Shuba’s Weblog

Journeys of the soul…

Fall…

Sometimes life is full of surprises. Just when I’m cruising along, something hits me like a ton of bricks. Nasty cold, headaches, awful rainy weather…IT doesn’t seem to take much. But it brings with it humility.

Nothing lasts – and it is a good reminder this season. I feel a tinge of sadness as I watch the leaves fall outside our window – the trees shedding their autumn garb getting ready for the winter. I so want to hold on. Hey wait! don’t go! But my words fall like the leaves in the cool air. Not much I can do about this.

My only respite is to remember this is how I felt last year during the fall time, and the year before. It always happens. and then when the time passes and the first snow of the season arrives, there is joy again. Perhaps this is the dance we will do until eternity – joy, gladness, sadness, heaviness. Perhaps it is the sure sign that we are alive.

Sadness doesn’t have enough space in our lives. We think we have to be happy, joyful brimming with good cheer all the time. But thats not possible so we set ourselves to feel bad. But when we make space to be sad, to embrace what our hearts feel naturally – with the passing of seasons, friendships and ice creams, the things we love – life becomes more real. We become more honest. There is no pretending anymore.

So I finally did what I needed to – went for a long walk – took in the foliage, hues of yellow, the leaves scattered everywhere, falling. I felt the cool air touch my skin, the leaves telling me their goodbyes in soft whispers. I felt my heart open just a little bit. It was all okay. There was enough space to hold it all.

With Love, S.

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Bird wings…

This morning was hard. Lately the mornings have been hard. Anji has been waking up in the middle of the night or early in the morning and sometimes both. And we bring her over to our bed – and after that, any sleep, if existent is broken – with her turns around and her breathing and her milky honey like scent pervading my consciousness. My consciousness isn’t mine anymore. Most times, this feels like a tender and sweet intrusion to my dreams, but sometimes, I just want to sleep. I want a lot of sleep. So much sleep, as much as a human being can possibly get.

My child’s colds make this scenario worse – more Mama time, more clinginess and comfort – to be expected for all of us when we are sick, but somehow the toll is always on Mama.

So this morning after dropping off my nearly 2-year old at day care, which she did not want and made her protests clear, I made my way to yoga Level I. Sometimes I’m wary of the levels – I can’t always do what I think I can and that sometimes overstretches me. But today the level was just what my body needed. I slowly settled in, letting all the judgments drop as Sharon’s kind words made its way to my heart. This felt familiar. My body responded of its own wisdom so that I could finally relax into my own being. At one point, Sharon said, discover your strength. I had forgotten I had strength! It felt marvelous to own up to my body and my strength.

So here I am, after yoga, at my favorite café, where the people behind the counter are quietly friendly, writing.

I want to write about the rain and the sunshine. The alternating dance between the two – and one that is essential. I want to write about Rumi’s words in ‘Bird wings’, ‘Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. if it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed.’ I want to write about how suffering is hard, change is hard. And change happens all the time. Children grow up and their needs change. The peace we are sure has taken root in our hearts and will always be there, dissolves leaving us in tears. Friendships change and people disappoint us sometimes. Our hearts sag under the pain, until the time when we discover the strength within. And as the saying goes, there is no greater strength than gentleness.

It is always gentleness that makes me find my way again. It is gentleness towards myself, and all my failings. Like being unable to be present with my daughter when I drop her at daycare and she is in tears, and I don’t have the right words to console her because I desperately need this day for me. To be unable to say the right words to my husband when he asks me at 4.30 this morning, is everything okay, and its not and I want him to help but I also want him to go back to sleep because I know he has a busy day ahead. My failing to pick up the phone and call my friends when I feel alone – that makes me feel more alone.

It’s always gentleness that brings me back. An intention that is picked up again by my heart in full force, out of desperation. And I find the strength again to life up my head and my shoulders and start over.

With Love, S.

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Listening at the steps…

We have a set of stairs that lead from the downstairs with the living room, dining and kitchen, to the upstairs which has the bedrooms and the bath and the study. We have a gate at the top of the stairs, for Anjali – that was installed when she was about a year old. (Now she is 21 months old). But we don’t have a gate at the bottom. Mostly because installing these gates seemed such a pain that I didn’t want to do one more.

So any time Anji approached the stairs, I leave whatever I was doing, to monitor her going up the steps. At the beginning, she was unsteady. But soon, she became a high-speed climber. Now, she likes to go all the way up and close the gate behind her. She is very particular about ‘close’!

The reason I say all of this is that, at the beginning, I had mixed feelings about not installing the gate downstairs. But now it has become one of the best things I did, or rather didn’t do. Whenever we have folks at home or I am too busy doing my own thing – cooking, cleaning etc – Anji will go to the stairs. Steps, she calls them. She knows I will drop whatever I am doing and follow. So she stands there, at the second or fourth step, and sure enough, I come. She then grins at me and says ‘sit’. So we sit on the steps, my daughter and I. and I listen. I know its her signal that she needs some one-on-one with mama.

Like most Moms, when I’m preoccupied, I want to listen, but only manage partially so, which is not really listening. But I find that on the steps, I always listen to my baby. I listen to her making sentences that I don’t always understand. I listen to ‘baby doing hop hop on the steps’. I listen to ‘baby sitting with mama on the steps’. I always listen fully. And I learn something about Anji, and something about me. Something tender and beautiful happens in those moments and my heart is touched.

I wish we all had signals like this when we just need some attention. But then come to think of it, we do. When we are tired, when we are anxious, when our mind is in a loop, when we are judgmental – all signals to stop. Go to those steps, sit and listen. Just like a Mom listens to her little one.

With love, S.

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Goodbye…

Just last week I was still employed with the college I have worked at for over ten years, and now I no longer am. Its like it never existed, gone, a decade of doing a certain kind of work and being a certain kind of person. As the zen saying goes, now, there is no trace. In a few weeks, my email id too will expire, and then I will no longer be in the system. Perhaps it will be like I never existed at the college. My office occupied by somebody else, someone more ambitious than me, more hard working and capable and some one who will perhaps move up the ladder, into a bigger office. And then, before you know it, somebody else will have moved in. The nametag outside the door, printed on white paper, will be removed by some graduate student who moves into the outer space enclosing my old office – who will maybe wonder for a second, who this person was. Who may hear of me perhaps over some chance conversation about molar absorption spectra. But there the curiosity will end – there is too much work to do!

And I, as I start a new kind of life, will wonder every now and then about my old life, and what people are working on – which new research project and which new grant. It will be a passing inquiry, a sort of wondering that that doesn’t hold on. My attention will wander to other things and I will soon have forgotten about that momentary inquiry. Or perhaps on a sunny Tuesday day, when I’m sitting outside with Anjali watching her play, I will thank my lucky stars that I’m not at the weekly group meeting we always had on Tuesday mornings, that has governed more schedules in my life than anything else. Or perhaps, I will bump into my ex-Boss in town while grocery shopping, and smile at him with the same care I have always felt for him – a camaraderie for someone who is a good man and works hard. Or maybe it will be his wife I meet, and we will exchange greetings. If I’m with Anjali, she will exclaim at how much Anji has grown and changed, and that will be what marks the passage of time.

I haven’t yet thought of what will replace the energy I gave my job for so many years – all of my twenties. Part of the question has already been answered this past year and half – through becoming a Mom and the energy and attention it takes both of the mind and the body. And how in the midst of reacting to a stream of changes, of happenings, of every day routine, there are these pauses that stop time and make me speechless in awe that my life has changed so much, more than I could ever have imagined. These pauses are the reminder that in spite of that shoulder ache or that tight back muscle, my heart feels more and more open. Open in that sweet love that a parent feels for his or her child and in compassion for myself for all the times I fail to be who I want to be. In these moments, life becomes more alive than ever, and feelings become beautiful and there is an ache in the heart sometimes, a wanting to stop time so that I can hold on to this moment just a little more. This hug from my little girl, of touching her small hands, and hearing her new words, and witness her tireless and fearless ability to want to learn new words, actions and way of being.

Leaving science, I’ve somehow made my way to being with the coolest scientist I have ever known – always wanting to explore and view things differently. I’m in awe of this process – of watching her brain make new connections each day, each connection leading to more questions and a sort of wonder and joy at all that life holds. In these moments, when I feel this ache, I want to hold on desperately for just one more second. Then I remember Blake’s words,

‘He who binds to himself, a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.’

And I want to live in eternity’s sunrise. So here I am, in a different place at a different time, leaving something old, and finding something new. I hope I never lose that sense of gratitude and affection for all that my old has taught me and all the ways I have grown in this past decade working the way I did. It has made me who I am, and brought me to this juncture in time. Now it is time to say my good bye, fondly and with affection. The bells are ringing and it’s time to board the train, a new one this time for a different destination. This new journey is promising – more time, more love, more passion and learning. I intend to enjoy this train ride as much as possible and at some point, I will maybe find out where the train is headed…Or maybe not. Right now, I only have intentions – to read, write, teach, follow my passions, be present and never forget to love each day, every day.

With Love, S.

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Confessions…

I’m terrible with change. I hate that moment when things were going great and suddenly they aren’t any more. The moment (like this morning), when after peace and contentment, suddenly I’m face-to-face with irritation, anger, frustration, without any warning and left wondering where that joy inside of me disappeared. The moments when I thought I had it all orchestrated perfectly in my head, like a soap opera, and suddenly nothing is going my way. Moments when it looks sunny outside and I decide to go for a walk, only to find a cold breeze blowing my head off, making me wish I had stayed home. Moments when I want to be generous and leave a tip at the cafe only to find that I am out of cash. Moments when I want to tell the yoga teacher how great she was, but am afraid I can’t trust my voice to not break down into tears that I have no explanation for. Moments when I am bone tired after teaching an evening Math class and really just want to have a P&B sandwich, and crash. Instead I sit with hubby and eat lovingly prepared dinner and watch television, all the while resenting it and then judging myself for resenting it. And just before going to bed, hubby tells me that Steve Jobs is no more. That moment when I feel like screaming – why did you have to tell me that now! How am I going to sleep!! Because the fact is Steve Jobs is dead is so sad that I just want to cry, even though I have never met him in my life.

I can’t help thinking we create So much Drama in our lives, simply because we don’t like change. We don’t like it when we can’t control things, and when things don’t go our way (which we are convinced is the ‘right’ way). We hate it when we see someone in pain and there is nothing we can do about it.

That’s why we practice. That’s why in those moments, we try really really hard to take just one breath. and just one more. We tell ourselves – this is what anger feels like. this is what irritation feels like. This is what judgment feels like. We search desperately for that small ounce of kindness buried somewhere inside us. And we try hard to find where and sometimes, what is compassion in that moment. And slowly, surely, inevitably, we find that the judgment, anger and frustration are there no more.

The emotions will never stop coming. That’s what I’m realizing (to my disappointment). It simply is not possible – having emotions – the entire range, is part and parcel of being a human being. If we get angry, that doesn’t mean we have failed. It simply means, well, that we are angry. Being able to be open to that, and accepting and kind is what we endeavor to do in this practice. and we have keep practicing – sometimes for endless difficult moments, like being huddled in a tiny shack under the storm. And without knowing it, the storm ends. The sun comes out. and we are still standing. and so is the hut.

May we continue to be human…
with Love, S.

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One Year Old…

It is incredible to see Anjali making connections with her brain in new ways she couldn’t do two weeks ago! She knows that if Mama is not there downstairs, then she must be upstairs, so she makes her way to the end of the living room and tries to climb up the stairs. She has learnt (with Abhi’s help) that there is a short cut to making the sock monkey pop – by simply budging the small thumb on top. She does it and smiles in delight. Yesterday, she took my sunglasses and tried to wear them! She had figured out that that is what people do with them. She says Book – and means Book. She says duck and looks for duck. She waves bye bye and means it. She tries to take her first steps – unsteady but always within reach of support (usually Mama’s legs). And mostly, she is so incredibly happy at all the things she is learning – it makes me cry.

When do we lose that openness to life, to all its wonders, to learning and to exploration? When do we set up those barriers and create those insecurities? Of course, the wise me understands that these too are part of the human life, and that the more compassionate we can be towards our failings and imperfections, the more peace and love we can have. Yet I can’t help marveling at this amazing miracle of human life – that when we come into this world, we are completely open, vulnerable and trusting. And we start setting up boundaries as a way of protection. And slowly we become attached to them!

How can we hold boundaries with Love? How can we realize that this protection is a choice – sometimes we need it. And sometimes we can let it go, let the wind blow through us, and the rain soak us completely. And even if that opening lasts but for a moment, we become a child again – open to wonder, lifting off like an Eagle into the far blue skies of freedom.

May we feel safe so that we may open…

with Love, Shuba

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Being in the now…

Some days, being present feels as elusive as a butterfly.

Sometimes, it feels like all I do, in my sitting practice as well as real life, is start over again and again and again. I get distracted and then catch myself somewhere else completely and like a groggy traveler waking up in unknown surroundings, I don’t remember how I got there. and then I begin again. body, breath, now. red light, baby, sounds.

And then yesterday, reading Philip Moffit’s wonderful book called ‘Dancing with Life’, I was heartened. He talks about the power of that intention to start over and that it is okay if that is all we ever do.

The freedom in this moment when we realize we are a thousand miles away – is to not judge. The less we judge, the easier it is to come back to the present moment. I loved Larry Rosenberg’s instruction on this: just like a mirror. we simply see and we begin again. That is the practice. sometimes, we are more focused and present. sometimes, we are more distracted and scattered. Mindfulness is noticing and accepting things as they are – be it concentration or diffuseness. That is the practice!

Like the moon reflected in the clear water on a cool night, our spirit is reflected in everything we do and see and hear and think. There is nothing that doesn’t have to be there – everything is just as it is. It is just hard for us to believe that the miracle we so yearn for with our hearts is already happening in front of us! So we close our eyes. And then the moments when we open them – and see that sparkle of rain on the window shining like a thousand diamonds. or the mist in the mountains trembling like a coy bride, holding a secret. When we finally hear, really hear the song of the bird that has been singing since forever. In those moments, we wake up. and that makes up for everything else.

With Love, S.

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returning home…

…after a three week journey to India with little nine month old Anjali and hubby.

As we all settle in, my thoughts keep returning back home, the lovely memories and hearts captured by our little one. Babies have such a wonderful way of meeting change – with wonder and openness and without comparing or judging. At each juncture, Anjali surprised us with her way of adapting to the newness of the situation and making the most of it. Like the heat of Chennai and the humidity of Mumbai. The airports and security checks and air travel. New places and new homes. One incident that comes to mind was when we went to a temple and Anjali was to be weighed in a large scale so that we could donate equal measure of rice. We were sure she was going to say, she had had it! She had just woken up from a short nap. Instead she sat on the scale, gave us a big smile, and proceeded to examine the chains with which the scale was held with great curiosity. It was a kodak moment!

What also surprised me was how calm and patient I was through all this, traveling with Anjali. I was traveling alone on our way back, since Abhi had returned earlier. And I found that she and I had this amazing connection where we were in sync with each other. She would turn to me, with each change, to check in and see my response. And if it was an okay, she was okay too! Witnessing that and being on the receiving end was a precious gift. That is in addition to seeing my parents and Abhi’s parents as grand parents, and realizing how amazing they were!

Returning back home has its own set of challenges and wonders. Its nice to be settled back at home again at the end of a long journey. Its also hard because we miss what we had, the love and convenience of having family around. So yet again, we face life in all of its uncertainties and changes. And as our hearts learn to make their way to equanimity, I can’t help feeling grateful for everything that comes our way. The changes that force us to grow and respond in wiser ways, and how we learn something about ourselves in the process. May this learning continue, with love and kindness…

With Love,
Shuba

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Giving up the need to be perfect…

This is the best advice my counselor gave me when I went to her as an overwhelmed parent of four-month old. And it’s advice I continue to find invaluable.

The thing I’m learning, about being a parent, is that you make mistakes. There are many things you’ll do that you never thought you would. Like putting kitchen towels into the oven and forgetting about it and nearly burning the house down. Or breaking the side mirror of your car coming out of your own garage. Or hearing the fire alarm and rushing outside the house with your baby because you forgot that it was the day of the fire alarm testing. Or falling asleep at work, while in a meeting or reviewing a paper. It’s stuff you just wouldn’t do in your sane mind. And I’m not even talking about the baby stuff we mess up on!!

It’s funny when we are not in it. This giving up of our well defined structured and ‘tidy’ lives so that we may raise babies and voluntarily go through sleep deprivation and chaos. Clearly there has got to be a trade-off, even though it is not always obvious what that is :).

The tradeoff is that we learn what it is to be human. We learn patience and endurance and the kind of unconditional love that we didn’t think we were capable of. We learn flexibility and giving up ‘I should’ and ‘I ought to’ because we have no choice. And we learn the possibility of joy and paying attention because we get to be around babies who don’t know that it can be otherwise.

We get to see things as if for the first time because that is what our babies are doing: seeing paper, grass, socks, teeth, feet, rain and more, for the first time. And they continue to do so everyday. And incredible as it may sound, witnessing this is much more exciting than reviewing a paper on functional near infrared imaging of the brain. (No wonder I fell asleep on that one!). This window of witnessing what it is like to not know the concept of time or gravity, to not experience fear or doubt, to know freedom of expressing yourself just as you are, this is the gift of parenthood. And it somehow makes up for all the hours of sleep we lose and all the neurosis we go through being a parent. Mary Oliver was right when she said, ‘most things that are important, lack a certain neatness’. Amen to that.

With Love,
Shuba

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Unconditional Peace…

Sometimes I have this distinct sense of experiencing ‘conditional happiness’. A sense of joy that I know is dependent on the conditions being a certain way. Last week, this was something along these lines: baby is doing good, Dad is doing good, I’m feeling well, day is beautiful, etc etc. We all have days like this, when things are going well. The boat is sailing smoothly. We are grateful, of course. But mostly, we start taking things for granted.

And then the boat starts rocking… 🙂

Suffering, the old trusted friend, comes along. Grasping, wanting, aversion, attachment. They all come at more or less the same time, don’t they? And I see my mind and heart struggle to recover balance. This struggle is always always hard.

And I’ve found that it is on these days that I can no longer take peace for granted. It is on these days that I really practice. I do what is necessary to feel peaceful again. I learn to be present – what other choice is there? And invariably, at the end of these days, my heart is softer and more connected. And I learn once again – letting go is possible. peace is possible.

It makes me realize that when conditions are great, the accompanying happiness is good. But it is when conditions are difficult, that truly presents the opportunity for unconditional peace.

May our hearts become as large as the bottomless ocean, on this journey,
With Love, S.

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