Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kindness is a Choice

Last night, cuddled in bed before closing our eyes, I shared with Raghav a beautiful, poignant story of kindness that I heard while watching a Youtube video of Pavi Mehta speaking about the power of kindness and giftivism. You can listen to that inspiring talk here. It left me with a sense of joy and peace and an overwhelming feeling of love and faith in humanity.

The story was of a young man who was walking along the road and was threatened with a knife to part with his wallet, by a young boy. The man willingly gave up his wallet, and also offered the boy his coat, which might come in handy as he roamed the streets in the cold night. The boy took it too. Then, just as he was walking away, the man asked if he had had dinner. The boy shook his head. The man then said they could go down together to the restaurant down the road and have dinner. So they went and sat down at the table opposite each other. They ordered something and ate. The waiter then came with the bill. The man looked at it and said: "I could buy you your dinner, but you have my wallet." The boy slowly pushed the wallet over to the man. He took the wallet, paid the bill and then said : " You know, I want to ask you one more thing. Can I have your knife?" The boy thought for a moment and handed over his knife to the man.

Raghav loved the story. He beamed from ear to ear; his face lit up. He didn't say a word. Nor did I. We just looked into each others' faces with a kind of knowing and being. It was beautiful to share that sacred space in silence.

Then, I went on to share with him what that story and the talk inspired me to do and think about. I wanted to make smile cards (I got the idea from here ) in English and Tamil, design them myself and pass them on to people we meet, when they least expect it. He smiled and acknowledged my idea, but went on to say this -

"It is all ok to give a smile card and be kind to people.....but then it is his choice, and up to him to be kind or not and pass it on to others."

This little soul stuns me with his casual profundities. And yes, kindness is a choice. Always.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Embracing Light and Darkness - Karthigai - The Festival of Lights

Last night, while we were out in the city, Raghav heard a lot of firecrackers being burst as many people celebrated Karthigai yesterday. The whole car journey back home was laden with questions ranging from firecrackers - what they are made of, how they go up or spin or explode into colours, safety of those, why people like to burst firecrackers,and then onto bombs....what are bombs made of, how they are made, why people make them, and why people want to destroy things and hurt other people. While we did not know the answers to most of those questions (as he was looking for details) and we decided to Google for those answers, the last question triggered off a discussion which touched upon embracing our darkness...He wanted to know why people would burst bombs if people were going to hate them for doing that....."Why would they be so crazy? Why would they want to be hated by people? Why would they want to die?"....these were tough questions that could be explored only when one went deep into a space within of love and compassion...we spoke about how perhaps these people did not love themselves and actually needed so much love to fill the lack that they felt inside.

Today is Karthigai festival for us - a festival of lights, almost a continuation of Deepavali, in the south. Often when I am stuck and don't know why we celebrate a particular festival, this is after asking my mother-in-law, and her not knowing the answer, I go and look in this book written by my dear school and childhood friend - "Follow the Hindu Moon". It is an amazing and very well-researched and written book of Hindu festivals in South India. You can read more about it here.

Looking back today, that is perhaps the spirit of celebrating a festival of lights like learn how to embrace the light and darkness inside of ourselves and everybody embark on that eternal quest of the Light light up another life with love, light and joy....
"Lighted to Lighten"!

Here is a photo essay of sorts on how we celebrated this wonderful festival of lights!....

Raghav helped me with screwing on
different parts of the brass lamps.

He helped me put the wicks in all the lamps, while I decorated each lamp with dots of turmeric and kumkum.....reminiscing how I used to do that with my grandmother when I was little, every week, after she had scrubbed the lamps sparkling clean...

I recycle the oil that I use in the kitchen after frying things, to light lamps at home, and did the same today as well. It took me a long time to break this wall in my head that I had, about using this oil for "God" or for puja, until I redefined for myself what God and puja meant to me.

I love lighting lamps of all shapes and sizes....they bring a sense of inner peace, stillness, balance and a quiet energy


appam and moong dal payasam/ kheer (completely vegan made with cashew milk) - Yumminess! :)                       

the entrance to our humble home

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Sharing and Giving

Yesterday we had a good online chat of homeschoolers which happens almost every month. One of the questions seemed to touch upon the 'touchy' subject - sharing among kids. There was a discussion about how if one 'has enough', one will give or share happily.

I have been thinking about this and would like to add that I think it is not enough if one 'has enough' (and this has to be determined by the giver himself and not by the others), but rather if one 'has possessed/owned enough'. When one feels that he/she has owned enough, when he has been given the space to say no as many times as he felt/wanted to, when he 'feels' he has 'possessed enough', I think he will give from a space of compassion, peace and joy and truly experience what it means to really give. When giving comes from a space within that one has experienced, because he/she has been respected for who he/she is, then one learns to give, with respect to the person receiving that gift too.

So can we wait, for as long as it takes, for this to unfold naturally, on its own, with our kids, and be witnesses to its beauty? Can we respect them for who they choose to be now, instead of wanting to 'mould' them into the 'perfect' human beings that we often want them to be?

'Sharing' or 'Giving' has been something very close to my heart as I have grappled with it when I was a child, and then with my son and husband. I have learned a lot about myself and them from those life experiences. 

While I was growing up, being the older one, I was 'forced' to 'give', 'give in' or 'share' with my younger sister. I say forced because I was either asked to by others, or did so to be 'good' and to please others. In both cases I feel that I was not in touch with my inner self. Giving and sharing for me, did not come from a space of happiness, but rather from a space of pain, which I realised eons later, only when I watched and listened to my son. Till today, I have to consciously 'work' on this....I give easily when I am not asked, but when I am asked, it takes a lot more effort on my part.

When Raghav was very little and had a growing collection of cars, one day a friend of ours dropped in with his son, who also loved cars. For other reasons perhaps, that kid cried bitterly as he was leaving our house, and he badly wanted to carry home one of Raghav's cars. I remember asking Raghav if he was ok to give him a car that he did not want so much. He readily agreed, handing out a little white car to that bawling kid. He remembered that white car for a long time after that. :)

There have been numerous other times when Raghav has not wanted to share any of his toys with other kids, including his own cousin brother. We have respected that and been a voice to those kids and moms countless of times, explaining how he wasn't ready as yet to share those with them. Some have understood, and some others haven't. It used to worry me a lot in the beginning that he wasn't sharing, and even felt embarrassed to be the one to explain to them. When I realised why he was being that way and that it was ok to not want to share, until he himself wanted to, these things became very easy to accept and handle. 

I remember how I was so deeply touched by what Raghav said, when we were planning what to give to the two little girls of the security woman in our earlier apartment complex, for Diwali one year....Raghav was asking us about their father, and I told him how he had gone away, that this lady was working and taking care of her two kids, and that they probably could not afford to get new things for Diwali. Raghav immediately spoke up and said that we should buy them something useful, not fire crackers, and also give them something new; not give away something old or used. He has always had this thing about wanting to give new or hand-made things as gifts to people, not pre-owned things.

I also have a husband who is so so large-hearted :) that he makes me feel envious sometimes! Being between two people like this has made me ponder and rethink everything that I held on to about sharing and giving. They have opened my eyes to new ways of seeing.

My husband can dole out money and things to people without a care, whether he has enough for himself or not. He thrives on optimism. That has held him with love right through his life, through all his many travails. I remember how soon after we got married, he was out of a job for a few months and we lived on less than ten thousand odd rupees for a while. I didn't dare tell my parents that and prayed so hard that he would be out of the doldrums soon! It never bothered him though :)

He has been instrumental in changing the way I see money and giving. I see them with new eyes now, although there is still a lot more I have to let go of. When we moved house recently, and one of the packers kept looking at the little portable DVD player that he was watching a movie on, he promised him that he would give it to him, and he did! I don't know if I can give so easily and effortlessly and joyfully as yet, to everyone.

Most often I feel that we want kids to be the most perfect human beings and we invest so much in the future. We build dreams, hopes and fears because we are imagining a world that is yet to be born....and in the bargain, we kill their childhood innocence. Doesn't it make more sense to invest in what we have NOW? Doesn't it make more sense to give them what they need NOW, rather than keep wondering and fearing as to how they will turn out twenty years hence, spending hours teaching and moulding them towards that imaginary dream or vision we have?

So what happens when you enforce sharing in kids?...or paint a picture of it being a virtue to be imbibed?...or a skill to be taught or cultivated?....Do we ask kids what they feel about that? Can we still embrace their unkindness with love? Don't we all have dark sides to ourselves?

I feel that sharing and giving are virtues that have been over-romanticized by our older generations. After all, when you 'hold' or learn to 'be' with a thought, a dream, an idea, a book or a toy, you understand it and yourself a little more and give yourself the space to let go, isn't it? ...and when you are full and feel full, is when you can truly give...with a joy that permeates everything around you.

So I will wish you this - "Happy Owning" for a while! :)....until you are ready to give!

 Here is what I found on Giving by Kahlil Gibran......

"You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have--and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers... and you are all receivers... assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father."

Would love to hear your thoughts....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Finders, Keepers"?

Raghav has been reading this one book a lot over the last few days - "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" It is a delightful story of a pigeon who is determined to drive a bus - very apt for a determined child like my son :), even though some people think it is for a preschooler who throws tantrums! (You can find more about the book here)

This afternoon he came up to me and asked: "Amma, why does the pigeon have to ask if he can drive the bus? There are some people who are 'finders-keepers'.....if they find something, they don't ask anyone, they just take it and keep it. He could be like that. Why should he bother to ask?"

I guess if you are so determined, you will find a way out of anything!....although he quickly added that he was not a 'finder-keeper', that this was after all a story and that pigeons can't drive buses anyway! :)

Silent Reading is like....

Raghav was reading a book silently while he was having breakfast this morning. Sometime later, he came up to me in the kitchen and said: "Amma, I have been reading the book without opening my mouth and sounds coming out....but I can hear the sounds of the words in my head as I am reading."
I smiled and asked him if he only hears the sounds or if he also "sees" the words in his head.
"No amma, I only hear the is like I am talking inside my head!" :)
Some mindful silent reading that is!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I have seasons!

After months and months of being with the iPad for most parts of the day, and even while on our holiday to Coorg recently, Raghav suddenly stopped being on the iPad ever since we got back. He has been poring over books, watching DVDs and talking incessantly about various things. And now, he is setting up his train tracks and Thomas engines as he has thought up of some train game that he wants to play with me.

Out of curiosity, I asked him how he had suddenly stopped the iPad all on his own. "Amma, I just found something more interesting to do now," he said. When I told him that he had his books, DVDs, train tracks and everything else all along and that I had even reminded him of those things, he turned around and said: "Amma, but I need to find something interesting to do myself. You know, I have seasons.....just like the Earth! Some seasons are long and some are short. The DVD season is going to be short, but the iPad season was long!"

Yeah, I guess life is about seasons....some things and people linger around longer with us, while some others don't. Life follows a cycle and a rhythm, which we often don't take notice of. But what a wonderful way of seeing life....What a wonderful way of seeing one's self and the things one does, as being a part of a larger rhythm and pattern!

How many seasons do you have and for how long, do you know?

I love myself :)

Raghav suffers from constipation off and on. A while ago, he was on the potty and screaming that his backside was burning. He does have a very low tolerance for pain of any sort. Once he came out of the loo and was getting dressed when he felt a little better, he wiped his tears, smiled and said: "Ah! I love myself!". I smiled back and asked him why. "Because my body healed from it so quickly....I am already feeling better," he said. "...And only when I love myself can I love anybody else, like you or appa".

I was deeply touched and shaken by these profound truths from an eight year old. "But why do you need to love yourself to love somebody else?", I asked, looking to understand how he had made sense of all these things. "...Yeah amma, only when I love myself, can I love you or appa or anybody else. If I don't love myself, then I will be too sad to do anything, and then no one else can do anything for me, because I will refuse. So then, I will stay like that, and not even eat anything, and will die. Then I can't even love! So I have to love myself!"

What a complicated labyrinth of love we weave every moment, when all of it starts and ends with loving oneself! :)