We are different, yet the same 

It’s common to hear the refrain, “let’s not get emotional about it, think practically”. Well, I spend majority of my life doing just that. Working hard to keep my emotions aside and use my enhanced thinking brain to solve the problems of my life or even advance further. Being ‘emotional’ even as an emoticon is a crying face, so it’s known that in common parlance, it stands for being weak, swayed detrimentally by feelings. As the British do, maintain a stiff upper lip, it has great social value, you looked up to as the ‘strong one’.
So we know why and how we came about not liking emotions. Now research time and again shows that the human brain works in its entirety to make pragmatic decisions. The prefrontal cortex or the thinking brain doesn’t work in isolation to give you the wonderful decisions you take, it needs to take the emotional part of the brain and the reptilian or the oldest part of the brain into account. Cos it’s the reptilian brain that takes in information from the environment, passes it through the part that seats our emotions and memory and then, what seems ‘emotionally significant’ is passed on to the upper management, the thinking brain. There is no way you can surpass the part of the emotions. If you try to, and believe me, a whole lot of us try very very hard; it either makes the emotions take over and make faulty decisions. Or it doesn’t take into account much of feelings and hence, makes skewed, rigid and robot like decisions. If anyone has a boss with the latter characteristics will know how touch it is live with it. 

So emotions remain vital. When we take into account what we feel, it makes for a complete, wholesome decision and collateral gain, you will feel good and content inside of you too. 

When we are in touch with what we feel, it’s also easier to see another being, see them with their unique likes, dislikes, beliefs, preferences, eccentricities and still be ok with them. It’s easier then, to see it in the background of their life, their circumstances, their stories and it’s easier to be accepting, it’s easier to connect, it’s easier to find compassion, it’s easier to love, it’s easier to be humane, it’s easier to realise and know,

What makes us unique and similar is the same, our ability to feel differently yet with the same emotions.

The dish is different tasting for each but ironically made with similar ingredients.

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The Joy of Health 

Being healthy, both mentally and psychologically is a huge gain in itself. When we get into the cycle of looking after our health and start seeing results, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, albeit of a good sort.
I recently started linking my physical self to my mental health in a conscious, systematic manner. My biggest gain out of my increased self-care is my ability to breathe through my pain. Pain is something we turn away from and try to make as many efforts to keep away. For a whole lot us, life is about keeping pain away. In that quest we keep joy and excitement and a host of wonderful emotions and life experiences away too. The moment I could learn to breathe through my pain and bear it, I knew I could do it. I could believe in myself,

In ability to ‘handle’ things. It didn’t kill me, it didn’t break me. Did I take a step or two back? Yes. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I learn? Yes, in time. Did it feel good to be alive or present through it? Yes, you bet. Would I keep doing it again? You bet, yes, yes, yes!!! 

I note both physical and mental aspects of well being separately even though they are intrinsically linked, as we rarely look at Mental Health. As I have said above, when I pushed my physical self, I learned much battle is psychological. 

Mental Health is more than illness, it’s about being in touch with your psychological self, knowing your inner world, being able to bring up joy and bring down distress, it’s your ability to tolerate pain, it’s your ability to breathe through pain, it’s about enjoying life’s full range of technicolours, it’s about being friends with your emotions, it’s about accepting different aspects of you, it’s about growth, it about exploration,
Mental Health is about life, 

Yours, mine and our shared humanity.
The hope is when we take care of your psychological selves, we take care of all of ours. May be, just may be, peace and authentic connection to each other may not be just an utopian concept. May be, just may be we will ourselves and each other once again. 

#worldmentalhealthday

I am not my story 

There are two roles that I have played all my life without as much awareness, I realised with a shock in the last two weeks. I challenged them, made other choices and lived through the implicit, morbid fear that it was going to kill me psychologically. I survived and now, I can begin to thrive. 
I challenged my pull to be passive and give in, largely driven by shame and guilt. Another role I challenged was driven by fear of separation or panic. In this role, I would keep a connection with another being alive no matter how badly I was treated or how much my needs weren’t looked at. Both were automatic, implicit – outside my conscious awareness and both were beautifully working like an automated robot. It’s reward was accepting the shame and panic, time and again. It was reality that was being reinforced just by feeling and giving into the feelings. Every single time. It functioned like a well-oiled machinery. It’s purpose was to ensure I was safe and surviving. As an adult it doesn’t make much sense. But look at it through children’s eyes.

Separation or disconnection feels like a death to a young child. Visit any nursery or first school year to know the truth. Tears of children like their heart is ripped out will evoke in you a similar sense of hopelessness and grief.

Shame comes up like a trusted friend whenever there is a threat of being cut out of the herd. Always. It’s a threat to human survival, being alone. We are social beings with the brain at the helm as a social organ. Being a part of a group, having a sense of belongingness is vital to our mental and physical well-being. That being threatened will evoke shame, that will help us curb whatever behaviour we are enacting that is threatening our connection with the group. Shame inhibits action, it’s major function. But when used and evoked repeatedly turns it toxic and passivity becomes us. 

There were two roles I had owned, long long ago. As fate would have it, they came to the surface, leaving me gasping for breath. As I struggled to understand it, my life story made sense. Though not before, I weathered the storm of overwhelming pain and emotions. 

After two weeks of emotional rollercoaster, I can assure you I am glad I went into the storm instead of letting the well-oiled machine take over. I am glad for the roles to be questioned. I am glad for saying goodbye to shame and panic as my constant companion. I am sure we will meet in healthier, more appropriate circumstances. 

I am glad to find courage, authenticity and worthiness in its stead.

Choices we make, make Us

Life has been a bit exciting the past few days. Unexpectedly I have come come face-to-face with old nemesis of mine. Power and bullying. I have had a tough time with it ever since my childhood. I was pretty badly bullied in junior high school. And I have done two things when encountering high-handedness and autocratic ways, withdrawn from the situation and given in or walked away. None of these reactions were choices I wanted to make, nor they leave me feeling good. Most of the times, they left a deep sense of shame, impotent rage and a sense of mistrust with the world. 
If anyone has experienced these, you know it’s a terrible, lonely place inside. When we remain passive, even if it’s the best adaptation in a situation, it leaves us feeling sad about ourselves. It did leave me that way for sometime. Though I worked through and learnt to make other choices, I knew they didn’t come easily nor naturally. That, too, didn’t leave a good feeling. 

So this time, when I faced a similar situation, I stood up. My actions had not much impact on the external situation. In fact I along with some others, was ridiculed, treated with sarcasm and isolation. Yet, despite it, I stood up and said what I deemed right about my beliefs and opinion. Respectfully and demanding respect in return. I was stunned. I am proud. Of all the things I have done in my life, there may be a few that qualify as achievements, I am the most proud of this. 

I am proud because I stepped out of an old pattern. I am proud because I didn’t let the ridicule dumped on me, turn into my shameful self. I am proud that I stated my beliefs and opinions despite the opposition. I am the most proud that when I was hurt, disappointed and angry the most, I chose to hold on to my values and integrity and yet respond in a respectful way. 

I am proud cos I chose humanity, mine and yours.

The Wise Self

I rarely write about the outside world. It’s my belief, erroneous at times I realise, that if I focus on my inner world the outside will be more skilfully dealt with. Most time this is true. For the past few days, my idealistic self is getting a lesson in how that’s not true always. The basic principle that calling upon my resilience, maturity and self-regulation (calming) skills will certainly help, may be the best option. Yet I cannot change the outside by changing the inside. 
You know May think that’s common knowledge. It also part of the essence of the serenity prayer. I know, intellectually. But this is how I believe in my sense of agency, in my ability to influence the world outside. I realised in the particular situation I was embroiled in, this wasn’t going to bring the desired result, in fact the system seems to be much bigger than me & it may take a huge long term view to make dents.

We know how changes in society of a system takes years to show effect, most of feel despair and want to give up when we don’t see results in the present or at least while we are around. I realised to hold on to your views in face of acrimony, sexism, discriminatory behaviour takes a fair amount of self-belief, patience, eternal hope and an ability to hold on to a vision in the future. More than anything, it requires ‘daring greatly’ as Bréne Brown says. When we step into an arena facing ridicule and shame, internal or external, it’s a feat in itself. 
To hold on when there is little hope, 

To hold on when your actions seem fruitless,

To hold on when you can feel loneliness,

To hold on when you may not see changes,

To hold on when you would rather give in, 

To hold on to your integrity and resilience,

That is what daring greatly is about,

Not the result but the process.

And as I realise that, sometimes it wiser to hold on, stand back and let the truth unfold itself and it will. Karma teaches us that.

For me and for you, for us

For the past few days I am realising how human I am. That’s a strange statement to make, one would think. It is. By human I mean how easily I can jump to conclusions, how instinctive emotions come up, how much there is a push to react, how tough it is to manage high intensity feelings, how much I want to reach out, how much a compassionate word or look helps, how human I really am, how vulnerable it makes me. The more I get in touch with myself, the more i get in touch with different aspects of just being born in the human race.
I will be brutally honest and tell you I didn’t like it much. I am better today but hand on my heart, I would rather not be human in some areas of my life. It makes me feel too damn vulnerable and I would rather not. Yet, how much ever I don’t like it, how much ever I would rather put my protective shield of righteous anger, rigid beliefs, holier-than-thou attitude, mindless tv watching, chips-bingeing, folded arms on my chest, sarcasm, I realise not giving into any of the above is helpful. How so? 

The more vulnerable I am, the more I am open to receiving (sometimes even crap), the more I receive genuine, authentic feelings, the more I am at peace with myself. The more vulnerable I am and as I deal with my dislike for it, the more I ok with people around me being human. Of course, I have to let go my righteousness in being right! It is but a small price to pay. The more human I let myself be, the more compassion I feel for myself and then it extends, strangely, automatically to the people around me. Of course, there still is a whole lot of work to do internally, I am guessing it’s always going to be in some stage of work-in-progress. 

I have said this in different ways in various posts. Each time it seems to come with reinforcements. The more we accept all parts in us, the more we are ok with looking at the different parts in others. The more we can look, the less we use defensive and offensive strategies to deal with them. The more I see it with compassion, the more I can make choices that are in my best, healthy interest to deal with it. And most of the time, these choices are also respectful of others. So being human, being vulnerable is not being weak or incapable, or accepting of all. It’s holding your softer self compassionately with strength, with your back straight and chin in line, face the world head on. 

That’s a powerful picture, isn’t it?

With kind eyes

Most of the time when we hurt, we rarely turn our attention inwards. We focus outside. And if you are like me, possibly like many others, concocting revenge fantasies. The more hurt, bruised our heart is, the more vivid, detailed fantasies we weave. It helps, somewhat, in the short term. 
Chances are either the hurt comes back stronger, this time tinged with helplessness because you aren’t going to see through the revenge fantasies. May be the helplessness comes with rage. And then you an angry bear on the prowl, going through every nook and corner looking for the honey to soothe your heart, most likely destroying much in your wake. 

Another distinct possibility is you are riddled with guilt and shame for being able to even think such vivid destructive images. Or even deriving some pleasure or sadistic satisfaction out of it. Oh! My! Then you are in for the level 10 of Shame ( I like to call it that), where you decide the earth ought to just open up and swallow you, that’s how undeserving you are. Such a disgustful human being! 

Such painful inner experiences, no wonder we wouldn’t want to risk hurt. No wonder we prefer staying in our safety zones. No wonder we exercise caution to the extreme. First feel hurt, sad and then have these secondary feelings. Third to deal all these complex nuances, we may binge eat, watch television, drink, smoke, party, shop.. you get the picture. Those urges that seem to come out of nowhere & just make you do those things. Better avoid feelings altogether. 

Just imagine, when you are hurt, holding that part of you in your arms. If that’s too much for that disgusting part, may be just sit next to it. May be, just may be hear it breathe, painful breaths. As if the mere act of breathing is hurting so much. Let yourself feel some kindness like you would feel for your friend. Then may be when you can bear its presence, just hold its hand, or just lay your fingers on its. 

Chances are you feel much better.  

Do you now?

For the want of a little love 

The past few days have been difficult given the news of negligence, violence and apathy doing the rounds. Adding to that, the novel I was reading was based in the time of World War II, a peek into French resistance movement. And as would be the case, I was working through some stuff in my head. It was making me irritable, cranky and to my chagrin, sometimes a bit mean. 

As I stepped back from my at times mean behaviour and at times, the urge to be nastier, I realised, to my horror and humility, how easy it is to buy into the allure & illusion of self-righteous anger or self-pity. How easy it is to have a systemic opportunity and permission to exercise my steak of cruelty if the society around me accepts it too as their truth. I may not buy into their reasons or philosophy or the nuances of beliefs but I would get an outlet to my struggles and bottled up feelings if the society and I agree to a particular method of expression. It gets a unique sanctimony. How I had the ability inside of me to get lost in it too. 

As I struggled with the inner and outer world, plunging me into an abyss of despair and hopelessness about the state of world that was, that is and that may become, these words came to. I have a suspicion that they wouldn’t have come, had I not played tango with my despair. 

I reckon we will always struggle with our shadows. As long they seem like shadows, we will need to work hard to bring them into the light and own them. As I have said before, and as have many people before that, what we own as ours gives a choice of what we can do with it. Some took their anger to stand up for what protected the vulnerable, some took their despair to write and spread a word about it, some took their hopelessness to warn the world the perils of our misplaced sanctimony. We all make our choices, knowingly or unknowingly, about the worst that life evokes in us. 

So when life presents you with that opportunity, choose love, choose compassion, choose kindness. Make that struggle to reach that place inside. For if you choose to make that struggle outside, believing that’s it’s not your shadow to own, we become the horror that we are afraid of, and sadly learn to revel in it too. 

So, for all of humanity, choose wisely, choose consciously, struggle deeply. When you can choose love, choose compassion, choose humanity, all of ours.

To Be Seen

It difficult to show ourselves. Makes all of us feel vulnerable, at risk you may say too. It’s takes courage to show parts of ourselves that are young, hurting, sensitive, filled with doubt, New at exploring the world, may be a bit sad, full of despair, may be angry, may be envious, may be silly, may be goofy, may be happy.. 

I am sure you are getting the drift. For all of us, there are always some things that make us vulnerable in this world. Something that I saw, prompted me to think of a recent time when I felt vulnerable, really, really vulnerable. The sad part I termed it as ‘anxious’. If I had this seemingly wise hindsight knowledge, I would have dealt with myself differently. How you may ask? Well, when I thought I was anxious, I did what could to, increase my sense of competency, seek support, taking it in, remember mastery experiences, all helped but that feeling didn’t go. It decreased but went down to a mild level but I knew, I knew something was off. I may have been an anxious person, I no longer deal with it on a daily basis. 

Knowing Vulnerability would have strangely helped me protect myself better, seek help from particular people in my life in a specific manner, somehow know who and what can easily trample on my sensitive state. But the biggest win would have been I would have known that it was a given, this journey that I had undertaken would make me vulnerable and that’s ok. I would have had my own back, as I now do. When even now as I write this, I am feeling vulnerable, I know I am ok. No matter how many of you resonate, like, don’t like this, I am ok. No matter what anyone says about my vulnerability, I am ok. Because I know what I feel and that’s part of an human condition. 

And as I write this post, I am showing you a part of me that’s hurting a bit, coping with a sense of pain at all I went through because I didn’t have an idea about how I felt, and working through how it’s never too late to show up, to own up our softer parts.
For its only when you show up, you get the chance of being seen,

For only when you are seen, you feel alive,

For only when you feel alive, the world becomes worthy of living,

For when you are living, everything seems alright.

For the love of Learning

Mastery and excellence is a never ending road. This is something that I learned recently. In school, the one I was in, it appeared that featuring in the top ranked student was what was expected and what I aspired to achieve. That seemed to be the pinnacle of mastery. It never occurred that learning is a subjective journey. It’s different for each one and it’s never really over. 
As I have stepped into adult and professional learning, it appears that I keep growing. Every time I step into a new growth spurt, I heave a sigh of relief hoping to get a feeling, “there! I have arrived!”. Darn, it never happens. And I now know it never will. Furthermore I don’t ever want it to. Strange isn’t it? I have two reasons for it. 

One, I love to learn. I didn’t earlier. Now I do. Every time I encounter new information, it transfers me and propels me into expanding my horizons. Sometimes, it’s frustrating, sometimes shaming, sometimes difficult but always an eye opener. And every single time I am glad it happened. It keep me alive and it keeps the feeling of excitement and sense of adventure alive. That’s being alive, isn’t it! 

Second, it’s the nature of things. We, humans, for that matter, all living beings have developmental stages. Every developmental stage will have expected growth points and struggles to have reach those points. Like a baby is expected to walk within the age of 1-2 years. It’s the window of growth and in that they need to let the hand of adult support go, keeping falling and yet, keep trying. Most children love the new found independence of movement and most love the feeling of finding their feet, literally and figuratively. Just recall their delight and giggles and unending efforts. We are meant to grow, struggle with it, keep at it and find enjoyment in it. 

I remember this now all the times, I make a growth spurt. It will each come with its own struggles and delights. It will each teach a unique lesson and skills. It will each make life worth the journey it is.