Thursday, June 28, 2012

Giving back to Mother Earth

It was purely by chance (although my gut feeling says that it was meant to be!) that I glanced at the name DAILY DUMP on the Facebook page of the organisation Nizhal - Friends of Trees. But that got me interested enough to look up more and I got totally hooked to the idea of segregating my garbage at home and composting, besides going organic to whatever extent possible!

Raghav and I have been exploring issues like chemicals in food, adulteration, chemicals at home, protecting our environment and so on, over the past few months. And I think that because these issues have been so relevant to our daily lives, our value systems and perhaps our personalities too, we have both taken to these like fish to water. That perhaps means that prior to this, we were actually like fish on vacation! :)

The timing of this discovery; the ease with which we have made some small and some big changes in our lives, the happiness and peace that we feel when we live our lives this way, makes this seem like it was the perfect thing for us at this moment in our lives!

So now, we hardly have any garbage to throw away.....our visit to the community bin has come down to once in about 2 -3 weeks - it is a small bag that I have to trash and I am sure once we figure out what to do with some of those things, even that one trip will end. We don't trash any left overs anymore.....we try and shop as much possible for veggies and groceries at an organic store (This is a huge step for me as Raghav disliked veggie shopping earlier as he got tired of waiting for me to choose....but he knows that these are organic veggies and since it is something he wants to explore, is ever-willing to go, even though he waits in the car!) The other changes we have made at home are that we use toothpowder (Raghav still likes to use his favourite toothpaste though!), soapnuts for washing clothes, a soapnut scrub for washing dishes and natural household cleaners. I think it makes it easier for me to be more mindful in all my household chores when I choose to live this way.

Raghav's interest in all this started with some books that we borrowed from  British Council Library on pollution, food, GM food etc. As usual, a few questions from him got us thinking and searching for more on the subject and that in turn opened our eyes to a whole new world that changed the way we were living! Not that these terms were new to me.......but you know the feeling -  how most times these things just flit past like butterflies in your head and you think about them one moment, but they never really touch your heart and soul, or cause a churning inside?! That was how I had lived my life till that moment. But in that one moment everything changed! It was a soul-stirring moment. Children somehow do this to you all the time....they don't put you on a pedestal - they put you in the witness box and get you to witness yourself and your life ....and get you to answer some difficult questions with complete honesty!

A million thoughts and feelings raced through my mind......I wondered why everytime I had looked at a garbage dump earlier, I had just held my breath and walked past? How is it that I did not think that I was contributing to that stench too? Why had it been someone else's problem to set right? Whose responsibility was it? All along I had shunned hypocrisy around me, and here I was being hypocritical myself! I decided that I had to do something and NOW!

So, I read through DAILY DUMP's website completely to learn more about all this. I learnt things which I do not remember even learning at school or college! That was one more knock on the head for one's ego and the obsolete system that we have all been fabricated in. I had not learnt one of the simple basic skills of living - how to handle the garbage that I generate everyday. Here I was just trashing everything from leftover food, to hazardous waste to plastic, foil and many other things that could be either composted or taken to a recycling unit, rather than a landfill. A deep sadness filled up within me quickly....what was I giving back to the Earth that was giving me so much everyday? Nothing really. I was ashamed of myself. But from the depths of that sadness and shame grew a resolve so strong and sure....a resolve to change the way we lived in order to change our world.

"Nothing in nature lives for itself
Rivers don't drink their own water
Trees don't eat their own fruit
Sun doesn't give heat for itself
Flowers don't spread fragrance for themselves
Living for others is the rule of nature."

I read this somewhere recently and I wondered how different our world would be if human beings started thinking like this!

Anyway, that was just the beginning of our story. Once I started to think about all this, Raghav and Srinath pitched in and helped me reorganise our lives. We started by making a list of all the things that we trash. It was an astounding list that we are adding to everyday! Then, we separated them into different categories and got bins / boxes for each one. We made space for these in a corner of our balcony. Raghav helped me make labels for them. The website and others gave us ideas on how to segregate. The next thing we did was to take away all the dustbins from all over the house. We left one in the kitchen and one in our bedroom for things that could not be segregated/recycled at all. So now we separate aluminium foil, papers, plastic bags, plastic things, cans, oil packets, milk covers, hazardous waste, cardboard etc. Every person who comes home and stays for a while is educated on how we segregate/recycle. I think so much about every little bit of material that I handle now.........I wash out the plastic covers / aluminium foil / milk covers - hang them up with a clothespin and leave them to drip dry above my kitchen sink....and when they are dry, we put them in their respective bins. Raghav too goes on his own to put things he finds around in the respective bins......We have been doing this for more than 3 months now and are pros at it!

Next, I found out where to get my kambha for composting and also got to talk and meet two people who taught me first hand. I took the plunge knowing fully well that it was what I wanted to do and that it would work fine. I decided to collect all the kitchen waste / leftover food in a small basin with a cover, that I would empty out every day into my kambha. Although I had read up a bit on the DAILY DUMP website about how to do it, and spoken to two people, I was not completely sure, but just followed my heart and common sense. Everyday usually in the afternoon or evening, I drop all the waste into the kambha and add a bit of cocopeat or shredded newspaper as the drying agent and give it a gentle mix. Once a week I mix it up really well -all the three pots. To me, composting is much like cooking! I am very mindful of what I put into the kambha. When I add the cocopeat and mix it up, I do it with much love, care and attention- like cooking a dish to the right consistency. That is the commonsense bit that I was talking about earlier....because it is this consistency that I maintain everyday religiously and I just harvested my first lot of black gold! Wow! It was such a good feeling to give back to the earth!

Although Raghav doesn't help me too much with the composting as he doesn't like the messy, smelly things, I know that he loves me for doing what I am doing. He treasures the little book that we got from DAILY DUMP called "The Magic Gamla Pot" and even took it along when we went to meet someone to find out more about composting. A couple of days ago, I was complaining to  my husband as to how there were so many red ants in the balcony from the red mud that we were storing, and that we should do something about it. Raghav promptly said this with a smile: "Amma....don't worry about those ants! Maybe they are actually helping you in your composting by breaking down the food!" While I can become a kid and jump at the sight of any creepy crawly, my son has a love-hate relationship with insects.....I can never know for sure which ones he likes or fears!

While this is helping us get over some of our fears, what I really look forward to are the Sunday mornings when we sieve the compost, or give the compost a mix, or tend to our small family of plants - a family. It has been such a wonderful seems like we are rediscovering parts of ourselves that we have long-forgotten or buried under layers of dust-covered conditionings......and when you dig deep enough and find your roots.....roots of one's soul, you do find a lot of peace and happiness of a different kind.......something that is more permanent and deep. I realise today that when I am living my life in tune with nature and all that it has to give me, and I too give back to nature in some little way, I find the greatest peace that transcends everything else in my life.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Spiritual Healer

Children seem to have a way of making us face some of our own unresolved fears or issues that we have with ourselves and our childhood. I also believe that these are the roots to many of our problems in adulthood. My son was my spiritual healer today. He brought up his fears and mine and made me revisit some of the events in my life that I have not been able to get over till this day.

Raghav loves the water and enjoys swimming. I like water to an extent - I love watching water flow and putting my feet in gently flowing water.....but am scared to get into a pool or venture into the waves in the sea. Perhaps it is the depth that gets to me! It took me many years to get myself to get back to standing on the beach and allowing the waves to caress my toes. It happened over many years and I am thankful that I have become ok with it now....but a large wave would still have me running back to the shore almost like a reflex action! The story behind my fear goes back to an incident in my childhood when I was forced to get in to the sea by my well-meaning cousin, and that has probably left a deep scar....

Raghav brought me back to reality by talking about how he wanted to ask his dear friend to go swimming with him one day and was talking about how much fun it would be. I guess he wanted me to be a part of it too, but realised that I would never get into the pool. And so he spent the next few minutes trying to convince me about what a beautiful experience swimming is and how I should not be scared; that I should feel like I am just floating in nice cool water and so on. But my fear stopped me from buying the idea.

Realising that I was holding on to my fear of the water or drowning, he came up with solutions of wearing a life jacket and so on and then finally changed his strategy and asked me point blank - "So amma, you are very scared of the water aren't you? When did you start feeling scared of the water and why?" I recalled the vague incident and shared that with him, but could not go much further. And then I realised how these fears or feelings or memories get stored in your brain.....I could not remember exactly when and why but had a vague memory that's all. However, even that vague faint memory of a fear or an event that triggered that feeling in me was an all-encompassing one! And I realised that only today.

The other thing I realised about myself while I was talking about all this was that I was not so comfortable with my body. Perhaps that was why I did not like swimming too - the idea of wearing a swimsuit to get in.....and others seeing me.......was I scared or ashamed or uncomfortable? Maybe it was all of these or one, but I don't know yet. However, I was relieved and happy that he got me to speak about it candidly. This was the same strategy I used with him!.......I realise that most often than not, just giving a child the space to open up and talk about a problem or what he/she is feeling, without being judgemental or giving advice, gets him/her to think about a solution to the problem.

Then he went on to talk about his fear of darkness. The first thing that came to my mind when he started this topic was how we have learnt to adjust to so many things with him - an adjustment that came after understanding - and what a long way he has actually come with this fear of his......Earlier he used to be terrorised with a baby, he would cry if he was left in a dimly lit room or a darkened a toddler and later, he would scream when the power went off and we were not holding him....even at home, he would not step into a room where there was no light...when we found out about this, we started keeping a tubelight on in our room the whole night and he slowly started to overcome this fear. Today he asks for a torch and carries it with him to a dark room that he wants to go into....he is more comfortable to walk or play games in the dark....and we now sleep with a dim light in the room at night! (that is a HUGE step for me as it makes it easier for me to get some better sleep too!) But this has taken time....time that one cannot define or predict or work towards like a professional would perhaps, if a parent brought this up as an issue. It takes as much time as needed for the scar to heal on its own without interference or hurrying up from the outside. It is something that has to be lived with, talked about and acknowledged openly, everytime it comes up, without shame and that I feel is the crux for the healing to happen. Today he  may be more willing to travel to places where the power supply may be erratic at night. That is another huge step for us, as earlier we had to think a lot about the kind of place we had to stay in when we were travelling, and even remember to pack a torch or emergency light!

My thought train came to a screeching halt when Raghav suddenly turned around and said that he had actually been scared of darkness from soon after he was born. "But you were born at 12 noon which is midday!", I said. He replied promptly: "Yes, maybe amma, but I remember that when I was carried from that room outside, I turned my head and saw another room that was very dark. I was scared then and from that time I have been scared of darkness. But how come I was not scared when I was inside you, but only when I came out? Even though it must have been very dark inside your 'thoppai' ( 'stomach' in Tamil)!" I had no answers. I had no explanations for all this, not even for his memory of these events. I was amazed at the clarity with which he could recollect these things.....surely, they couldn't be just figmentots of imagination?! I guess I don't need to have explanations for all this. He had perhaps already started finding the answers himself.

But what I know today and believe is that he will soon be a changed person, because he has been able to pinpoint his fears and articulate them so clearly to someone. I recently read an article that someone had written about meditating on one's inner child and being able to awaken all the feelings of being in the womb and so on. I had tried to do it a couple of times, but could not get on with recalling anything! And here was a   6 year old, doing it with such ease! He was actually healing both his mother and himself!

'BE'ing with a feeling

We had decided to take my dad to Ramanashramam, Thiruvannamalai for his birthday - his 79th one! It was a Saturday and it was a long but pleasurable drive. Raghav's only motivation to come was that he could see peacocks there and also the hill (he loves the hills!). We left very early in the morning, had a packed breakfast on the way and reached the ashram at about 11:30am - just in time for the simple, hot, sumptuous lunch (ellai- saappadu) that we have always cherished. I remembered our visits to the ashram as kids - the three things that are etched in my memory are the peacocks, the lunch on a mandharai ellai and the huge board that stood at the doorway in the main hall - that read "Who Am I?" That question has been rooted in my mind ever since and whenever I got some quiet time to myself, I pondered on that question. My husband too feels drawn to the ashram although we do not go there as often as we would like to. So this time was special because we were going there to spend some time and not rush back in a hurry the same day.

After we had lunch, Raghav insisted that I read out the whole story of Ramana Maharishi's life to him - what was displayed on the board. It spoke of how Ramana Maharishi experienced death and then pondered on the question : "Who am I?" I don't know how much he understood, but he wanted me to read every word. And he listened to it intently. All I did was to explain some meanings of some words.That's all.

After a while, my husband left for the small meditation hall and told Raghav that he would be back in about half hour or so. Raghav waited patiently and seemed to have an inherent idea of the time that had lapsed. It had been quite a long time. My husband was not back. Raghav was getting restless. Soon, he was really anxious and worried and started crying. I took him close to the hall and we waited. Raghav wanted to go in and look for his father, but knew that he could not be quiet inside. So we stood and waited outside under a tree.....watching the door and the people who came out. There was just nothing that I could do but hold him, wipe his tears that were pouring and be with his feeling and him. He did not want me to go in too and look, while he waited with my parents. It had started raining. Raghav does not like getting wet in the rain. So we went back and took shelter; waited till the rain stopped - although his crying did not stop. Then we went back and took guard at the very same place all over again. Still no sign of my husband. Raghav was really uncomfortable with some ants that were crawling up his legs, water dripping down from the tree under which we were standing, and with his shoes getting wet.  He complained about all that and more and cried :"....Amma...but there is no other way, I just have to bear it!" HE made the choice - a choice to stay there and wait no matter what. He had to see and find his father.

I had no choice either. And surprisingly this time, I did not have any urge to make him feel better. And when I let go of the feeling of making him feel better, I was able to actually "feel" with him. My heart sank.....I had butterflies in my stomach.....I felt heavy like a sand bag....and tears welled up in my eyes too. But I made sure I did not show that to Raghav as that would have made him feel worse. It was the hardest thing to do for me - to see and feel his pain and extreme discomfort. We stayed with the feeling as long as we needed to, despite all the curious eyes that passed us now and then. Strangely, there was no embarassment....and I realised suddenly that embarassment and guilt develop in us only when we perhaps hide from our true feelings and fears.

Soon, Raghav saw his father come out. He let go of me, ran to him and hugged him tightly, crying all the while. And then he asked him : "Appa, why were you away for so long? You told me that you would come back in half an hour, but you were there for much longer than that! I was scared that you would never come back.........why do you have to go somewhere and do meditation, when you tell me that God is in all of us, and even inside me?!"

Something gave inside me. In that silence of being with our feeling, I was able to understand the feeling better ......and our fear and our insecurity - our deep fear of losing him. Yet from all that heaviness sprang forth a lightness. A lightness of being with and letting go of a feeling. It was kind of magical.....