Operating from the inner life

Until last year, I used to believe that we are our emotions and emotional states. It was only towards the end of last year that I started to recognize those moments of stillness when I operated out of something deeper. In these moments, I experienced no resistance or anguish within me; I only experienced a deep awareness of life. A profound awareness devoid of any emotional need. These were moments when life revealed to me its true nature- its unique ability to be fragile and beautiful at the same time. These were moments when I was aware of my true nature as well. My inherent nature that is uniquely me, and that can never change. Quite unlike my emotional states. When I operate out of this inherent nature, I have no confusion in my choices or decisions. I have no self-doubt. I am not worried about outcomes. I am driven by something deeper; I am driven by the need to create something beautiful from all the beauty that life has awakened me to. I am aware that life is asking something of me in return for this infinite beauty that I have devoured, and I know that this is the reason it chose to give me itself in the first place. Now I know why I had to experience everything I experienced. There is meaning to it all. My life has such profound meaning. This is the kind of greatness I had always aspired for. I wanted to be somebody chosen by life, by the universe.

Today, as I watched Chakoram, I couldn’t help contemplating on how different it was from my life coaching lessons. My life coaching lessons are beautiful, but they would have meant nothing to me in the absence of the malayalam movies that formed the foundation of my understanding of motivation and behavior. I can watch a coaching video once, but there is barely anything I can take from it if I watch it a second time. However, I can watch a movie like Chakoram a thousand times, and yet unearth more wisdom. These movies are life itself. They are the trees that people like Lohithadas planted, and it is in the shade of these trees that my mind rests today. Could Lohithadas have known that his movies would be the reason somebody like me found the courage to live and to love? He most certainly did not think of it. He was only being true to his craft and his purpose- create great stories from life. What is the message in this for me? While I might look at my coaching endeavor as something that I must promote and market, there is something beyond it all. My main objective must be to create something that outlives me. Trees that will be a source of comfort and hope for weary travelers in the distant future. Travelers who may feel exhausted and a little lost. If I can create such trees, my life is justified. It would be my tribute to the trees that someone else planted for me. It would be my tribute to life itself. Life, the master teacher. How I have changed in the way I see life! Today, I can embrace suffering as the greatest teacher. If there is one thing I am grateful for, it is suffering. And also for the courage to take on suffering and use it for a greater good.

Well, these are random thoughts that I felt like penning down. How beautiful a blog is. It absorbs you as you are- nothing more, nothing less.

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Starry Starry Night

Isn’t it ironical that we are always looking for meaning outside of us when the meaning of life can only be found in our minds? It is within the playground of a beautiful mind that ordinary, factual external events are transformed into extraordinary and magical internal journeys. It is in these internal journeys that life resides. It is in these journeys that we come alive.

The beauty of the mind is that we could have the most unaesthetic elements in our life- we could be poor, ugly, unfashionable, unconventional, eccentric, and yet have the most enriching and aesthetic internal journey.

I own a mind that creates beauty out of nothing. A mind that constantly transforms ordinary events into extraordinary perceptions; into miracles. I have always perceived my mind as a star-studded canvas of night sky that has the ability to transform darkness into immense beauty. It is this darkness that makes the stars shine their brightest. Being somebody vulnerable, there has always been enough darkness within me to have the stars shine. To be vulnerable is to live in the shadows. In the shadows, I could always be my own person. I could afford to be scared, miserable and lonely. I could afford to cry. I could afford to be knee-deep in trouble. I could afford to be struggling, hanging on to dear life, and not have the world see my struggle. That is how I created the stars. And that is what the world got to see- the stars. When I was younger, people would be attracted to their brightness. However, when people got closer, they would sense the darkness and move away. Over the years, I learnt to love my darkness enough to not let it show. I learnt to embrace it completely.

One thing I have always been afraid of is not being able to find the vocabulary to describe the beauty of this internal journey I have travelled. How could one possibly describe the beauty of the night sky? It is something to be perceived and experienced. At the most, I might have done some justice to it in my writings.

She Was Pretty‘ was a feast to my mind. It was like a slice of night sky dropped into my arms for me to hold tight and cherish. Kim Hye-Jin’s internal journey connected me to the internal journey I have taken. Like Kim Hye-Jin, I have always looked at life through a kaleidoscope and found magic in what transpired. My memories of my past are all laced with stars. It is this repertoire of beauty that gives me the courage to sail through all of life’s responsibilities and challenges with faith, optimism, hope and excitement. A song is always playing in my mind (quite like the one in the series). Like Kim Hye-Jin, the trauma and wounds in my life did not stop me from being true to who I really was. I love this vulnerability in me that allows me to be look at each individual as if they were a miracle in themselves. I feel happiest when I am with people, talking about the things that excite them and that make them feel worthy. I feel happiest when I can diffuse the tension in the environment in which people often work/operate. I feel happiest when I can create an environment of play in all its seriousness. That is when work transforms into craft. I feel happiest when briefly, I can make people embrace their darkness and see their own stars. I love the light that glows in their eyes on such occasions.

Like Kim Hye-Jin, I am vulnerable, but courageous in a strange way. Courage that comes out of believing in the miracle that is life. I am not one who is after success; my goal is to be a work of art. Above all, I am committed to beauty. Life has revealed to me the infinite beauty that it is capable of; how then could I possibly disappoint life?

Like Kim Hye-Jin, I am so out of sync with the ways of the world, and yet so in tune with the hearts of the people in my life. I am happy to say that I have not let life down. I am flowing with it. I am embodying it. I hold it in my gentle grip and feel it spreading its beautiful wings and fluttering like a butterfly. Being responsible does not mean giving up the ability to imagine and dream. It takes not just courage, but a mind of immense beauty to keep the dream alive and to live it.

Voices from 2020

When we were children, interactions between people were real and in physical space. All my friends were people I had met in person. Pen friends were the only exception.

One of my pen friends was from Bhutan. She was the only one who wrote consistently for almost an year. Recently, I happened to read the letters she had written. She had described her life so vividly. She seemed to be acutely aware of her world- of its possibilities and its limitations. She came across as so emotionally aware and mature even at that age. Perhaps it was because she was in boarding school. I thought about the emotions her letters had awakened in me in those years. It was exciting to have a pen friend in those days because it was not a conventional experience. It presented a mystery– the excitement of having access to a world that was unknown to us. Reading those letters after all these years, I was overwhelmed. I was curious to know what her journey might have been thereafter and what kind of a life she would be living today. I was tempted to visit Bhutan and trace her from the address she had mailed. Perhaps if we had met for real at that point in time, I wouldn’t feel this way today……

Dechen Delma. That name has no face in my mind. There is only a faceless woman against the backdrop of a country she described so vividly. Yet, her name is powerfully engraved in my mind. I wonder why.

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The internet marked the true beginning of the virtual world. Virtual became the new normal. These early virtual friendships were exciting, but they also brought with them a trace of fear. You questioned the intention and motive of the person on the other end. I used to rely a lot on my intuition in the early years of the internet to accept or reject virtual friendships. The internet in those days was a place where you got to meet many interesting people. People from different walks of life. I would chat with them to run away from the boredom and monotony of certain phases of my life. Some of them would become friends and we would even connect on the phone. But at some point, they would fade away…

And my mind would make a memory of them as bright comets who appeared out of nowhere when I wasn’t even looking for them, only to disappear into space. To this day, these comets glow in my mind.

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As the chat space slowly lost its appeal, I was drawn to blogging. I met many interesting people in the early days of my blogging. Blogging was my first serious attempt at writing. It was the first time I was actually writing to express myself on a public domain. At about the time I moved to Kerala, I wrote a small draft of a compilation of my perceptions of Kerala. My mother was the first one to read this. She felt there was something valuable in my writing. I hesitantly lent a copy to my uncle; his feedback was blunt and harsh. He was of the opinion that my writing was very childish and had no value. At a time when I had no clue as to whether my writings were valuable or not, I discovered blogging. I loved the fact that it offered anonymity. I could be a terrible writer, and it wouldn’t matter. What I needed was a place where I could record my perceptions (however childish they may be), my reflections and my observations of life. I was pleasantly surprised when my fellow bloggers responded positively to my ramblings. There was one blogger I like to describe as the turning point in my writing journey. Coincidentally, he was also part of the technical team of the old DD show ‘Turning point’! He would review my posts and his comments encouraged me to continue with my writing journey. I could finally shed the low confidence that stemmed from my uncle’s feedback and write with more courage. We exchanged thoughts for a few years. Eventually, he revealed that he was diagnosed with cancer. It was from a common friend that I learnt he passed away….

Ravi. I remember him not as Ravi, but as Ledzep– his screen name. The brightest comet I met in those years.

http://nandini-ki-duniya.blogspot.com/2010/07/alchemy.html

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The most abstract of my ‘interactions’ were with people who spoke to me through their works of art. Be it film makers such as Lohithadas or Padmarajan whose movies were lifelines to me, or artists such as Vincent van Gogh or Michael Jackson whose minds seemed to mirror my own, I could always perceive in their art a silent communication. Across time and space. It almost felt eerie to live in the 21st century and speak to Vincent van Gogh from the 19th century. And yet, so powerful is the impact of their work/life on my mind that they are people who are more real to me than the people I have actually met.

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What triggered these thoughts? Perhaps the faceless communications that have dominated this year, thanks to COVID. I think of our virtual cinema community. In the course of our weekly discussions that involve thoughts and perspectives that we hold closest to our heart, there is an intimacy that I feel with all of them. And yet, I wouldn’t recognize any of them if I were to run into them accidentally….

I know them as voices. Voices close to my heart.

I have a singing companion on smule. Though I am no professional singer, I love music. I can hum a tune. But this singing companion of mine sings with a golden voice. His music comes straight from the heart. He replicates the feel of the original song. In malayalam songs (and movies), I have buried all the emotions I gathered from my life. Emotions I am intensely attached to. To listen to these songs (or to watch these movies), is to dig up the graveyard of my emotions. So I started to choose him over other people and he became my constant singing companion. I know nothing about him. And yet, his presence is powerfully engraved in my mind as a voice. The voice that can dig up the emotions I cherish the most.

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This is the magic of life. The distinction between what is real and what is virtual is so blur. The distinction between normal and abnormal is so blur. This is what I love the most about life. This blur. This mystery. This power to make itself accessible to us, and yet stay inaccessible. I am so glad I have had a chance at life.

The Idol: Insights

The Idol is a 2015 Palestinian drama film directed by Hany Abu-Assad. It tells a fictionalized version of the life of Mohammed Assaf, wedding singer from a refugee camp in Gaza who went on to win the 2013 Arab Idol singing competition.

Mohammed’s youth in Gaza, played by the sweet-faced Qais Atallah.

I liked the first half of the movie, but I didn’t find the second half very engaging. Since the movie was set against the backdrop of Gaza, I expected it to be a window into life in this besieged territory, capturing the social climate and the suffering of the people. However, I don’t think the movie touched too deeply on this, except for the segment involving restrictions on movement across the border. But it did make me dwell on international borders and their vulnerability.

I have always found myself fascinated by borders because they represent transition zones where one’s geographical and cultural identity is undergoing a transition. When I travel across a border, I love the way the costumes change, the dialect changes, and the attitude/behaviors change. Borders in this regard, are interesting and stimulating. But what we often forget is that borders are also a political entity, and can add to social vulnerability, particularly when they are international borders ablaze with political strife.

This movie captures the determination of Mohammed Assaf who finds it in him to not be limited by political restrictions across borders and to pursue his passion and purpose. It also portrays how human elements find common ground and cut through political divisions, offering hope and respite in settings of adversity. Assaf uses his music to establish a connect with people; his music overcomes the political barriers that are restrictive on his goals.

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The first half of the movie views the world through the eyes of children. The Palestinian refugee children see their world with the optimism that only children are capable of; they see their world not as a place that restricts them, but as a place that is full of opportunities, excitement and adventure. They dream fearlessly.

The Idol' Director Hany Abu-Assad on Making a Movie Without Cultural  Barriers | by Sydney Levine | SydneysBuzz The Blog
Mohammed is part of a ragtag band with his tomboy sister Nour, and two of their friends.

In his book Dancing the dream, Michael Jackson captures the essence of this spirit that can only belong to a child:

Wise Little Girl:

I know a wise little girl who cannot walk. She is confined to a wheelchair, and she may spend the rest of her life there, since her doctors hold out almost no hope of ever making her paralyzed legs better. When I first met this little girl, she flashed me a smile that burned me with its blazing happiness. How open she was! She wasn’t hiding out from self-pity or asking for approval or protecting herself from a sense of shame. She felt completely innocent about not being able to walk, like a puppy that has no idea if it is a mongrel or a champion of the breed. She made no judgments about herself. That was her wisdom. All I saw was light and love. In their innocence, very young children know themselves to be light and love. If we allow them, they can teach us to see ourselves the same way. One sparkle from a little girl’s gaze contains the same knowledge that nature implants at the heart of every life form. It is life’s silent secret, not to be put into words. It just knows.

The Idol 2015, directed by Hany Abu-Assad | Film review
Nour simply steals every moment she is in; with her big, blue eyes, wide smile and swaggering demeanor, she’s a total spitfire.

Nour was the life of this movie. Her vitality made it impossible for the viewer to focus on anybody but her. Her pace, determination, persistence and optimism were mind blowing. It was as if nothing could stop her or beat her. It was as if she could never die. And so, when she dies, it comes as a shock from which we fail to recover. One can’t help wondering what she would have been like as an adult, had she been alive.

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Both the language and the music were impressionable elements of this movie. I didn’t know Arabic had such a striking similarity with Spanish in the way it sounded. Both languages have such a musical, temperamental quality.

The music reminded me of the Hungarian soundtrack Szerelem Szerelem from The English Patient. It is interesting how language and music connect distinct geographical lands as they are embedded in a common history. In this context, one can’t help dwelling on how folk music has its unique attributes in terms of identity.

Where a folk song originated is rarely known to its community The repertory of a folk community probably always included songs of very diverse origins. The form of a folk song as heard at any one time, however, is likely to have been very much affected by the entire community because of its life in oral tradition. Any new song would be likely to undergo this process of communal re-creation. An important characteristic of a song or piece in traditional folk culture is, thus, its dependence on acceptance by a community—that is, by a village, nation, or family—and its tendency to change as it is passed from one individual to another and performed.

https://www.britannica.com/art/folk-music/General-characteristics-of-folk-music

So in essence, the movie was not much in terms of its plot, but it took me on a journey across space, across time. I am now beginning to appreciate how movies do not always have to be about characters or personalities. Some movies are experiences that may lose the identity of individual personalities or specific storylines. They lose their body and float freely in space, taking us on our own independent journeys. Just like folk music that loses its creator and the specifics of its creator in its journey!

The flip side of COVID

Navigating through the Covid-19 and VUCA world - Goavega

This year has been an year of suffering for the world. While I deeply empathize with all the people whose socioeconomic conditions made this pandemic painful beyond imagination, I belong to those fortunate group of people who could see opportunity in the pandemic. The pandemic presented an opportunity to make a difference and to grow as a person.

I am tired of meaningless slogans of past glory that our leaders make. It serves nobody in the present or future.

I am tired of businesses that pretend to serve mankind. Especially businesses that exploit human vulnerability and transform this vulnerability into a business opportunity without any essence being delivered.

I am tired of all the mental health practitioners who have invested more in marketing than in building themselves up.

I am tired of all the parents and educators who refuse to engage the younger generation meaningfully and then blame them for the disintegration of the human spirit.

My generation is too busy building its image for the world to see. They are either making money or making a name. And when I say making a name, I don’t mean making a difference and earning a name. I mean, they are learning to package themselves in order to make a name-

Beneath all that packaging, is an empty carton.

Build Yourself Up – From Ashes to Strengths

However, it wouldn’t be fair to generalize. There are many who are working very hard to make a difference. Every day, I come across numerous people who may not have external embellishments that can brag of their value, but within all their ordinariness, is this extraordinary human being who refuses to accept that which threatens the equilibrium of our world. Every day, these people work relentlessly, oblivious to their visibility, oblivious to the challenges and hardships they encounter, oblivious to the general apathy that greets them. And yet, these are the people who collectively move mountains. The ones who have invested not in market skills, but in human skills. They have learnt the art of acceptance, resilience, communication directed at understanding, problem-solving, and all the life skills that our education no longer teaches us. I met many such people this year, and I count them as my greatest blessings.

In this post, I wanted to reflect on my milestones this year.

How to have MILESTONES in Trello? BigPicture
  1. This is the first year where I found a work-life balance

I gave up a full-time job so as to free up time in order to do things that I really wanted to do. This can be a hard thing to do because we tend to choose security over growth. However, I was so drawn to growth that I was willing to step outside my comfort zone and allow a disruption to the routine of my life. I was willing to find a new equilibrium. The year started out on the note that I wanted it to, but COVID did cause disruptions of my work contracts. However, I decided to choose perseverance, rather than go back to my comfort zone. The year is now coming to a close, and I have new contracts.

2. This is the first year that I defined my social self

I wanted to make a difference outside the realms of my professional space. While teaching and medical writing can be seen as endeavors contributing to a social cause, I felt that I wanted to put myself out in a space where I could bring out my greatest value. I believe that my greatest value is in healing minds. This is not an overnight realization; I base this realization on the evidence from my past. I think I have not failed any mind that has come to me with suffering. In the first place, I do not see suffering people as broken or damaged people who need me to fix them. I see them as people who are taking a journey that I myself have taken. I operate from a place of curiosity and understanding, than from the belief that I am a therapist. I feel this builds a lot of trust in the relationship. This realization has motivated me to take up coaching in order to help students who are in need of a perspective shift. All I do is make them aware of how the person that they are, is far more than the labels they box themselves into. And my reward is to see them step out as young people who are excited about their future.

3. This is the first year where I started to market my value

Coaching was not only about helping people. It was also about putting myself in a place that I am extremely uncomfortable about. And that is marketing my value. Until early this year, I used to be a person who was limited in my understanding of marketing. But this venture enabled me to get into the idea of personal branding and I quite like to think of myself as a brand with value. I now understand that unless you tell people about what you can offer, how will you connect with their need?

4. This is the first year I really put myself out on LinkedIn

The LinkedIn journey has been a journey of growth in itself. I think engaging on LinkedIn has added a lot of value to my life, both in terms of the content and the people that come my way. To put it in brief, LinkedIn represents the culture that I would have liked to see in educational institutions and work places. In addition, the cross-cultural exchange has enriched the experience further.

5. This is the first year where I finally found a means of giving voice to the cause of cinema as a tool for building inroads into the self

I am very excited to have collaborated with this group of volunteers who believe in the psychological value of cinema. I was inspired by the scale of their vision because this is a reflection of what our youth are really capable of. I also met in this workshop some inspiring young people. Particularly memorable was this boy who translated his fascination for Miyazaki movies into the reality of his life. Such people give me hope.

6. I continue to add value to my mother’s life while she does the same for me

Last year, I wanted her to start travelling so that she could be excited about seeing places and feel motivated. This year, I introduced her to Korean dramas and she loves the authentic nature of emotions that unfolds in some of these dramas, the aesthetic experiences that these dramas create, and well, things like architecture, interiors, landscapes, music, and language. She has picked up a few words of the language. We discuss the stories and the personalities.

7. I have some great references in my life

Of the coaches who inspired my journey, I have Winnie Khong and Kain Ramsay. Of the people who help me become a better human being, I have to mention Ajeet Yadav. He sets a reference for what a good human being can be.

I met some of my old school friends and they have added tremendous value to my life. I feel most of us from school evolved into such beautiful human beings. I hope we all meet soon!

8. The other things continue

A bit of writing, a kind word here and there, feeding the dogs and the birds, helping out my cousin, and so on. I have picked up some new, empowering habits such as time management and prayer/meditation (my own version so that I can connect with nature and myself every evening).

I feel grateful about everything this year. I hope you have your gratitude list too. May COVID achieve a greater good, even though it is currently causing much havoc across the globe.

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