Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Attempts at stillness

I've never been able to meditate. All the stuff about letting go, concentrating on your breathing, imagining a dark pool into which you dive: have tried multiple times before, but meditation is like exercise: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And like every exercise I have ever tried, I haven't kept it up.

I recently flipped through some pages of a book called A Million Thoughts by Om Swami. What I liked was a section where he says, first learn to sit still, without moving a muscle- not even to swallow your own saliva when it pools at the back of your throat.

I thought this would be a good way to start. It sounded less like meditation and more like an exercise in willpower- which I do love to challenge. Om Swami had also described the way in which to sit- upright posture, with back rest initially, hands not on the laps, but in the center, maybe one on top of another, mouth slightly relaxed, tongue resting against the edges of the teeth, with a slight smile on the face.

So, a couple of days ago, I sat on the floor of the study room, after the house emptied of kids and husband. And I tried stillness.

It was remarkably difficult. Every possible part of my skin that could itch itched. My neck, back, legs and hands found muscles that suddenly needed stretching, the hair in my nose tickled, and just when I thought I had controlled them somewhat, my body decided that I needed to cough and sneeze at the same time.

I gave myself three conscious movements- three swallows. But I tried to still everything else. Regardless of how frustrating it was to sit absolutely still without a single movement, it was still exhilarating. I didn't time myself that time, but it felt like a really long time!

Today, I tried it again. I gave myself 3 sessions of 5 minutes each and with a firm resolve not to have any conscious movements, including swallowing. The first 5 minutes dragged on forever. I started by concentrating on my breaths- in and out, in and out. My hands twitched a bit, and I realized I had moved them only after they already moved. Just as I was about to leap up in frustration and check that the timer was still on, the timer went off and I sighed in relief.

The second set of 5 minutes: I realized that just the act of observing my breath changed it- I was becoming breathless, my lungs felt quite stressed and my hands started twitching even without my conscious action. Thinking back, there was some feeling of anxiety that arose every time I focused on my breathing. I wonder why. During this session, I had decided not to use a backrest, just to see if I could do. And by the time 5 minutes had passed, I was leaning a bit in front without having realized that I had moved at some point of time.

The third set of 5 minutes got over before I even realized it. And I think I was slightly better at a) not concentrating on my breathing b) dropping thoughts before I could dwell on them too much c) Stopping my movements before they started.

Looking forward to doing this some more...

Friday, July 19, 2019

Pictures of idols

Temple idols of various Gods and Goddesses were sculpted or carved or cast or whatever with a particular story in mind, right?
Like the Parthasarathy temple in Chennai was built to commemorate Krishna as the warrior in the Mahabharatha; the little ambegalu Krishna temple in Chennapatna was built to remember Krishna as a crawling baby etc.
No matter what the idols are or what the story might be, many temples think that the best ways to decorate the idol is to dunk it under half a ton of flowers and leaves.
Excuse me Mr. Vadiyar, if you do this, how in the world am I supposed to know what I'm praying to?

Sure, I could take the long view and say, well, everything alive and beautiful is God therefore it really doesn't matter what I'm praying to, even if it is just a mound of flowers and twigs, but then  why bother worrying about the exact way of alankar then?

I would much rather see an idol like this:

Firstly, you can see the face and the expression. You're like, hey, that's a friendly, if a little startled-looking, God.
You can see the carvings, you can see the markings on the wood. This idol is one that allows you a bit of imagination.

The idol's been carved out of wood (and kept in a silver casket under water and brought out every 40 years.. this year is a 40th year and as usual,  a lot of hullabaloo). This is before the idol got covered up in a lot of ghee and honey and milk and all the other stuff they like to dump on it. No wonder He looks startled...

On the other hand, take this set of idols:

God only knows who these idols are supposed to be... Krishna, Balarama and one of Krishna's wives? Rama and co? Some other version of either God? You could put in anything in there which is a bit golden and shiny and all of us would just take your word for it for what it actually is.

I know these are deeply personal and religious matters and that some acharya many thousands of years ago must have laid out precise instructions for exactly how each idol has to be decorated on which particular day. I'm not arguing against any of that.

I'm just saying, might be nice to see a proper face once in a while.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Teaching is horribly hard

How do people teach little kids without losing their patience? Especially if the kids show attitude and generally behave like little brats?

My mom was there to help me with the kids and their school work till last year. I managed it somehow after she passed on, mostly by concentrating on D and letting A do things his own way. But this led to A doing not-so-great in Hindi and Kannada, his nemesis subjects, though he ended up with As or Bs in the other subjects.
This academic year, D is in first grade, has a full schedule of subjects and I entered this with some pretty high expectations for A. I felt he was getting lackadaisical and lazy and wanted him to feel like he ought to give things his best shot.
Well, the year has only just begun and already I'm ready to pull my hair out and bang my head against the wall.

A has developed a sneering, know-it-all 'tude- he only wants to keep watching cricket or playing it. He yells at me, refuses to write down anything and wants to skim through the stuff in the most superficial manner.
D is the other extreme: gets extremely anxious about everything, bursts into tears if she feels something is incorrect and generally panics if she can't find something, whether it's a pencil or a notebook.

Getting them to study at the same time is an exercise in juggling- giving one kid an assignment and teaching the other, while also answering the first kid's questions and grumblings and ignoring everyone whining.

God, writing this makes me realize how out-of-control this classroom is. I don't think I should be teaching the kids anymore. This is some sort of mental abuse I'm subjecting everyone to, with the yelling and drama. I need to dial my expectations way, way down.

Is this why people put their kids in tuition class ?

I need to change my attitude entirely. Although, how? Tell Ani that he's free to study the way he wants? Maybe I should only intervene with Hindi and Kannada and leave the rest to him (Though... God, it makes me cringe when I see his mistakes in Maths... but no, that way lies mental torture. I need to let him make his mistakes, but also need to teach him that he and only he can put the effort into doing something well. How the hell do other parents bring up their kids? How does one push somebody hard without tipping them over the edge? Where is the manual for these kinds of things?)

With Durga, I need to give her some constant, low-level attention, instead of piling on the pressure just before any exam. And I need to give her some cuddles and physical affection to calm her down. Not scold her for getting tensed.

I am the problem in this scenario, I think. And it will only improve if I step back, take a deep breath and trust my children.

Can I just say, I miss my mom! I know it's been over a year and I need to move on, but it's times like these when I really really miss both my parents and I really wish I could just kind of hand over the kids to someone a bit wiser, more loving and more patient.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The all-natural, known-origin diet

A few months ago, RK and I signed up for a "better eating, better lifestyle" program.  It's really nice, the people who check in with us and recommend various things are great etc. One of the recommendations they made that really stuck with me was along the lines of eating foods as natural as possible. This isn't like a paleo diet thing, but more of a "let's reduce the stuff of unknown origins that enters our stomach"thing.
Two suggestions they made were reg wheat flour and ghee.
Now, wheat flour has always been something I purchase in large quantities from any of the usual big companies (Ashirvaad, or Pillsbury or whatever). And I'm very happy with the ghee I make at home from butter that I purchase from Nandhini or Amul.
But after speaking to this lady, I realized I didn't know exactly what was going into the atta or the butter that I purchase so liberally. What if the atta was actually chock-full of preservatives and chemicals? Or the butter full of antibiotics?
So, I decided I would do it the way my grandmom and mom used to do it a million years ago: actually buy the wheat seeds and take them to the mill to get the flour. Get full cream milk and extract the butter out of it.

Ok, so wheat seeds aren't as cheap as you might think. The whole process of purchasing the wheat (no more than 3kgs, because I couldn't carry more than that), taking it to the mill, standing around while the mill guy did whatever he had to do, and then bringing the hot (jeez, is that freshly ground flour HOT!) flour back home without hurting any part of hands and then making rather sub-standard chappatis out of it... bit of a let-down actually. Maybe this sort of wheat flour is very gluten-y- it was kind of hard to use. It kept feeling wet no matter how carefully I added the water to make the dough, and then when I added more flour, it would become dry and hard,

Then, the butter... OMG. What a nightmare. Firstly, getting desi milk from a desi cow (never mind wondering what the cow has eaten... I know which cow I'm getting the milk from, so I figure I am already ahead of the pack. The milk is.... well, okay. Not the greatest.. kind of watery, actually. Then, getting butter from milk is horrendously difficult, even if you put it in the mixie and not whisk it for hours  by hand like my grandmom used to do.  It's summer, the thing melts, it's difficult as hell to keep it cold and precipitated. Then the ghee-making... as soon as you put your nightmarish butter on the stove, you get the weirdest smell in the world. The whole house smells of it for a couple of days. And the ghee sticks to your palate and your tongue and is really rancid.

You know what? I'm okay not knowing the origins of my butter. And I'm not sure if the whole wheat seed-mill-atta nonsense is really worth it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Unexpected Philosophizing or Crisis and Resolution

It started off as one of those seemingly harmless, meandering conversations with the kids:

D: So now I'm six and going to first standard. Do you think I can keep having birthday parties as long as I live?
Me: Sure, but don't be surprised if I don't intend to invite anybody for your birthday after you turn 10. If they happen to turn up by themselves, that's fine. But don't expect a party with balloons and return gifts and stuff.
A: You mean I can only have 2 more before I stop everything? 
Me: Yep. Sorry... have you seen any older kids blowing candles and cutting out cake and playing party games? Nope. After some time, people just get older and they have private celebrations at home. I'll still buy you cake and you can still cut it, if you would like. But I am not going to throw a party.
D: Did I have a party when I turned five?
Me: yes
D: Did I have a party when I turned four?
Me: yes
D: Did I have a big party or a small party?
Me: You had a humongously big one when you turned 3. That was the first one we celebrated in India and a whole ton of people came.
D: What about when I was a baby?
Me: Yes, even if you were too young to really know any difference.
D: What about when I was in your tummy?
A: No, nothing for you then. Only for me. 
D: You mean you weren't happy I was in your tummy?
Me: I celebrated by eating chocolate. You went wild inside- you kicked up a storm.
D (satisfied): Ok. What about before you had Ani- when you were in school?
A: Appa and mummy weren't even married yet. Why would they celebrate your birthday?
Me: You were only a distant idea to me at that time, baby. I was too busy celebrating my birthday at that time!
D: Where was I then? Was I with God? 
A: No, you would have been someone else's kid. And your Appa and Mummy would have been different. You would have been different too... maybe you were a donkey. 
D: Mamma! Is that true?!
Me (completely taken aback, responding to the easiest part first): huh.... It's possible, I guess. Baby donkeys are awfully cute though. They have such long eye lashes and they are very smart and very stubborn. They know exactly what they want- just like you!

Inside, I was reeling. It made me lose my breath for almost a good minute while my brain raced through the buried ramifications of Ani's statement. 

My kids might have been someone else's kids. Someone else in the world might be grieving for their lost ones and I got them in some kind of cosmic musical chairs.

My parents might be someone else's kids now! When I think of my parents, I think of them bobbing around in heaven somewhere, gossiping, thinking, arguing... actually, pretty much the way they were when they were alive, but surrounded by clouds or something. And always, always aware of what I or the kids are up to down here. Sort of like those Hogwarts headmasters.

To think they might not actually be there, but have started lives elsewhere, is horribly weird.

Maybe they might have left some parts of their souls sitting around in heaven doing all of the above... Sort of like having a post box with a forwarding address to collect all the thoughts that go up their way and then direct it to the "right" entity which look like my memories of them.

This reincarnation stuff is a lot more complicated than it seems like at first glance. Hey, maybe my kids weren't really human earlier... maybe they were, I don't know, ants or something and had easy deaths and came back as humans (because they were such good ants?).
And maybe my parents, because they were such evolved people, aren't really back on earth in some different avatar but are truly merged with God... maybe they learned everything they needed to learn. Though, well... my dad was pretty short-tempered and my mom used to get super-stressed and broody about stuff sometimes... so, perhaps they weren't as evolved? Maybe they are back on earth after all? Then again, isn't the time in heaven supposed to be really really slow compared to Earth time? So maybe they have actually only been there for about a day, and it might take them a while to leave again, during which time I would have become older and more prepared for them not to be hanging around where I expect them to be hanging around.

Jeez... this is too, too complicated.

One thing my parents did teach me. When in crisis, seek help. Where else would I look but the Bhagavad Gita for matters of the soul? I know very little of the BG (actually, the kids know way more than I do, since they learn it in school... A and D can recite a couple of full chapters, isn't that crazy?), but I do know these sentences:

Nainam chindanti shastrani
Nainam dahati pavakaH
Na chainam kledayantyapo
Na shoshayati marutaH

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः । न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः ॥

Nothing can destroy the soul- no weapon, no fire, not water nor wind.

Don't ask me which chapter and which verse. God knows... haha... literally.

I'll find my relief where I can. As the BG says, it does not matter what the body is. The soul remains eternal. It doesn't matter if my parents are up or down or look different. The body is like the clothes we wear and discard. I should stop making my monkey brain jump all over the place and trust that my parents' souls are intact and no matter where they exist, they feel the strength and love in my thoughts. Similarly, I should trust that my kids' souls also feel the same and that they may be feeling the strength and love from people and other souls that I have no clue about. 

That is simultaneously frightening and awe-inspiring.  

Monday, March 25, 2019

Many posts

I've uploaded a ton of posts below. Most of them were sitting around as drafts and then I got tired of them being drafts and published them...
You've been warned...

Urban blues

What I really want to do:
Wake up in a farm somewhere- clean air, some flowers, many trees, a bunch of birds.
I don't want to wake up to piles and piles of plastic garbage and smoke.

Five more years, Bangalore. That's all I'll give you. After that, I am going to a village far far away from the madding crowd. A clean village with clean air. Where when I look out, I don't just keep seeing some concrete and smoke, but actual greenery. What a treat that would be.