Search for an oasis

The below are musings born on a sad day and in the middle of the night, hence the difference between this and most of my other posts. However they manifested, the feelings were strong so sharing those thoughts, even though they won’t be to everyone’s taste!

You stretch before me- empty and desolate,

A never ending desert with arid sands, not an oasis in sight,

I am parched and you are merciless.

Your blazing heat saps my strength each moment,

You blind, burn and torment- you are what Hell must feel like,

You are life,

But why do you make me think-

Death must surely be better?

Soul Arsenic

I have long felt that certain emotions are poison for the soul. Anger, hatred, jealousy, insecurity are but a few of these and I have talked of some of them elsewhere on this blog. However, this post intends to discuss another very malignant feeling, one that can actually exerts its toxin so far beyond its immediate sphere, that it often becomes impossible to check, or treat, its effects. I refer to bitterness that sort of corrosive, harmful bitterness that seeps through you and starts to be the bane of not just your mind and actions, but at a basic level, your very soul.

Some may feel it an exaggeration to credit bitterness with so much power. After all, we must all have fallen prey to one variation or other of this feeling when certain injustices (real or perceived) are meted out to us, by people or by life itself. However, I stick by what I assert. Bitterness is evil, it will hurt you far more than you may realise, it will spread through your life and lead to rot in otherwise perfectly healthy limbs of your “life tree”, until those branches that it has infected are good for nothing but destruction. I refer here to genuine bitterness, not a fit of pique or temporary upset or anger with a situation or person that hurt you or caused you grief or loss.

I sort of wonder why I choose to write this today, especially as I am actually finding this unexpectedly hard to do, unlike most of my other posts, where once I start, the flow of words is almost automatic. This is somehow different, maybe because I have very recently had to guard myself against the onslaught of resentment and bitterness at one of life’s latest curve balls thrown in my direction. Ok, let me be brutally honest. I did get angry, resentful and bitter for a while, a relatively short while I am proud to add, but still. The effects were almost instantaneous – that sense of loss of control, in turn causing mental stress, unhappiness and pointless regret on things ranging so far back, that I thought I had drawn a line under them a while ago. Thankfully, I checked myself before too long. Actually, I think it is more accurate to say, discussions with others near and dear to me reminded me of how unhealthy bitterness and resentment is, and that was probably my saving grace. I witness the effects of this sort of malignant bitterness at close quarters. I will not name names or relations, in fact, there is more than one person I have seen be a victim to such soul-destroying afflictions. They all teach me that it is essential to hone your “defense mechanism” against it and to ensure you are not corrupted by its effects.

It was an important lesson, a stark reminder of how, just as anger destroys the ability to reason, bitterness destroys the capacity to be happy in any meaningful way in your life. So how can you prevent feeling resentful, angry, hurt or bitter when something awful happens? I do not think you can, at least not momentarily, unless you are a truly exalted soul genuinely above any human vice. However, I firmly believe you can prevent these feelings before they deteriorate and spiral to a level that cannot be controlled. Ah yes, control – that is again the key. I found it very helpful to grasp my fear of losing control as one way to stop myself falling into the “bitterness trap”. See, the thing with feeling bitter is that you feel like that about one issue or a discrete range of problems that besets you, never imagining that this in turn is making you lose enjoyment in every other aspect of your life. And that to me is a real shame. No matter how bad things get, there is always hope and the world is subliminally beautiful and life is always worth living. By living I mean living with love and joy, not just empty meaningless existing. However, when your cup is already full of bitterness you simply cannot see the wood for the trees as such, that feeling becomes all-pervading and seriously impedes, if not utterly destroys, your capacity to enjoy other things, even if they are wholly unconnected to the situation or event that is the cause of your ill will. By consciously rising above it, just like you have to often force yourself to do with feelings of anger, you free yourself of its virulence.

It is the classic adage – you have to set yourself free from that vicious circle by genuinely recognising that bad things happen and we often experience things that are awful, hurtful, even belittling or crippling in any which way. If you can exercise your will and regain control of your being to the extent that you can abandon the bitterness without losing the experience and whatever it may teach you (good or bad), you will feel all the better of it. Good experiences will then be allowed to continue to filter into your life, in fact you can actively seek them out as you will not have abandoned positivity together with sweetness in your life, and then life will continue to demonstrate its numerous daily miracles to you. Oh, I have heard the counter arguments – you cannot help it, some things are so bad, you cannot control your reaction(s) to them. Yes, maybe, but I still maintain that you can, and should try to, control your long-term response to such events, situations or even people. After all, we are always co-conspirators in our destiny, that fine balance regulated by fate and free will. Maybe the tragedy that befell you was unavoidable and caused by some cosmic occurrence, but your reaction to it, is yours alone and you need to own it. It has always been my eventual realisation in the concept that by rising above my situation at any point, I get an empowering perspective and this allows me to look forward with hope and positivity, rather than backwards with regret and bitterness.

I would like to begin concluding with this wonderful short quote by Terry Brooks: “Hurt leads to bitterness, bitterness to anger, travel too far that road and the way is lost.”  Therefore, don’t lose the way, find yourself and a beautiful future for you and yours.

Live and Let Go

It has been a while since posts but I have realised that writing is like that constant and true friend that no matter how long since your last conversation with them, you can pick straight up from where you left off and it was like it always was – uplifting and positive.

Back to the blog post now. I have been fermenting something in my mind of late. It was there, just lurking around the edges of my conscious thoughts, but still slightly out of reach, probably muddied by the confusion generally surrounding my “head space” of late due to stress. Today, like the sun shining through a previously cloudy and murky sky, it finally broke through! It was the realisation that tend to cling on to the negatives so easily, we crowd out any possible space for what we really need – the genuine “positives” in life. The things we all have, be they our health, our friends, our families, our homes or anything that is of honest and intrinsic value, generally divorced from a materialistic association.

Most of us do it unconsciously and would be horrified if we realised what we were really doing. We let hate, anger, grief, loss or a multitude of other unhealthy experiences or emotions “stick” to us, they were generally unavoidable when they happened to us but they made such an impact on us, we reacted to them so intensely, they became almost a part of us. We often think we have moved on, we congratulate ourselves for having coped with a really “bad” life event, we have our near and dear ones pat our back, telling us we are through the worst and that we should be proud of what we have overcome. Yes, we should be proud I suppose, as any step towards truly letting go of that which locks your genuine potential and thwarts your progress in life’s inexorable but exciting journey, should be celebrated and applauded.

However, have we really “let go” in the real sense? We may think we have, but how many times do we still re-visit those bad memories and even worse, do we actually let those hurtful past memories and experiences affect not just the present, but also pollute the future? It is like slow poison, it lingers in the veins and insidiously exerts its malignant effect on not just us, but those around us who care for and love us. I am not professing it is easy especially as we may often not even realise that something we believed long dead and buried still haunts us. Like with anything that is more introspective than solely reactive, we can only address it by being conscious that when we feel negative or react in an unreasonable manner to something that does not really justify such response, there may be an explanation for that connected to some previous event or experience. Your brain and heart may fight against this self-realisation, after all, acknowledging something often opens the floodgates to those hurtful traumas most of us work very hard to lock away as soon as we can. Only once you get past that natural “flight” mode (in a psychological rather than physical sense of course), can you start to constructively address what it is that truly plagues you.

Memories can often be like those niggling burrs, embedded somewhere in the recesses of your psyche, not constantly painful and thus requiring immediate removal, but just there; they flare into inflamed and “infected” state when prodded. The stimulus for this can be anything, it can be a current occurrence that just reminds us through often very indirect association of the often consciously forgotten past incident(s). The difficulty is with understanding this and then dissociating the past experience to whatever is happening currently so that in a truly clichéd sense “the past does not damage the present and future”. There is no universal method of doing this of course, different methods will work on different individuals, the “how” is not the main consideration, it is the eventual result of making this effort and successfully overcoming any crippling effects from the previous negative or traumatic experience.

However, if done properly, the effects are like amputating that rotten limb, you may feel like you have lost something, but if you had kept it, it was only going to keep spreading its poison until it destroyed the rest of you that was not gangrenous in the first place. Therefore, to constructively live a life and attain a future that is divorced from unhealthy association and unhampered by negativity going forward, reflect, analyse and honestly address what memories and feelings you want to take forward with you, and which ones you are best leaving behind.  You cannot wish away anything that happened to you, after all, every experience in your life, good or bad, shapes who you are and dictates your strength and character (again for the better or worse) but once you start exercising conscious choice, you can dictate what shape your present and future can take.

To remind me of this, I think about the wonderfully inspiring and indomitably spirited Helen Keller, who so beautifully encapsulated this theory:

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. “

Before launching into my post, I would like to clarify that nothing I write is intended to insult any particular Indian TV show or its audience. It is also certainly not aimed at passing judgment on anyone’s beliefs or love for Indian rituals or societal norms. I tend to like some Indian shows from time to time, although in the majority of cases, I lose interest sooner or later (explained below) and have no aversion in itself to traditions, provided there is no blind acceptance of them and they are not those customs which are inherently subjugating or discriminatory.

Exclusion clause drafted, I can now proceed to deal with the real purpose behind this post, although many may be forgiven for thinking that the main reason is simply to vent. Be that as it may, one must have certain privileges in one’s own blog, so I choose to exercise any such rights I have at this point.

I have often wondered why Indian TV audiences are obsessed with watching and even worse, actively admiring and enjoying, the very practices and actions or customs that they are likely to have themselves been oppressed by. If anyone thinks oppression is too strong a word, they have not been exposed to life in a traditional Indian household and have not undergone a full spectrum of festivals and major life events such as wedding(s) or death(s). Please do not misunderstand me – there is a lot of good about our customs and festivals. They are underpinned by deep and spiritual thinking, they are meant to empower and enrich, celebrate all aspects of love and life and they are meant to bring families and people closer, not just to each other but to God too (in whatever form He/She is worshipped in).

Where does it all start to go wrong then? I am not sure I have a comprehensive answer to that but a common theme to me seems to stem from the tendency to get so caught up in the mindless ritualism of it all, without actually understanding the rationale behind it. Let us take the institution of marriage for example. I am sure every culture can extol what they like and vice versa about their particular wedding customs but an Indian wedding has to stand in a class apart. Oh, a lot of Indian weddings are great fun, they are colourful and festive, there is great food and lots of laughter. What is not to like? Well, how about the multitude of people who “must” be invited even if the bride and groom neither know, nor like them. Then there are the customs, espoused as the linchpins of an ancient and civilised culture. How is it civilised to glorify in effectively re-enforcing at various stages of the process, the domination the groom and his family have, “as of right”, against the bride’s? It is not so unsophisticated as the demand for dowry in most cases, no, the discrimination is a lot more subtle. The girl is to leave her maternal home, symbolically meant to break all relations with them, culminating in a crying fest having to be enacted when the couple finally leave after the wedding, replete with sad and depressing songs in the background. God save any bride who does not exhibit heart wrenching grief; the “Aunty brigade” will not spare you from their gossip as to your uncouth behaviour for weeks, if not months.

The above is one example in a non-exhaustive list. I know I have departed from the sequence of it all here, but do not even get me started, as if I were to list all that I find essentially offensive to my feminist sensitivities, it would be a novella and not a blog post that would need to be written. The overall point is that whilst the original concept behind the custom may have been laudable as it was coined in a day and age where women were respected and even glorified in their own right, in today’s world, where sexism runs deep, these very acts take on a much more sinister and insulting connotation.

Yet, it seems that these very anachronistic customs and rituals make for prime-time TV for Indian audiences. Melodrama sells, and weddings in particular, are seen as hubs of on-screen romance and wonderful portrayals of our rich culture. So much so that even my one-time favourite mythological drama, Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, feels compelled to abandon its so-far totally unique and ground breaking portrayal of the story of Shiva, one of the most powerful of Indian Gods, to cave in to the endless quest for TRP success. For those who do not know, TRP is essentially a rating criteria that seeks to measure the popularity of a channel or show on any channel, based on its target audience. I am very confident that the majority of audience who watch at least Indian soaps, will be entirely familiar with the terminology.

Sad to see and say, but it seems that when it comes to the TRP race, the masses rule and as the majority of Indian audiences obviously want to see mindless drama, centred either around typical and incredibly tedious “kitchen politics” or run of the mill love stories, loosely based on a Mills & Boons format but significantly modified for Indian audiences. What does “kitchen politics” refer to and modified how, you may ask? Well, the former phrase commonly refers to soaps predominantly portraying family sagas, most of which centre around either an awful mother in law or daughter in law, warring family members and very defined all-out “good” or “evil” characters. There is no room for grey, or any shades of it (do not even think 50 Shades, you would be in a metaphoric different planet!). There is usually a wonderful and angelic and long-suffering woman involved, a macho hero, supporting cast who are either good or bad and seldom in-between and then there is heaps of injustice unleashed on the stoic female lead, who even if she fights back, must do so in the most conforming manner possible. There are cliches too numerous to list here but hopefully, you get the picture? Again, anyone who has ever watched the popular phenomenon of the “K drama”(coined to describe popular TV producer Ekta Kapoor’s various soaps which mostly thrived but were generally along the lines described above), will immediately relate.

Again, I see nothing wrong with light entertainment, I myself have from time to time “dabbled” with watching shows that are simply aimed at entertaining but for me, just cannot engage interest for long. The story always tends to drag on as once a particular “track” garners good ratings, it seems its makers want to eke every second of its success and then promptly proceed to drag the story on to seeming infinity, making me for one lost interest fairly quickly. Also, if you wish to explore deep meaning and wider themes, do so at your peril. Audiences who get attached to the show and their actors will brook no criticism, even any tendered entirely objectively or constructively. Anyone who write against bad scripting or certainly mediocre acting, will be lynched in a manner of speaking by fanatical admirers. Healthy debate is an impossibility and be prepared for a vitriolic barrage of responses should you dare to state any views that are not totally complimentary about a popular show or its cast.

I know I have probably presented a very negative picture. I do not mean to. I genuinely acknowledge that Indian TV is ever evolving and there are various shows, especially recently, that aim to portray different concepts, show injustice in our society and undertake a much more reasoned and informed analysis of practices or norms that are disgraceful. However, it seems that a lot of them start of brilliantly and even manage to keep that up for long periods, but seldom throughout the lifetime of a show. I see it as an eternal tug of war between the desire of makers and their creative teams to deliver thought-provoking subjects and well executed programmes and the need to sustain audience viewership in large numbers, which unfortunately seems to translate into losing quality for quantity in the literal sense.

A lot of people are likely to disagree with this piece, a lot may actually take offence. I will not bother repeating the caveat I started off with but I cannot claim to be sorry for my fairly impassioned but honest views. A lot of what I write originates from a desire to see change and I sincerely hope someday to write that since I wrote this, we are in a different era for Indian television and bad scripting, stereotyped characters and concepts are more the exception than the norm. Unfortunately, that day is not today. I hope at least some enjoy this post and can reassure me that I am not alone in thinking what I have tried to sum up above.

A Sister’s Prayer

This is my prayer for you,
I cannot promise it will be heard;
But at the very least it must,
Resonate somewhere in the cosmos.
That it will keep echoing until,
Someday when even a lingering refrain,
Finally reaches the Master of the universe;
Is the hope that keeps me pleading.
May you ever be safe,
From the ills without and within.
Rich be your whole life,
In the way that really counts.
With health and happiness and good sense,
For without those all wealth be meaningless.
There will be times both good and bad,
And may you always prevail through them,
Emerging not just older,
But wiser always for the future.
Know always that no matter where you go,
Or however grown up you get,
Your big sister will forever;
Keep you not just in her thoughts,
But in the discourse she has daily with God.


Where can I hide
From that noise in my head?
Where do I go
To seek true solitude?
For even when I am by myself
There is not a moment’s respite
It is not physical space I need
But the quiet place in my own soul
I know it is there, I have been it’s past occupant
And though it eludes me right now
I have to keep searching
Until I find it again…….

Jealousy seems to be an extremely common affliction. Every time I explain that it is a feeling I am generally unfamiliar with, people (especially those who do not know me well), are struck with surprise. It is therefore quite hard to write this piece, as it is always difficult to express feelings you have not felt, and certainly never felt with any level of intensity to do justice to a particular emotion. Such is my brush with jealousy, I simply do not tend to get jealous. Maybe, it is because I am not at heart a possessive person, I feel love is an emotion bountiful enough to go round and the more it is shared, the more it expands. I am also not attracted by the theories of all-consuming love that makes you want to own a person (or even worse, an object), to the exclusion of all others. The supreme form of all-encompassing love must be that for God, it can of course also be for your parents, family, partners, children and others, but all those latter relations are transitory and will end with the span of our limited lives. The love for God, in my opinion, transcends those, but that is somewhat beyond the scope of today’s post.

Coming back to envy, the majority of people I know, seem to treat it as an inevitable consequence of loving. If you love intensely, you get attached, and this then almost automatically translates into making you feel like you are entitled to undivided attention from the object of your affections. This is all supplemented by the romantic notions, much flaunted as demonstrative of epic love, where we believe that being jealous or possessive, especially in a romantic context, is almost necessary to demonstrate depth of feeling for your loved one. After Mills and Boons have been running this formula with huge success over the years. Most of us will sigh in delight at a “hero” getting insanely jealous over his love interest. Jealousy has been almost glamorised as a prerequisite to an expression of deep love. On the other extreme, jealousy amongst friends, siblings, colleagues and even that of parents for their children, are all vilified and people feeling such emotions allegorised as almost demonic or at the very least, guilty of deep moral failing.

Either way, jealousy is a negative emotion and identifying it and trying to eliminate it can have some real immediate benefit for your emotional and mental well-being. It is really important to recognise that jealousy has to be one of those totally wasteful and self-defeating feelings one can experience, it destroys the very relationship you are anxious to preserve. What gives birth to jealousy? Probably too wide a consideration is required to be done justice to here, but in a generalised context, it seems to me to originate from our own insecurities. If we were confident of ourself, our feelings and their reciprocity, it is difficult to see how the envy can take root. If only we were able to work through that often almost automatic rush of felt shortcoming that births its progeny, jealousy, we would realise that the very person we feel jealous of is possibly also suffering similar feelings, if not for us, for someone else. For, as we are generally quick and able to perceive our own inadequacies, others are also affected, albeit their insecurities may stem from another area.

Further, we then enter the realm where that envy blinds us and makes us suspicious and unhappy in every which way. We begin to see our spouse  simply admiring someone as concrete evidence of infidelity and of-course once trust erodes, it brings down the whole foundation of your relationship. The same can be true of any tie, I have only exemplified the most common and obvious one that springs to mind. Of course we must view this in perspective, not every jealous or insecure pang we have, will have disastrous consequences, it is fairly easy and also very understandable to succumb to such concerns as affect most of us on various levels. It is, however, the form of envy or jealousy that can easily result in genuine spite, that we must guard against. Its onset can be subtle, but its grip is oft unshakeable. Nowhere is this more dramatically emphasised than in Othello. Shakespeare had the right of it of-course. That gradual poison spreading through the psyche, causing the unbearable angst, and finally the overwhelming and utter destruction, not just of the person you love above all else, but of yourself too, is so vividly portrayed, it always frightens me with its implications.

How can one prevent feeling jealous? I am afraid I cannot adduce a ready answer to it. All I can say is, recognising the futility of your illness (for jealousy more often than not manifests itself as an actual illness), may make it easier to deal with it. There is no pill to swallow that will make it better, it must be something that needs to be identified and then rooted out. You could do this by being self-analytical and examining the root of what is causing you to react in that manner. Most complexes are of course girded from the loins of a lack of something, real or perceived. For example, feeling ill will towards someone your partner praises as beautiful is usually caused by an insecurity of your own appearance. As I said above, remember that whilst you are fighting these emotions towards someone, they may be looking at you (or could be) and feeling equally inferior. You are bound to have some quality or gift someone else may be/ can envy so try to pierce the veil and examine all the things you have to offer and what life has gifted you. Further, understand that no matter how much you may dislike someone’s attributes, whatever they may be, your envy will not yield them to you. If you want to attain something you covet in others, try to achieve it through your own honest efforts. Why not be radical and try to take pleasure in someone’s success or achievements, you will inadvertently be sharing it and as far-fetched as that sounds, such thinking really works.

The thought behind this piece has been fermenting in my mind for a while, but it has been given structure and form following a recent “comment exchange” with my dear friend and co-blogger, Tulika. Tulika- this one is for you, and whilst it will not come up to the high standard you set through your blog, I hope you enjoy some of the thoughts within it.

 The well known poem of “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson has always been my favourite. Its very simplicity is amazing and no matter how many times I read it, it offers sound counsel in troubled times and strength when it is most needed. I am sure all know it – the lovely piece that describes the writer’s key life moments as sets of corresponding footsteps in the sand, mostly walking along with God. There are some points where there are two sets, hers and God’s, and then some points when there is only one set. It is these that the poet believes are her own steps. All the times that the steps are a singular set, she recalls are the low moments for her. As we are all won’t to do, she questions her Lord about why he abandoned her at those times. In it’s sublime climax she (and through her, we) are corrected by the ultimate sustainer, who explains that those prints at those times are His, as on each of those occasions, he was carrying her!

So it is with most of us. We are so quick to blame God for everything that goes “wrong” for us. God is an easy punching bag, we cannot physically see Him/Her, and even more importantly, He or She does not lash back at us in response. Oh, spare me those cautionary tales about a vengeful God who wreaks havoc on sinners. I have never subscribed to that theory and if you do, you may want to read no more of this piece. God is loving and forgiving, He loves us all, whether we acknowledge him or not and his capacity to love and forgive is, just like Him, unfettered and unlimited (I do not believe God is gender specific or even form-specific but for ease of reference, I shall continue to refer in the masculine).

Many will argue about the times that they have been afflicted with pain or tragedy in their lives. There rests the foundation for the belief that they were/ are punished for whatever wrong they may committed, whether comitted knowingly or not and regardless of whether they even acknowledge that to be an act/ acts to be deserving of retribution. I suggest the answer to that lies in the inexorable nature of your own actions, every action after all has a reaction. Oh, again, let me clarify – I do not believe that people always “deserve” what happens to them, no, that is too crude. Instead, I feel that there is a fine balance, constantly fluctuating and regulating itself, which combines a perfect symmetry of fate and action. It is too simplistic to believe that God sits there in literal judgement on each action and strikes down those who are guilty of some form of significant failing. Yes, I personally believe that there is a higher power who looks over us at all times, call that power what you will. The engineering of this incredible process is never visible unless you are willing to really see, not just look, and also agreeable to opening yourself up to faith and belief, unconstrained by requiring a physical manifestation, or “rational” explanation of each event or incident.

I do believe in fate, I feel that the vein of fate runs through all our paltry existence. I call it paltry as what is our life but a nano-second in the macrocosm of the universe. Therefore, whatever ills befall you, they are your lot to bear and it is how you face them that defines you as as a person. What I also firmly grasp on to, is that no matter how severe your suffering, God watches out for His own and if you have faith, it will see you through, in one way or other. I do not imply that your belief negates the suffering, no, the suffering is an essential component of almost all human existence, but that agony is made bearable and eventually relieved by a surrender to the supremacy of will beyond our comprehension. This is that moment when you understand that whilst you thought you were walking alone and bereft, you were infact being sustained by the creator, who never leaves you to suffer alone if you place your faith in Him.

It is this thought and this faith that always end up bringing me personal salvation, no matter how dire my straits are. This is no meaningless preaching without practice, it is my own experiences after I have crossed that metaphorical sandy stretch, which at the time felt worse than the most arid desert. I clung to my faith and He did carry me, safely delivering me to the “other” side and to sanity and hope and most importantly, to renewed happiness.

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Tempus Fugit

Tempus fugit or time flies – a phrase most of us will have used or identified with, many times in our lives. Does it sound as trite as “Time and tide wait for no man”? Well, common place and much-used these sayings may be, but they are none the less true for that. Most of us wonder where the days, months and even years went when we occasionally sit back and take stock. We bemoan lost times and get nostalgic or often sad, that we seem to have let a long phase go past without any seeming significant achievement or memory to remember it by. Yet, every moment we pass is one moment less in our relatively short life span, so should it not have been treasured for all it is worth?

Most of are slaves to the clock; in fact it is difficult to imagine how we can have any structure to our days or formulate anything meaningful without reference to that often little ticking device, that consumes us from the minute we wake. It is drilled in to us that time is money and there is often that almost natural tendency in humans to try to cram in as much as they can, to maximise all possible benefit from an available resource. It may be an extension of an intrinsically materialistic disposition, or it may be an innate recognition that our life is also a finite resource of a sort and we therefore “need to make the most of it”. Whatever it is, the reality often is that we are doing the very opposite of what we set out to do.

Many will disagree and argue vocally that they are proud of their time management. They manage to fit all their requirements into their days. Yes, it is hard for them, but with careful planning and precise implementation, it is achievable. Aha – perhaps, but I am attempting to probe deeper here. I am trying to suggest looking beyond the veil and to genuinely analyse if in that hectic rush of activity you create and immerse yourself in, whether you are losing yourself. Are you  simply working so hard to aim for that elusive “complete” lifestyle that you are left with no time to really know and absorb what it is you are, or are not, attaining or enjoying? A classic example to the of the point I am trying to make is when we are so intent on capturing a special moment on camera or video, that we spend the whole of the time that we are meant to be “living” that experience, posing and getting the exact angle correct for that wonderful pose that will be our memory in days to come. Yes, I agree that those aids are very helpful and it is wonderful to look at pictures after the event and especially many years later, but surely not at the expense of actually becoming an effective spectator at the very event you are the star in?! I do not exaggerate, I have seen people fall out spectacularly over the simple issue of how a photograph is taken and its details, which you would have thought should pale into insignificance at the enormity of what the occasion should signify.

Another manifestation of our possibly subconscious fear of time passing us by may be the generally rigid deadlines we set ourselves by which we determine to ourselves that we are to have achieved set objectives. Bad enough that we all have these at work and need to meet them to get pay rises or promotions or other forms of recognition, but the majority of us will have set targets for personal and lifestyle aspirations as well. We often mask these as “dreams” or goals, which are of course important for all and must be present to motivate and instil within us a sense of purpose. However, my concern is over the inflexible timeframes we almost always set to these. I take my own example, a much younger and more naive me (I am not ancient despite the imagery that this statement must conjure up!) knew what her priorities were. I knew what age I wanted to complete my education by, when I would be married by, my promotion progress at work was charted and generally most major life events possibly until what I then viewed as the ripe old age of 40, were all “fixed”.

 However, in my 30s now, it is clear my life took a totally different course to that I had subscribed it for. In the past that would have worried me, I would have fretted that this implied failure on various fronts but now, I am grateful that nothing “went to plan”. I am – I do not say this as some form of “sour grapes” effect. Life threw me a few curve balls and they forced me to re-analyse what I thought I wanted, and to work with what I got. It also (I like to think) stopped me stagnating and turning old before my time (I mean old in spirit as many aged people are genuinely “young at heart”) . If you achieve all you think you wanted to, by when you had planned to, what else is there to aspire to? No, achievements are never prescriptive, your requirements should be not only realistic, but more importantly, flexible. Anything is possible, I do not dispute that and I do not suggest by the mention of realistic aims, that you cannot seek to obtain what seems difficult or almost impossible. No, what I mean is that you may need to allow a considerable degree of adaptability so you can tailor them to ever-changing circumstances.

Focus on the today and enjoy what you are accomplishing. By no means abandon the constant pursuit for betterment, but do not get so swamped by the elusive gleam of the future you want, that you lose out on the present that is yours. Throw away that list and especially that bucket list, and focus instead on liking and loving what life is giving you and what you are gaining from it, here and now. In other words, really “live” life, not just plan to live it.  You may find that even if is momentary, you may manage to somewhat slow or pause time momentarily for yourself, to forever capture perfect happy moments in your soul, to provide those mental photographs no-one can deface or destroy in the years to come.

A Cupcake a Day!

Do not fear – I am not advocating a fast route to obesity, there is a method (sort of) to my madness. I have been thinking recently about how you can keep sane in situations where it all seems to be like a bad episode from a horror show. When chaos reigns supreme, there are deadlines hammering your door down, the phone will not stop ringing, more and more work is landing by the minute, and you still have a hundred other tasks such as filing those all important tax returns or renewing the car tax, that must also be somehow fit in. You constantly feel as though life is a treadmill and you are on it in high-speed, steep incline mode, and cannot even come off, for fear of falling flat on your face, and suffering permanent damage.

Sounding like a “usual” day in your life? I am sure it is not uncommon for most of the populace, trying to juggle demanding jobs, families and a whole host of other activities every day. I had one of those frequent moments last week and was beginning to despair as to how everything on my “to do” list, which was as long as my arm, was ever going to get done in a week, let alone a day. So, sitting in during yet another lunch break, staring in panic at the dreaded list and computer screen at alternate intervals, I glanced at my currently favorite drinks mug, a present from a close friend for my last birthday. A simple mug, yes – albeit, a pretty pink and white colour, with the words, “Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes” emblazoned on it, crowned with a cupcake, replete with the obligatory cherry, in case someone did not get the point.

It made me automatically smile, the first step to arresting the panic before it runs away, with you in its grip. I then took a deep breath and forced myself to get up and walk away from my desk for a much-needed five-minute break. I made a tea and yes, resisted the urge to eat an actual cupcake, but simply reminded myself that unless calm prevails, in some form or another, productivity cannot result. Oh, it did not make the day magically better – not at all, there were still more “hair tearing” moments in the day, but that little jolt which allowed me a moment of respite and in an odd way, allowed a slight re-charge on otherwise flat “batteries”, did its work well. After all, the cake can be consumed but the sweetness lingers awhile, right? It certainly worked for me and I found that I was able to get through the day, managing various commitments and achieving what was strictly required, despite having to re-organise deadlines and tasks.

It also reminded me (at the end of that particularly hectic day) to reflect on whether I could identify any other associative tools that may be of help in the future when the weight of various pressures seems to weigh down with crushing impact, causing panic and thus putting an end to making any meaningful progress, thereby exacerbating the original reason behind the onset of the anxiety – too many tasks and too little time. It is always tricky and sometimes probably impossible, to stop yourself feeling overwhelmed. However, recognising the “danger signals” before it is too late, may be of some help. This may at least help to somewhat stem the flood, if not divert it totally. Even panic, as long as it is in manageable proportions, can be controlled and in some cases, may actually become an aid to spurring delivery despite unrealistic but immovable deadlines or focus the mind to ensure that the work being produced is actually focused and to the point, in the way that it sometimes is not when there is no urgency underlying it.

I found a variety of techniques, some of which I had myself been using almost subconsciously and probably daily, to beneficial effect. After all, what else was practicing deep breathing as taught in my yoga class, if not an instant relaxation aid? No wonder, we are often told to take a deep breath when we get agitated – I have found that many deep but systematic breaths buy you the time to calm your responses and of course also have the universally acknowledged health benefits we all know about. There is then the other obvious, but still effective methods, such as taking a quick moment to have a drink, looking at a picture on your wall or even computer screen that you associate with serenity, other seemingly silly accoutrements such as the poster I spotted recently in our offices which contains a wide circle on a page, with the words, “Bang Head Here” and a downward pointing arrow above it. I love those types of implements, as they do their work but also afford some amusement to the observer. Another very obvious mechanism for me is to almost forcibly remind myself that no matter how much I stress, it will not make the tasks any easier or the time it will take them any shorter, unless of course, I actually get on with them, rather than sit or stand there, worrying myself ill over them.

It is after all, about perspective and no matter what happens we must also try to remember that in most cases, if something simply cannot get done today, we need to organise and re-prioritise and ensure it is done as soon as it can. (I caveat this by clarifying that I am not referring to tasks of life saving importance – those are well beyond the scope of this post). Of course, one size will never fit all, and those very basic techniques I describe above may seem laughable to some, but I always believe that if a simple formula can solve the equation, why try to devise a more elaborate one?! If you are of a more intelligent disposition than I am and only feel fulfilled by a more challenging methodology, if it still causes the desired effect, i.e. that of inducing much-needed calm in difficult situations, it is all for the good. What is indisputable is that, only by conditioning yourself to this state, can you ever successfully master it. Once attained though, the benefits from remaining calm under pressure cannot be adequately described here. After all, as James Allen reminded us, “Calmness is power.”