Shuba’s Weblog

Journeys of the soul…

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.

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March reflections and April anticipations…

March has flown by! It was a busy month but in a good way. Here were some of the highlights of March for us:

  • Going to Boston to celebrate my niece’s second birthday! It was wonderful to visit and celebrate together and eat amazing food cooked by my sister. Now my niece routinely yells out ‘periyammmaa’ on Facetime, a wonderful feeling!
  • Going to Kripalu as a chaperone with a group of high school students. This was my first trip overnight as a chaperone – we were gone for 4 days – and it was an incredible experience. I got to know the students and the other teachers whom I traveled with better and make new connections. It was during the snow storm mid March and it was so beautiful to watch all the snow from inside. It was truly a retreat, with a lot of yoga, relaxation and mindfulness activities.
  • Anji performed in her first skating show! To raise money for the local children’s hospital, over 50 skaters performed in the show. That last weekend in March was packed with rehearsals and volunteering to get the kids on the ice for their part of the show. It was amazing to watch Anji and just how much fun she had on the ice! It made all the time freezing in the ice rink while she had her lessons so worth it! I felt proud of my diva and her strong will and determination – ice skating was entirely her idea and she worked so hard. I’m proud of you my baba!
  • Watching movies (Beauty and the Beast) and shows (most notably, ‘Humsafar’, a Pakistani show that was emotional moving, tender, a powerhouse of acting talent and the bonus: the music was incredible!) and reading books (Now on the seventh Harry Potter book – so addicted to this series! ) got us through most of the month and the snow.
  • Instant Pot! After hearing my sister rave about it, Daalu purchased it and has taken to cooking on it everyday. And being on the receiving side of it, I can tell you, it is amazing! The food tastes better, there is less hassle and every day, I have lunch packed for me by Daalu from left overs – there is such abundance of food in our home now thanks to Instant Pot!

I feel ready to welcome April. We just finished the third quarter of the year this week at school so grading is at a peak. The bright side of it is getting to listen to the feedback from the students on how things are going for them in my classes. Especially fun are my math one-on-ones – 10 min conversations with my calculus students on calculus, their successes, hobbies and interests. It’s so fun to connect with these students outside of class and it makes me realize even more how much I love my job.

Another week of school before we have spring break and head to Orlando for Disney time! Hoping to make it to Hogwarts and Kennedy Space center, and watching Anji on roller coasters, and most of all, hoping for spring and some warm weather (and no more snow storms! ). Wish you a wonderful, fun, fulfilling, amazing April and Easter!

With love,

S.

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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.

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On Retreat…

My meditation teacher Doreen has been caring for her mother these past four plus years. Her Mother Anna came to live with her in her 90’s, and these past years have been a profound spiritual journey for Doreen. We as a sangha, a community, have been a witness to this transformation that love invites – indeed asks of us – and we have seen the quality of metta and compassion shine through Doreen in her teachings. Anna passed away recently in March – in a joyful and peaceful manner. Anji and I visited her in her last days – and the room was filled with a sort of joy that I didn’t know could exist near the end. There was so much love in that room. And Anji brought her own pure soul into the room – and connected with Anna at that deep level that only children and old souls can do. It was beautiful to witness.

Talking to Doreen a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting about retreats. After several years, Doreen is going to a formal retreat in the near future –where one is often given formal instructions for practicing mindfulness, and the opportunity to go deeper into our own inner experience in the comfort and protection of silence. I was talking to Doreen about my life and where I am and how difficult it would be for me to go on a retreat right now – much as it is something I have always and would love deeply. My last formal retreat was in 2009, nearly four years ago. And Doreen gently reminded me: Shuba, this is a time of retreat for you, just as it was a time of retreat for me caring for my Mom.

This gentle reminder hit home for me in a deep manner. Many times, I’m torn and indeed amazed, even shocked at times at how little I know of what is going on around in the world. I’m not in touch with news enough, or with people I don’t see in our immediate lives. I’m not on the computer enough (and many times I feel bad that I don’t read the blogs of these wonderful creative beings who take the time to read mine.) My world revolves around my family, and caring for our two and a half year old daughter for the most part – and my own spiritual journey.

I have never skimped on my practice – even now (as before having a child) I usually meditate everyday in some form and read dhamma, connecting with an intention that speaks to me, and listen to talks regularly and attend sits when I can. I write and I reflect and I seem to have time for that. IN a way, it doesn’t even feel like a choice: my practice is how I take care of myself, it is how I tune in and find out how this being inside of me is really doing. And it seems to take priority over so many things. Sometimes I wonder, is this real, the life I am leading? Sometimes I feel lonely and starved for mental stimulation. But other times, this feels more real than anything else I have ever done in my life: there is a urgency right now – to be with what is happening, the emotions, the keeping up with developmental milestones (I’m not sure if they are my daughter’s or mine!). And the letting go.

Mark Coleman, who is one of my favorite teachers when it comes to dhamma talks, says in a talk, that the most important practice in terms of mindfulness/Buddhism can be summed up into two words: Let Go. Let Go Let Go Let Go. As a parent we are challenged to do this everyday, to let go of our ideas, our expectations, our goals and our agendas. We are thrust into this world where our little one doesn’t and cannot understand these concepts (thank god for that!) and we have to let go. It ultimately serves us well – but who said letting go was easy?

This is perhaps my biggest struggle: to let go of what I think is a good day, of what I think my daughter should be like, and the ideas I have that constitute ‘’good parenting’’ which in itself is a trap. Since I have no prior experience in parenting, these ideas are largely questionable: they have not been tested out by my own experience. This to me is an important clue. So I learn the hard way: to let go.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.” Says Rumi of the soul. We keep finding our way back to this field. This field – this abundant peaceful all-knowing compassionate place inside of us knows at a very deep visceral level what the truth is. But we forget in our human ways and conditions. And so we force ourselves to remember.

So I am grateful. To have a time in my life when so much of outer distractions seem to be removed so that my own inner experience comes to the forefront. All of it: sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. And it is just like it is on a retreat: a time for remembering the sacredness of our lives, in its tiny details.

So this is what I say to mothers who resonate with me (and to myself – since I so often forget!): when the retreat ends – however long or short it is – we will be ready to meet the outside world. Until then – this is the journey – and we follow. Lets leave behind our guilt, shall we? And lets take in the love. The love never stops.

With Love, S.

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preoccupations and reminders…

This morning I saw a flock of 16 geese flying through the sky in a beautiful V-formation. What a joyful sight! Perhaps spring is here. The weather is warmer, the snow is melting away and the energy is lighter.

I have been preoccupied. This New Year has brought for me an opportunity to pursue one of my many loves – astrology. Through leading new moon workshops at the Writer’s center in WRJ, made possible by the generous and amazing Joni Cole, I am somehow on the path to following one of my passions – combining astrology with meditation and journaling. The energy in the groups has been so amazing and healing for me as I too learn to live my truth and helps other live theirs. I am learning about groups and balance, structure and flow, yin and yang. And this has, as an added benefit, lead me to doing more readings for people – something I also enjoy immensely. Astrology balances intuition and science and allows for so much creativity and relationships that it continues to amaze me and leave me in awe of the incredible potential each of us hold, and how much we evolve with time.

So I have been preoccupied sometimes; ideas, words and prompts floating through my mind unbidden at moments. And that moment when I realize where I have been, holds a key – to coming back to now and seeing now with new eyes. Not tomorrow, not later, but now. In some ways, I’m even grateful for my preoccupations…

Yesterday, at the library with my daughter, I resisted the urge to check email on my iphone. My thoughts kept returning to this urge but I was staunch. No email. And in doing so, I found the beauty and simplicity of playing with gudiya. I found the awe and inspiration in how she put the straws and the connectors together to build a structure together. And as I was fully present – not pushing her, not withdrawing either, but just there – I was given an unexpected gift. At some point near the end of the play-time she gave me a smile of blissful contentment, leaned over, kissed me and gave me a hug, a simple gesture of her happiness. I was there to receive it.

Somehow these simple moments leave us transformed. These add up so that in the hard moments, we are able to better sustain our mindfulness and stop ourselves from reacting. These moments make our ordinary lives ‘more beautiful’, as gudiya quotes from her book, and they remind us that joy is always a possibility here now. In these geese and in this kiss.

So here is wishing you a spring full of possibility, joy and peace.
With Love, S.

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peace like a river…

At this story time we go to, on Tuesday mornings that my wonderful friend Nelleke introduced us to, the teacher sings this song, ‘peace like a river’. It’s a beautiful song, and Anji loves it, especially the words ‘peace like a river’ and ‘love like the ocean’.

I’m thinking as I write this, what an apt metaphor river is, for peace. Peace really is like a river, meandering, swaying, taking its own course, but drenching us with love when it passes by. We can’t make peace happen, though we can set the intention. We can’t hold on to peace, for it ebbs and flows its own way. But when we pay attention, we start to realize that peace doesn’t have as much to do with circumstances as much as our state of mind.

Sometimes, I’m struck by the fact that I can be in the most embarrassing of situations and still find a way to be at peace, mostly when I don’t make it into a full blown drama about me. There are times when I think I’m at peace with something, but it comes back again and in a different light and I’m forced to be honest with how I really feel (rather than hoping I feel a certain way!). And sometimes, I don’t feel peaceful at all, but somehow being with the not-peace makes me find my way back again.

I have had moments of drama, plenty in fact, in the past few weeks, but somehow that feels okay. I know for sure, more of it will be upcoming too, since I love things a certain way so I very often struggle when they don’t go that certain way, but that too feels okay. Underlying all of this, I’m trying to hold on lightly to this simple thought: I’m doing my day’s work. And I do it to the best of my attention and knowledge as I can. And when I fail, I start again.

Somehow this thought is comforting. Perhaps this is the secret to peace: one moment, one day at a time. And this too, is part of holding on: maybe if I remember this secret, I will always have peace. But I won’t. And that too is okay.

So here is a thought today, right now. Check in. Is there peace? And if there isn’t, can there be a small space, an inclining towards it? And what can help nourish it? And if you are so inclined, please share your thoughts with me here in this space…

With Love, S.

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On Gladness…

What does it mean to be happy? When are we truly happy? what makes us happy?

I have been thinking of this lately. that happiness doesn’t have to do with my circumstance or finances as much as a state of mind where I appreciate what I have.

Its funny, I have gone through times when I’ve thought, ‘I would be happy if only…’. And then times when I’ve simply been happy. And the moments when I’ve felt alive and engaged and joyful have had nothing to do with accomplishments or vacations or sunny days. They have mostly had to do with small moments. Moments that come unbidden and surprise me.

Like when I come up before bed and find that my two year old has arranged the three tiny goddess figurines to all sit in one tiny chair and I smile wondering how she balanced them. Or when my husband can rub my feet and talk to me lovingly when I’m being cranky and irritable because we got late for bed, even though he is the one who had been up since 4.30 that morning. Or when my earrings match everything I wear and they are my favorite and I find them right by the counter. Or when I do yoga stretches in the library saying om – namaha so I stay awake – and Anji thinks its funny. Or when we run run run up the steps to go potty time, or when she recounts the book we read earlier and says sincerely, ‘swoosh goes the fan’ again! Or when I see her tiny fingers trying to imitate the movement of her teacher as she practices itsy bits spider. Or I see the trees move in the breeze nothing holding them back except their own roots, roots they can count on.

Perhaps when we notice gladness, there is more gladness to see. And we hold it lightly in our hearts, knowing it will pass. Everything changes, people lose homes in the course of a single day and that today what we have, the smattering of small moments, joys and successes is everything that can change our lives. As Mary Oliver says, ‘joy is not made to be a crumb’.

With Love, S.

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Simple moments…

There are some moments, when we are in them and fully present, we see the miracle of life – how simple it all really is. Its when conditions come together – conditions we had no control over – but we are right there. And in doing so, we get to witness beauty and grace in its full expression.

I’m thinking as I write this, of our moments today at the farmers market this evening, with Anji dancing to music, and me sitting right there near her. There was no one to meet, no play dates or plans made, so we were free to be. The music was jazz/blues so it was very relaxing. The wind on the cool fall day ruffled our heads and the sky overhead was a bright blue. People were browsing the stalls, new students at the college filling up brown bags, girls carrying flowers, parents with small kids pottering about. In the midst of all this was stillness. Perhaps it was stillness in here. Everything was just as it should be.

I looked at her, my daughter, two years old, her hair tousled from her nap earlier, her nose slightly crusty from her cold, in her polka dot jacket and pink pants. She was in bliss – she was dancing to music. She was with her Mom. It wasn’t too noisy. Her world was complete. And in its completeness, I was included.

I had lost my patience earlier in the afternoon when she had an accident with the potty training. We had been patient – she and I and Abhi – in this endeavor and she was starting to get the hang of it, liked it even, being bare-butt so much of the time. And then in a moment of absorption while trying to build this miserable tent for the third time in 20 minutes, my attention was focused elsewhere and she did it, her business. I was annoyed – and I knew it in that moment. I took a deep breath but it took a few minutes to settle down – the resistance.

Perhaps that moment was perfect too – I just wasn’t there to see it – I was busy being somewhere else –the place where I didn’t have to clean up, where things were the way I wanted.

When things don’t go our way, how we respond is a good thermometer of our inner readiness and calm. Like food dropping from the plate on a freshly vacuumed floor, or potty accidents, or unexpected red light. If we are not in a place of readiness, it’s a good signal to slow down, to take that deep breath and to start over again. And when we are, that is worth noting as well.

So I lost my patience over potty, but I found it – hiding in the fall breeze at the market, under the wide-open blue sky, surrounded by trees that will change color soon, with my daughter dancing. In that moment, seeing freedom in motion, love in my heart, I scooped her up, and gave her a big kiss. And then I let go so she could go back to dancing.

Some moments are just right – the conditions absolutely perfect – that is when miracles happen. We don’t control them but we can show up!

With Love, S.

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The self we share…

A cup of tea tastes so good at the end of a long, day, especially if it is a Friday. It is especially wonderful on the days when there is nothing on the mind – no complaints, no grievances, no ‘I wish I had’, or ‘I should have’. Just peace. I’m coming to appreciate just how hard earned this peace can be.

Each day seems to have certain crucial moments when the choices I make will decide the course of the day. Many times, these moments have to do with tiredness and my relationship to it. Moments when my tired mind, if unnoticed, slips into reactivity and spirals out of control.

One such moment that occurs often is when I’m giving Anjali, our eighteen-month old daughter, a bath. By that time of the evening, I’ve either spent all day with her or been at work and then spent the last couple of hours with her non-stop. I’m tired and hungry. And if I’m not mindful, soon I’m caught in my own stories – of judgment and blame. In that moment, these stories seem as real as anything else. And they are not pleasant. Tiredness is really not half as bad, as the suffering created by my own drama.

On the days, when I take the bait in that moment, a long tedious battle ensues between my mind and my heart – each one tugging in opposite directions. It reminds me of Rumi’s words, “Thirst is angry with water. Hunger bitter with bread. The cave wants nothing to do with the sun. This is dumb, the self- defeating way we’ve been”.

Yes, it is self-defeating! And how apt that Rumi uses hunger and thirst as metaphors! After watching this play out over and over again, I’ve come to admire the importance and immediacy of this critical juncture in time when my evening could go one way or the other. It could go south, into a full-blown movie, or it could go north.

There are possibilities in the north, and compassion. All it takes is one moment of mindfulness. In that moment, when I lose my attention, I realize what is happening and I come back. I come back first to the feeling of my feet touching the floor. I come back to that smile of my little one playing in the water, joyful as only a child can be. I come back to the sparkle in her eye, and I say a silent prayer that she can’t read my thoughts. And I silently acknowledge: this is what tiredness feels like, and this is what hunger feels like. And all the stories end there.

It is not often that I have the capacity to be present enough to act this skillfully. But on the days that I do make this wise choice, I come down to a loving husband and warm cooked food and then feet up the couch. I rest in the love that my heart feels for Anjali – recounting all the joyful and special moments of the day – most of them simple and yet precious as they can only be for a parent. And the love I feel to have someone to put my feet on and recount my mom stories. And on these days, I feel profoundly grateful, and I remember Rumi’s words: “ You are the source of my life. You separate essence from mud. You honor my soul. You bring rivers from the mountain springs. You brighten my eyes. The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share. Doing that is religion.”

With Love, S.

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My flat tire lesson…

The last few days have been incredibly peaceful. Nobody has been sick, and things have been more or less smooth. And everyday I pinch myself at our good fortune. And yet it is days like today that I really come alive.

Last evening on a dark cold winter night, on the way to meeting a friend for dinner I realized I had a flat tire. I stopped by the gas station and the kind gentleman who worked there did what he could: he filled up my flat so I could get back home. I would have to wait and see if it held up. My lovely friend Sarah followed me all the way to make sure I got home safe, and then took me out to dinner. And this morning, after calling AAA and getting a spare tire on, I’m waiting at the car service to figure out if I need new tires.

Days like this, when we come face to face with the change, the unpredictability and uncertainty of life in whichever way, our practice comes alive. There is this incredible opportunity to respond rather than react when things don’t go the way we planned. How adaptable are we? And how present? My own mindfulness practice seems to be if I can be in the gas station and be right there and think no more than getting home. When I’m at dinner, to not be anywhere but with my friend- not with the car mechanic or the plans for next day and all that needs to get done. And this morning, to not be anywhere else but here, at the car service waiting.

It’s not like we won’t have thoughts that wish things to be otherwise. Of course it would have been more convenient if I didn’t have a flat at the end of a long day and we didn’t have to change the place we ate last night and so on. But we understand that this is the way things are, right now. They can’t be any other way. And thoughts are simply what they are – thoughts – fleeting. There will be another one before this one even ends…

The more I practice, the more I realize that mindfulness is ordinary. It is being with the washing of dishes, with the brushing of teeth, with the waiting at the car mechanic. It is being in the body when you lift up your arms in a sun salutation or when you see the blue jays outside jumping around from one branch to the other or when you sit with your daughter on the steps, saying two and three. It is the simplest of all practices, it is simply being here.

With love, S.

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