Waking up…

The house is quiet. All the people in my house (Daalu, Anji, my parents visiting from India) are resting, taking a nap this afternoon. I can hear the wind rustling through the trees, a gentle breeze through the late afternoon light. Anji is moving in her sleep, slowly crossing over from sleep to awake-ness. Have you ever been aware of that exact moment when it happens? There is possibly one definite moment when we are no longer sleeping, and fully awake. Isn’t that true of every time when we are no longer drifting in thought, but have become fully conscious and awake, present in the moment. The more we can pay attention to this moment of waking up, the more often we have the opportunity to begin again. And this beginning again and again and again and letting go of the past and the future and entering more fully into the now – this I feel is what builds our resilience and inner strength and open heart.

Of course, some moments are harder than others to enter into, they test the vulnerability of the heart, of how much we can stay open, not through sheer will but through gentleness. And yet, isn’t this too an opportunity through compassion, to begin again? Perhaps, that is why Rumi says:

“Why should we grieve that we have been sleeping?

It does not matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We are groggy, but let the guilt go.

Feel the motions of tenderness

around you, the bouyancy.”

(translated by Coleman Barks)

For me, it is the time of year when my heart is tested, as many experiences from the school year near their end. This week, I had my last day of class with my seniors. I had always wanted to do this, this is the first year that I actually managed to do it: to write a card for each of my seniors, wishing them luck on their new adventures. My hope is that many years from now, one of them will find the card when they most need it, and know how much their Calculus teacher appreciated them!

Anji is nearing the end of her second grade, and that too is bittersweet, to see how much she has grown and learned this year, and all the many new experiences she has embraced so openly and bravely. She truly is an inspiration to me. Each last assembly, recital, homework and warm-up finds me moved, and my heart tender and my eyes close to tears. Somewhat ironic, as I have been suffering from dry eyes lately!

So, as we take in this incredible beauty of the summer, its fullness, fragrances and intensity, may we continue to wake up to our experiences and live more fully in the present…!

With love, S.

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Reflections on a snow-day…

It has been a while since I wrote in this space. The recent snow, though has wreaked havoc on our school routines, has brought some time for reflection and pause, which is a welcome respite during the busyness of our lives.

The snow… I was explaining to Anji last week how incredible it was that I had not seen snow in my entire life until I became an adult and came here to the United States. How hard that must be for her to imagine, growing up with it. Though I don’t like driving in snow, I love snow days. I love watching snow fall like puffy cotton falling, how it makes the trees look so beautiful, with puffy bits hanging on, and how calm and clear things seem to be on a crispy winter morning under the sun. Winter, with its short days and long cozy evenings is meant for slowing down our rhythm. One of the things this winter has found me immersed in, is reading books: I read five of a series of books called The secrets of the immortal Nicholas Flamel, a fantasy series; and am now beginning my second book of the Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrente. The Oscar season always brings with it, the joy of escaping into a good movie. I enjoyed in particular, the shape of water and the Black Panther. Early dinners and board games after have become a favorite ritual of ours on some of the school nights. After intentionally deciding as a family to cut down on our commitments towards after school activities, it feels like we have more time to read together, to have spacious time, and make time for joy.

It’s funny, this thing we call joy. Reading ‘hardwiring happiness’ recently, I am reminded yet again, the elusive quality of joy. So much of our joy comes from ordinary moments in our lives; and how easily they pass us by when we are not paying attention. And how paying attention requires us to slow down. And how slowing down, is not always comfortable. On Sunday morning, I was making my hot cup of tea, while Anji was having her breakfast. I felt this rush of feeling, of good health and gratitude to have an open day, a healthy child (bouncing back from a cold), food to eat and a bright morning. It is hard to describe this feeling; since so often it comes with trying to hold on to it, by analyzing why and how to make it continue. In that moment, I felt perfectly contented. I am sure my mood went through changes during the course of the day, reacting to circumstances; but I remembered that rush of feeling several times that day; its memory brought me more happiness.

It is so easy to take for granted these moments. For example, today Anjali showed me traditions from around the world in this cook book she is reading. (I know: I have a daughter who reads cookbooks for fun!). When I asked her about our traditions, she said we didn’t have any! I was dismayed since I have spent so many years trying to cultivate traditions (like coconut laddoos for Diwali, chocolate bark for Xmas etc!). Then I reminded her of our simple tradition: of having dinner together as a family each day: such a simple thing, but so easily taken for granted. And I saw her have an AHA moment. I think, when we remember to celebrate the simple things, with easy delight and happiness, we show our little ones how to do it.

So, may this winter, and snow bring you some ordinary moments of everyday delight; moments that nourish us and make us better capable to respond with kindness to an increasingly volatile world around us. May we appreciate these moments and take them in!

Love, S.

Moon and clouds, Mountain and valley…

‘Moon and clouds are the same

Mountain and valley are different

All are blessed, all are blessed

Is this one or is this two? ‘

 

This beautiful zen poem by Wu Men came into my mind today. Anjali (nickname Anji), my six and a half year old daughter has a soft spot for babies and stuffies. She loves her snugglies – she has about a hundred of them in her room, and is always looking to add a new one. For a while there, I bought every lego set, gears, blocks I could, and then I realized that she didn’t care for building, all the blocks came in handy only to play house with her stuffies. She loves to invent and create and to her, building was incidental – the story it helped make was what she was interested in. Anjali has always loved stories – I believe that is how she taught herself to read – the possibility that she could have direct access to them without waiting for an adult to read them to her!

Anyhow, this is incidental to my main story today. A couple of days ago, Anji mentioned the notion that I loved her more when she was a baby. We had visited a neighbor’s baby and she was touched by how beautiful the baby was and how tiny. She was drawn into that quiet love, and perhaps without having a tangible memory, she was lamenting the days gone of being held and taken care of. I vehemently tried to rationalize with her – how I loved her so much more having seen her grow and become who she is. But I could tell that she thought they were just rationalizations.

So coming to Wu Men’s poem. ‘Moon and clouds are the same’. It made me think of this phase in a mother’s life (and child’s life) where there is no separation between child and parent. When Anji was little, what she felt was what I felt! I could not separate her tears, her tantrums, nor her joy and her delight from mine. Every new step she took was also a new step for me. We grew together and as she learned the first steps of independence and growth, so did I. Through preschool and kindergarten; she blossomed first into learning her capabilities and boundaries and then exploring her social life. I was by her side, and yet also giving her increasing level of independence. And then before we knew it, our little girl was off to first grade! A whole day of school, of new rules, of learning, of so much creativity and managing so many relationships of her own. My girl took a big step forward. And so did I.

So did I – into rediscovering myself. I dipped back into books, into having my relationships in a new way and mostly giving permission to myself to explore what I wanted. When this phase began, I don’t know. And while, it has felt like this was necessary for me to grow, I have never really given thought to the end that it brought too – the end of an era of togetherness of moods, joys and a baby-mothering love. Perhaps, this is what Anji laments, and yearns for, this end of a time in a mother and child’s life even as she steps so confidently into a world that she navigates herself for so much of the day, so bravely and joyfully.

‘Mountain and valley are different’. And yet – are we different? Sometimes I think Anji can read minds – she will say what I’m thinking, or know how I feel. She doesn’t miss a nuance. And I know every tear and laugh of hers. Especially when she gets silly and laughs just like she did as a baby. Sometimes, in the busyness of life, I’m distracted running from one thing to the other, and it is she who stops me. ‘Mom, are you stressed?’ My Buddha baba asks. Sweet pea, thanks for the reminder! We learn something each day. That everything comes a full circle. And ‘All are blessed, All are blessed!’ I don’t know whether this is one, or is this two, but I know it changes depending on the day. As Wu Men also said:

‘ten thousand flowers in spring, moon in autumn

cool breeze in summer, snow in winter

when your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things

this is the best season of your life!’

 

So here is a reminder to enjoy the season of mothering that you are in.

With love, S.

 

Simple pleasures…and happy-ness!

You know how sometimes you need that break to reset the clock, and remind you to slow down? It was wonderful to get away during spring break. We returned on Thursday and I spent the next two days frantically cleaning our home – reorganizing furniture, getting rid of clutter. With the nice weather, my soul now feels more at peace with my home and surroundings. Feeling the wind ruffle my hair, the air cool on my skin as I went for a short walk during Anji’s music lesson. Riding our bikes around the condo after we returned from school…Just hanging out on the table after dinner, coloring in my book, listening to Anjali play music while Abhi filled her bath upstairs… Simple pleasures make the day. Somehow they always have, for me.

 

We had a fantastic time in Orlando – it has been a while since the three of us traveled together as a family, especially involving plane travel. Looking up from the book I was reading on the plane, I saw Abhi engrossed in his reading and Anji engrossed in hers. We are all so alike – our love for books, for independence and for time and space to just be. It’s one of the reasons I love my family and I feel grateful that we are similar in that way. We are also each different and unique and that’s fun too – to navigate during a vacation and figure out things that each of us likes. Probably, Abhi gets the rough end of the bargain – since he usually goes along with what Anji and I want. But every now and then, he gets what he likes best too – watching a movie or playing a solid game of chess. Simple pleasures make the day.

 

Even though, we did the Disney trip and even saw a rocket launch from the space center, want to know my favorite part? Lounging by the pool, feeling the heat on my skin, watching Anji do the water slide, and dipping into my book. Adventures are fun! But for me, it is always the down time that makes me appreciate everything else and brings me a sense of gratitude and wholeness. That’s all we did, the last day – lounge, swim, shower, get a massage, eat delicious food and yummy key lime pie. Somehow, it was the best day of all…

 

What is it that makes your day? What makes you happy? Did you see clear blue skies today or twinkling stars in the night? Or the smile on the face of an eager child? Or feel the rush of something new? Or the comfort of something old? (like your favorite snuggly pajamas!). Here is an invitation – pay attention when you get happy like that, shining from the inside. It will light up the space inside of you. As Rumi says, “No one knows what makes the soul wake up so happy! Maybe a dawn breeze has blown the veil from the face of God.”

 

With love, S.

Old and new…

Writing from Tuckerbox during winter break! It feels like months or years since I have been here, and it probably has been! The coffee shop has expanded and now offers Turkish breakfast and lunch in addition to American staples. I like the familiarity of the seat by the window overlooking the train station, and I also like the newness of being waited on instead of ordering at the counter. New versus old: I think I just found the theme of this post!

Here is what is old and familiar in no particular order:

• Anjali is still our alarm clock for the day. Now 6 years old, she wakes us up every morning with calling out the time (6.14 am today!), and climbing into our bed to snuggle. It’s our cozy time of the day. I remember a lifetime ago, fighting to get up earlier to have some time to myself. Nowadays, I have no such qualms. I love snuggling, being in between sleep and wakefulness and grabbing those few extra minutes of hugging a warm body before beginning the day. Especially when it is the first day of winter break!

• We live in the same house that we have lived in now for nearly nine years. The view from Anjali’s room shows the sun streaming through the clouds above the trees in the horizon. The snow has nearly melted after yesterday’s warmth, but not quite. The view has been familiar for as long as I remember being in this room – and yet as I look around the room, I notice how much has changed. There are snuggly toys in every corner of the room, books strewn in different places (in various nook places that Anjali sets up for herself), pencils, markers, and smaller toy figures at various places on the floor. The room of a growing, creating, book loving, BIG on cuddle toys child that Anjali is.

• As I come down the stairs, on the dining table is the recorder that Anjali has been learning to play (new!). It’s a busy morning – we are looking for the wand, for the wizard camp that Anjali is off to this morning. Abhi saves the day by reminding us that something fell under the piano last night. Lo, and behold, the wand is found and peace is restored.

• Pulling into art gallery this morning is familiar, as Anjali has done camp here before, most recently last summer. And yet, all the children have probably grown a few inches taller. The teacher looks happy to see familiar faces and I imagine, that she marvels at their growth. On my drive back, I think of how the teachers would feel if a kid stops coming to camp the next year. Would they notice? Would the child be missed? I don’t imagine that when people move, they would write to their camp teachers that the children will not be coming to the camp anymore. I make a mental note to do that, if we ever move. Though perhaps that is the last thing on one’s mind when you are moving! Why wait to move? Maybe I will write a note today – just saying how much appreciate the art camps Anjali has been coming to.

• I notice how hard it is to write about what is different. There are so many small things that feel different – but would they count? I wonder. Like taking care of my skin again, especially my face and going for a facial sort of regularly. Its something I never had to before! I was mostly blessed with good skin and did minimum of maintenance. But now, as I grow older, my skin needs a little bit more loving care and I feel so good doing it!

• Being back at dance class again is new! Making it to class regularly once a week (5 weeks now!) feels like a huge accomplishment – it means that I have made a choice once a week to take sometime to do something I enjoy and love and that is good for my body! I don’t know why this is so hard to do, when it seems pretty easy to make the choice to do music or skating lessons for Anjali ! I realize that some of it is that I love routine. I genuinely love sitting to dinner with my family and eating together. I love bath time and reading books with Anjali and the predictability of the routine. I give up both of them but just for the day!

• Getting back to date nights (or rather, movie dates!) is new. Having one-on-one time with Daalu more regularly feels like entering a new phase in the ‘parenting’ journey somehow! This weekend we watched the movie Lion. Really nice movie with a wonderful uplifting ending. We saw Hidden Figures a couple of weeks ago, which I absolutely loved and didn’t expect to be so good! and told all my students to go watch (a wonderful intro to factoring and the usefulness of Euler’s method – If you can’t tell yet, I am a math teacher! ). Date night is possible mainly thanks to a wonderful sitter whom Anjali adores.

• Ice-skating is new. Anjali started skating lessons in the fall and watching her progress inspired me to try skating. While I am still pretty slow, it feels amazing to try something new, and to skate with Anjali, even if only for short bursts of time (she is so much faster than me! )

There are some things I would like to try this year, inspired by my friend Maribel, who though no longer physically with us, continues to inspire me to live life without fear and embrace every new experience that comes along the way:

New recipes, new places to visit, to see more movies outside my comfort zone, read more books, make it to a retreat, feel more beautiful, make new friends, cherish old friends, choose forgiveness whenever possible, say No to guilt, appreciate others when possible and be kind and have fun and be silly and not fit into a box and dance more often!

With love to you!
S.

Rediscovering our being…

It has honestly been such a long time since I wrote my blog last, that I am dismayed. How can it be that somebody who used to write atleast a couple of posts a week, now writes about couple of times a year? Once I let go of judgment, I see that this too perhaps was necessary. Necessary so I can start
afresh,from a place I have never been at before.

So, here I am. Namaste!

Are you conditioned to behave or react in certain habitual ways? According to Buddhist philosophy, we all have some conditioning that we come into, in our lives, either through childhood, traumas, or perhaps even past life times, if you believe in them. If that is indeed the case, where is our freedom? Aha! through discovering our own conditioning by paying attention. And through the process of mindful investigation, we can then be free, by learning to make skillful choices and relearning new habits. Alas, letting go of this conditioning does not happen without realizing them first. And that takes attention. The pause. The noticing. And with noticing, often comes judgment and dismay – is this indeed us, this person who we thought was just fine, on cruise control until now? And it doesn’t happen overnight either. 

Hence, the need for tremendous amount of kindness and compassion, for judging is so easy. Understanding and being compassionate is so much harder.

One of my conditioning is that I need to be perfect somehow – perhaps to win love and affection and / or to prove my self worth. And another is to feel responsible for a lot more than I possibly can be responsible for, as a human being. It probably comes with being sensitive to other’s moods and feelings – it’s hard when you know something is wrong, and there is not always something you can do about it. 

So how do I find freedom? For I do believe, peace and freedom is always possible.

I find that it always starts with understanding. And my daughter is my greatest teacher in this dharma. With her, I can be patient, kind, loving, present, joyful, happy, and open to wonder. She brings out these qualities in me, because of her joy of being and her large heart and her incredible capacity to pay attention. And if I can be that for her, surely I can be that towards myself. And I also find, no matter how I mess up, in her eyes, there is always forgiveness. To her, I am amazing and wonderful. So maybe I could be redeemed in my own eyes, just a tiny bit. And it helps me find that compassion towards myself. 

I am so humbled by this process. Always a beginner, always learning something about myself in the process. I am not perfect. I am reminded of it every single day. If that is true for every one of us, then how much compassion do we need to bring into this world? Compassion so that we can live with ourselves, accept ourselves and more than that, love ourselves just as we are. 

So soften if you will, the next time you tense up in self judgment. Find the inner being, who adores and loves you just as you are. Everything will be okay. 

Peace and metta to you, S.

Thanksgiving…

The moments that leave the clearest trace in our minds, it seems to me, are the ones for which we show up. When we felt that sensation of air touching our faces, or the warmth of that hug, the scent of that pancake or the sound of that song, taking in the experience, holding the memory in our bodies. Today, running on the green with my 5-year old daughter Anjali, feeling her joy and laughter as the fresh air touched our faces, and we fell on the grass laughing, catching the ball, is one of those moments. What a precious gift, it felt like, to have time to be with each other, without rushing.

As a mom, some of my sweetest moments are when I am holding her, taking in the beauty in her eyes, in her being, smelling her hair, running with her, listening to her explain the rules of her new game, weaving my fingers through her silky (sometimes stubborn) hair. In witnessing her moods, her ever evolving independence, her amazing capacity for concentration and work like doing mazes, working on puzzles, applying glitter glue on the stars she cut out so carefully…Or when she comes into our room every morning, ready to greet a new day, with the pride of having accomplished a good night’s sleep or when she wakes me up from an afternoon nap, always so excited to share the happenings I missed…she brings so much joy and peace into our world, just by being.

“Good luck to mom, love, Anjali”, said one of her notes. Another note was wrapped on a present – one of my bags – and said: “happy happy birthday to you”. Though it is not yet my birthday – and yet such a sweetness of thought. The tender lovingness of her care and her contentment in being, as she hums a song, or dances across the rug in a leap of faith… Being present for these moments is what makes me happy, and fills me up, so that I too am content in my child’s joy. Perhaps, I am the child here – ever evolving – learning to step back, or lean forward, making mistakes and learning from them – dancing this song and the next as I hope I am imparting whatever is most meaningful to me. Being kind, making time, playing, dancing when the music comes on, singing on top of the voice, in the car, and seeing the sunrise and the full moon. As I witness the unfolding of the most amazing mystery of seeing my daughter grow – into her being.

With love, S.