Monday, June 3, 2019

Solo in a Pack

"When you practise on your own, you meet yourself." Giselle, my yoga teacher said softly. She smiled her usual warm smile, her eyes disappearing in the rise of her cheeks, only the shining sparkle of her wisdom shone through. 

I was sitting on my mat feeling at peace with my body. The class had come to an end. Mats were being rolled up, blankets were being stacked neatly and placed in a blue Ikea bag. All the students were in different stages of getting ready to leave. 

It was the last class before a long summer break. To me, it felt like a weaning off session, an attempt by our soft spoken guru to nudge us towards our mats without the scaffolding of her words guiding our limbs, our breath and our thoughts. 

She may have said something after that last sentence. But I didn't hear her. Something about 'meeting myself' made me stop in my tracks. Like a camera lens, my thoughts zoomed in on those two words. The rest of what was being said and done around me faded into a blur.

How easy is it to meet yourself? 

Are we ever ready to make our own acquaintance? Truly and honestly? 

Why do I find it easier to drive to a class to practice than to roll out my mat at home? 

Keeping the raging dialogue hidden inside my head, I  paid up, said goodbye and left. 

When I resist the mat, am I in some way refusing to meet myself? I wondered as I drove out.

I had put my reluctance down to lack of discipline and general laziness. I never thought of it as being unprepared or unwilling to meet myself. 

And what does meeting oneself really mean? 

'Listen to your body', Anusha, my first yoga guru, used to say. 'Don't worry about others, be present on your mat.' 

'How you are on your mat is how you are in your life.' was another one of  Anusha's favourite things to say during a class. 

For me, the words I hear in class are as important as the techniques I'm shown. My teachers' wise utterances keep playing in the recesses of my self, especially the bits that I need to pay attention to. 

Summer is unique in Doha. As the school year comes to its natural end in June, many families move out of the city for good to either head back home, or move to a new place with better job opportunities or to be close to where their children are (at universities etc.) Doha's working population is predominantly ex-pat, so it's natural for the city to be a transient stop for many.

A friend recently remarked how her corner of the yoga class she's been part of has emptied out as many of her yoga buddies have left.

Getting attached to a group of people, a class time-table, your favourite place in the shala to unroll your mat, a sequence of asanas, or even a yoga teacher are all shades of that which yoga is showing us to distance ourselves from: attachment. 

And going back to Giselle's words, only in finding the discipline and courage to make a date with myself to meet me can I hope to distance myself from all the above attachments. Otherwise, any one of the above has the capacity to interfere with my practice.

Being solo in a pack is a beautiful place to be in. 

Often on treks, despite being part of a group and despite respecting the safety codes of trekking (not lagging too far behind or running too far ahead), I often detach from others and walk with myself. It's a beautiful and liberating feeling.

Watching the daisies dance with the breeze, the play of the morning sun on leaves, the dusty clouds that keep puffing out of soles of the one walking ahead of you and rustling leaves are all present like my teachers' words: telling me to listen to the voice inside, to meet the soul that has been given a body that I use to live, to walk, to practise yoga, to write, to cook, to love, to laugh, to sing off tune, to dance with abandon, to dress up in a saree or to spend an entire day in old pajamas, to bathe in waterfalls, to slip on big rocks, to hold a friend's hand, to give her long and tight hugs and to sip hot tea.

"We are not becoming experts.
  We are just finally becoming good students."
Says William Martin in The Sage's Tao Te Ching

As a student, I hope I can use the steps my teachers have shown me to practise the discipline of detachment so that I may meet myself more often on my mat. And in doing so, I can be a better version of my solo self, one day at a time.

Whatever your daily practise, be it a walk in the park, mediation, preparing food for family, writing, singing, dancing, listening, earning money or just being, I wish you all the best. 

I'm writing a blog post after a long time. Bear with me while I flex my writing muscles. The thoughts I've poured out today have been knocking my insides for a few days.

The photos I've shared on this post were clicked in the Himalayas (Maunda and Chakrata) a couple of weeks ago.

Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating .

I'll sign off with these lines from The Sage's Tao Te Ching by William Martin

"Work with passion and energy
at the tasks you cherish,
but connect often with that part of you
that is watching it all happen
with eternal joy and love."
I'd love to know what you make of Giselle's words. What do you do to meet yourself? Do you do that often? 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Thank You note: to the lookout journal

If you've been a part of this blog's journey, then you would've noticed the long silences.

The past six months have been a jumble of thoughts and emotions. The novelty of empty nesting refuses to wear off and I find that I'm so preoccupied with 'what's next' that I'm not doing anything now.

For the first time in three years, the A to Z blogging challenge has stood out of reach. I was sure I'd be ready for it and then when the last day of March turned into the first day of April, I realized I wasn't.

I'm at an intersection of so many plans and ideas that choosing the 'one path' is proving tricky.

There's a new camera to get familiar with.

Then there's a voluntary pursuit that started off as an art therapy session at a hospital four months ago. But it has evolved into a promise of an art exhibition in the very near future.

And the freedom of an empty-nester combined with the blessing of rebate air tickets has meant frequent travels out of Doha.

Also, as with any creative pursuit, long rest periods can develop into breeding grounds for self-doubt and laziness. 

As a result, this quarter has been busy but without any blogging.

So, when the lovely duo at the lookout journal, Anusha and Vangmayi, showed interest in a proposal I sent them, I was thrilled.

This was a first for me. To write a piece for a journal. To work with edits. To look at my writing from an editor's point of view. To say what I wanted to say but not say it in so many words. To be happy with snips and corrections.

I'm utterly grateful to the duo at the lookout journal for making this easy and enjoyable for me.

Here's the link. Have a read. Tell me what  you think. Share it if you'd like someone else to read it too.

of saris, goddesses and the common woman

I hope I can come back to regular blogging soon. I miss it for sure. It's time to make time and find the focus. 

Thank you for reading my words.
Have a wonderful day.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The attitude of greytitude

What is grey?

Is it a minus or a plus?

Is it the fading of colour from lush black hair?

Or an adding of salt and pepper to their ripeness? 

Is the lack of colour a reminder of my mortality?

Or a timely reminder to celebrate the years lived?

How you look at grey is entirely up to you.

I'll be celebrating my forty-eighth birthday soon. I've been greying for a few years now. After almost a decade of henna application regimen of once a month, I switched to hair colour when the rate of greying spiked. I convinced myself that No Ammonia written in purple letters on my box of shop bought colour meant it's almost chemical free and therefore harmless. I was wrong. My hair didn't take to the colour like I'd hoped it would and so I'm back to applying henna twice a month. The henna I use these days is organic. Yes, I believe the claims made by the packaging.

I've thought about greying naturally many times. To not bother about covering up my ripening roots. To celebrate rather than hide my luck to have lived this long, and mostly in good health. I'll be a year older than my mother ever was when I turn 48. 

But this pull of vanity makes me pick up that brush, load it up with goopy green henna paste, slather it on my head, paying special attention to the pesky roots, the obstinate growth above the temples that NEVER changes colour, no matter how many layers of colour or henna I put on it. Then there's the 4 to 6 hours of waiting, wearing a drying henna crown covered in cling film or shower cap. A couple of sheets of kitchen towel are twisted and stuffed into the edges of the shower cap to stop the henna from leaking on to my forehead or ears or clothes or the floor. The washing off of henna takes time. The bath gets super messy. All in all, it's a very messy and tedious process. 

Of course, this can all be replicated in a salon. I don't have the patience to sit for long periods of time in salons and my middle class Punjabi upbringing runs strongly through my veins. So, if I can achieve the same results at home, I'd rather wear my crown of crusty henna for a few hours every fortnight while I cook or watch Netflix or read.

The question I struggle with is why do it at all? 

I admire women and men who are happy with their greys. My husband is one of them.

I'd like to be just like them when I grow up.

I keep promising myself that I'll stop colouring my hair after this next milestone in my life. Our son's high school graduation in May. Our daughter's university graduation in June. Our holiday in September. That dinner at a friend's last Thursday. Yes, you get the idea. The pull of vanity is strong with this one. 

At times like these, I take refuge in the shade of greytitude (a term that popped into my head on one of my morning walks): a state of being that allows a person to be kind to themselves. It's when grey mixes with gratitude. It's when after having lived a few decades of accumulating material comforts, one realises how important the free things in life are. Not just important, but essential and irreplaceable.

Greytitude has to be cultivated, like a habit.

So, I show myself the kindness I find easy to give to others. 

I remind myself  that I have hair and it's healthy and the choice to colour or not is mine. When it feels right, I'll stop. For now, I'll cover my greys. But, I won't let the greys cover me with self-conscious gloop. I've lived my thirties is boxes of what will people say. It's time to discard those suffocating boxes. 

Today, as I sit at my kitchen table to write a post after almost five months, I look out.

Doha sky is wearing a soft grey blanket. Winter has arrived very late this year. 

The month of December was warm. Both our children were home for the holidays. The four of us were together under one roof after almost a year. Our collective chatter, arguments, silly jokes, leg pulling, telling off, accusations, sharing of news, making of plans, meals at the kitchen table, pizza slices in front of TV, saving and then savouring of favourite episodes filled the house to the brim with the warmth of family.

January arrived. The children left.

An empty nest. A quieter home. 

The clearly defined lines of mothering, the black and white of raising a family have been blurring into the greyness of what next. What does my role as a mother of adult children mean to me? to them?

Like a drop of dark ink in a bowl of clear water, I feel my world of parenting disappearing into a bigger, wider world. I feel like that drop of ink: spreading one molecule at a time, mixing with the water, losing my essence as a mother to the world that my children now inhabit. A world where they don't need me or my cooking. The black and white world of bed-time stories, school runs, packed lunches, help with homework, PTA meetings, school plays and proms has disappeared like that drop of ink. 

I sigh deeply as I type this post out. The drop of ink may have disappeared, but the water carries the tinges of its colour. 

Greytitude comes to my rescue again.

It's time to take down the scaffolding of mothering.

I celebrate the diluted inky waters of my new role as a mother who gets more Whatsapp messages than hugs.

I rejoice in the 'miss you too' and 'love you' sign offs.

I look forward to the next time this home will house us all in its fold.

In the meantime, I celebrate the open pastures of time where I can frolic with a book, volunteer at a hospital or at a special needs school, enjoy long languorous lunches with friends or just sit and stare at  sparrows in the garden as they flit from a purple petunia to a buttery frangipani, cheerful in their tweets and sprightly flights. I can do whatever I choose to do with my time, which is no longer bound by the knots of school runs.

I choose greytitude: an attitude of gratitude as I enter my fuzzy, soft, warm grey years.
I choose to be far away from hard lines, from definitions, rules that stifle, clothes that restrict, make-up that covers up more than it shows, people who find faults with everything, human stories that only focus on the ugly and the offensive. 

Instead, I choose to savour my grey like one savours the soft pink and white splendour of cherry blossoms or the orange and red of an autumnal birch. For like the seasons, my greys  will dissipate in a blink of an eye. Whether I will be blessed with the bliss of a snowy winter, I do not know. 

In the meantime, let me relish these grey pauses and welcome the peace and quiet of my home of brick and mortar into my heart of flesh and blood. Let me sit in silence and dip into my inner well often so I may draw from it the milk of human kindness. Let me ground myself enough so I may have the strength to share the warmth of my  grey blanket with a soul in need. 

Let me line my attitude with the warmth of gratitude.

Leaving you with these most beautiful words written by Guru Nanak Dev ji, sung like a dream by Shivpreet Singh and sent to me by my dear friend, Vidya. Her name means knowledge in English. I smile.

Wishing you all many moments of peace and tranquility.