped into my arms as we tried out some twirls. They hugged me tight and I realized this was one of those moments when language becomes impotent. In great sorrow and in great joy language loses its potency and no words are needed to communicate. The bond between me and the girls was instant, love was flowing spontaneously and maybe I got a glimpse of heaven in those few minutes.

R square got a bit too fond of me though, and when I actually started teaching the older kids, both the girls stomped into the room and wanted to sit through the session. One of the boys told them that this session was for older kids and they should go out. Little did the poor fellow realize that “hell hath less fury than a woman scorned” as the two cheeky girls growled at him “Aye, Baai Mucchu” – (Hey, Shut Up). It was obvious that I had to step in now and firmly escort R square out of the room.

With R square out of the room, I could concentrate on the job that I was actually there for - teaching Life Skills There were 10 children in the room and all of us sat on the floor. Since this was a new batch, I explained the concept of Udaan to them. I spoke about how teachers at school taught them science and math, and then asked them about the teachers who taught them how to live life. Many of them have parents who work as auto-drivers, housemaids or have other jobs in the unorganized sector. Some of them also have parents who could be alcoholic or abusive and hence are not good role models. So, Udaan is intended to be one of the teachers that would equip these children with the skills to live life.

All the children had studied English so they could understand the language, but to explain deeper nuances I realized that Kannada was a much better medium to communicate. Thankfully, in my 10 years in Bangalore, I have learnt enough Kannada to be able to hold a conversation. Interestingly, this is where I realized the potency of language. Just as language can be impotent in intense, emotion filled moments, it can also be deeply potent in making strangers feel they’ve know each other for a lifetime. My broken Kannada and their broken English bound our hearts together. They accepted me as one of their own, and soon “our” group was breathing with a new sense of belonging to each other. I knew that the ice had been broken successfully, and I would now be able to do a much better job of imparting Life Skills.

As I looked at the children’s faces around, I saw my childhood and teenage years in their eyes – the shy girl in the corner, so unsure of herself, sitting in a huddle trying to become invisible, hoping that the teacher would not pick on her to answer the question. Or, me - the eager beaver, wanting to be the first one to answer the teacher’s question, because now I happened to know the answer. A young teenager, with kajal lined eyes and curls outlining her face reminded me of my teen years and the hours I spent in front of the mirror trying to hide the gawkiness of teenage. Yes, I did take a trip down memory lane and relived some wonderful moments through the children.

The children were enthusiastic, willing to learn, absorb and share. The session was interactive, and the children really enjoyed it. When the session was over, I walked out with a deep sense of fulfillment of having made a difference, in however small a way. As I pen down this experience, I have been there for the last 3 consecutive Saturdays by now. And, every time I wrap up a session I feel recharged to take on the world for a complete week.

The great poet Khalil Gibran wrote on “Giving” and said “It is when you give of yourself, that you truly give”. While I was the teacher for the children, I believe I walked out as a learner learning the life skill of “giving”. The reward of truly giving is joy, a wondrous joy which can only be experienced and is difficult to communicate through words.

As an end note, I would like to quote a few verses from Gibran on “Giving”
“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
………….There are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
……………There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
………………..And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.
You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.

……..In truth it is life that gives unto life - while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness. 

A Rendezvous with Old Age

“Senescence”, they call it! That’s quite a heavy word for something that gently tiptoes into your life. Old age is technically known as senescence - a gradual deterioration of bodily functions. It starts very innocuously, like a gentle trickle of raindrops on your window pane, their sound barely discernible. A wee bit of pain in the back, a little creaking of the knee joint. Disappearing as mysteriously as they had appeared, just like the raindrops that gently tapped on the glass, and then evaporated into the ether.

Rain can bring respite from the scorching heat or it can ruin a bright and sunny picnic day. Likewise, old age can bring relief from the raging desires of youth or become a roadblock to the fulfilment of those very desires. It is actually a unique, personal experience for each individual. For me, the raindrops of old age seem to be the harbinger of the spring of contentment. If youth is the spring of desire, red, deep and passionate, then old age is the spring of contentment, mellow and calm.

Malcolm Muggeridge in his book “A twentieth century testimony” makes a very interesting observation. He writes ….

"When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises; being known and being praised, ostensible pleasures, like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, exploring and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called "licking the earth."

Rare and blessed are those enlightened beings who aim for salvation from their very first breath on this earth. For most of us lesser mortals, the definition of success changes and evolves as we pass through different stages of life. Fame, money, status, being desired by the opposite sex, power etc., may imply success during youth. Whereas old age may evoke different desires like wanting to leave a legacy, compassion, giving back to society, and these may become the new yardsticks for measuring one’s success in the later years of life.

Youth has its own energy, its vibrancy as well as its foolishness, which are to be enjoyed and lived fully. Old age brings greater method to the madness, and a deeper sense of humour that looks back at one’s own foolishness in youth and lets out a loud guffaw.

My greatest delight as I edge closer to completing forty years of life is the “lightness of being” that is slowly, but surely washing over me. Bathing me in its warm, golden radiance, lifting me higher and closer to an abundant way of thinking. The petty quarrels, jealousies, anger, insecurities seem to be losing their grip on me. Ten years ago, they would cause me many a sleepless night and outbursts of rage or tears. Now, they don’t appear to be as powerful. I am able to forgive and let go much faster than I would have when I was younger. Fear, the most basic human emotion, also seems to be giving way to faith. In fact, fear begins to exit, when faith begins to enter. Paradoxically, as my body starts to become weaker, my soul seems to become stronger.

In time, the raindrops on the window pane will become louder. The small aches and pains will give way to the greater difficulties of old age. And, one day it will start pouring cats and dogs. The window pane, no longer able to withstand the force of the rain will shatter. I hope, along with it will shatter the veil of Maya and the iron gridlocks of greed, anger, ego, desire and attachment that hold me prisoner.

If I am blessed enough, then I will slowly rise higher, and higher still, on the wings of consciousness…….. towards eternal freedom. Maybe, I will become Wordsworth's cloud - "The cloud that floats on high over vales and hills" or I might become his golden daffodils....

A host of golden daffodils
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. ....... 

Many a sad heart with glee I shall fill....
as they daintily dance with the daffodils......