I live in a city that is home to nearly 17 million people.
To put that in perspective, here’s something to consider – the entire population of the Netherlands is 17 million and the country is about one third the size of Bangladesh. The capital of Bangladesh is Dhaka and the city alone is home to nearly 17 million people.
Living in a city this crowded and this densely populated has its own pulse. We live on top of each other, in your face constantly. There’s hardly any public places to gather or chill out in, so whatever space is free is nearly over-run by literally hundreds of thousands of people trying to catch a breath. There is no space where you can be alone. None. Nada. Trust me I tried finding such places but I honestly do not think that they exist. Definitely not in the city and even out in the country side they are quite impossible to come by.
City living has it’s perks, it’s ups and downs and it really depends on how you look at things or the mental state that you are in. Most of the time, I find our traffic annoying, I hate the honking, the rush, the whole hectic mess, quite nerve wracking. I hate the fact that in the city I am so removed from nature that I see nothing and I miss the calmness of being out in nature, hiking or trekking or camping.
Here’s why mindset matters – I quit my job and have been mostly at home for a little over a month now. Once I quit and the feeling of freedom sank in, I resolved to use my time better to improve myself. My health, my well-being – both in the physical and mental state. So I started walking, in places I did not imagine myself walking through. Noticing things I have never seen before.
In the morning when I sit for my meditation, I used to keep my windows closed because no matter how early I start, the honks on the road would still be there and I hated it. It was chaos to me. Now when I sit in meditation, I notice more than the honking in the background, I notice the birds that are chirping, singing, or just going about their business. I don’t see them out my apartment window but I can hear them and I revel at the fact that I am noticing them.
I walk by a lake that I crossed on my way to work everyday. All I noticed before is how polluted it is. Now I notice a bit more, I see the birds that hunt there. I see varieties of water fowl that I thought were impossible to find in the city. I found fruit trees growing along the way that are just coming into bloom. I discovered vantage points where one can almost pretend to be the only soul around for at least a few hundred yards (not).
The truth is … none of this is new in this city. They have all been here while I have rushed and overworked & stressed myself to the bone. I had just stopped seeing them. I had stopped smelling the roses along my way. I had stopped marveling at the miracle that is me. I had stopped listening to my body telling me to slow down because I was too busy pushing myself to check off all the items on my to-do list.
It’s only when I took a break that I realized that I need to slow down and reassess the things that I have in my life and the things that I aspire to. Unfortunately while a job with the UN in China is an amazing opportunity, it is NOT something that I aspire to. My dreams, my aspirations lay elsewhere. As 2017 dawned, so did a new realization of the meaning of this saying:
I realized that over the past year I have become so mechanical that I have been living on auto-pilot. I do the things I am expected to do and I do them well because my type-A personality won’t accept shoddy results. But somewhere in between I had lost something – I could no longer answer the question “what would you regret not doing if you died tomorrow?” with a short and sweet “nothing”.
2016 was a wake-up call. I had nearly chronic health issues since summer and I was exhausted. I knew I was exhausted but I didn’t know how to slow down anymore. How to get off the rat race and live according to my own values. Then 3 people I know dropped dead – literally – from heart attacks. None of them were above the age of 45. When your peers drop dead and you go to funerals where their lives are examined, it changes the way you look at your own life.
I realized that I would regret not traveling more. I would regret not becoming a better version of myself every single day. I would regret running rough shod over my body until it literally landed me on bed repeatedly. I regret feeling like 80 most mornings when I wake up even though I just hit 38. I regret not listening to my intuitions or the signals that were being shot through my spine or nagged at the back of my head. I would regret choosing to stay in environments that were not good for me.
I also realized that we do not buy things with money. We buy our possessions with our time. Now hear me out here. The money that you spent on buying that latest phone or TV, how did you earn it? You traded time from your life, working at a job, that paid you money, in order to be able to afford the latest luxuries or consumer product, along with all the expenses that come from having that job (commute, clothes, lunches, coffees etc… you get the picture). So we trade our time, hoping that later in life, we will be able to afford to do the things that we really want to do. But what happens if you drop dead and there’s no more time? Would all those luxuries & possessions still be worth all that time from your life?
That perhaps is my guiding question for 2017. The cornerstone of questions on which I continue to explore my freedom to do anything I want, be anywhere I want, to become anything I want. Saying ‘no’ to UN was according to a lot of people, madness – all that tax-free salary, financial solvency, prestige, recognition, respect. To me though it looked like I was going to trade more time from my life to go from one bureaucracy to another, from one 9-5 job to another. And once I slowed down, I could no longer justify doing that to myself. As for respect, dude, if I did not have your respect before I had that UN job in the bag, I do not think your respect matters much to me.
My time on this earth, in this life, is limited. No body knows when their time will be up or how. But we ALL are capable of living incredible lives that we have the power to design according to our own individual aspirations. Remember all those dreams that we had as kids? When we wanted to be explorers or astronauts or pilots? Where did they go? When did we become so scripted that our dreams became fallacies lying on the wayside? Our time traded to own things we didn’t even like and that had to be upgraded every few years to stay hip, fashionable and in tune with trends.
So as an ode to 2016 and a hello to 2017… here’s my resolution for this year… to stay curious… to stay open to possibilities… to believe in miracles… to believe in the power of dreams. I am going to travel, I am going to write and I am going to use the skills that I have acquired over a career spanning 20 years to coach, mentor and render service to humanity. After the madness of 2016 (political & humanitarian disasters), I am going to work on restoring my faith in humanity, and hopefully influence others to look past the stereotypes and see more than what meets the eye. I don’t know how I am going to do them, there is no destination to this journey, but I do know that as I start, opportunities continue to present themselves and the universe aligns to deliver what I want.
Now….. what would you do if you were not afraid? if you were not limited by your beliefs or perceptions of what you think you can achieve? What would you do if there was no way that you could fail? Would you still be where you are? living the life you are in now? Or would you decide to change? What would you change?
Today is my last day at work as the Policy Advisor for Food and Nutrition Security. My nearly five year tenure with the Embassy is coming to an end. I will miss my work, the field trips, the individual stories of courage and the resilience of the human spirit, that this job has exposed me to. I am going to miss my colleagues – some of whom became friends, some became family. I know I will have a place at their hearth anywhere in the world, as they will have at mine. I know I will carry them with me. The love, hope, resilience, courage, inspiration that I have experienced over the last few years.
This whole era has been incredible.
When I joined, I had no idea what Embassies do. When I am leaving, I can only think of all the different things that I got to do. Everything from getting to know my own country, practically experiencing that Development Cooperation actually works & does change lives for the better (I was not always a believer) to getting a Master’s Degree because I loved my work so much. I even got the opportunity to tick off bucket list items e.g. working in Africa, water plane & helicopter rides.
Even though I was told quite often that I am more direct than the Dutch, I think diplomacy did eventually rub off on me. I am very sure that I survived (despite my brashness) in Development Cooperation because I worked with the Dutch with their “polderen” mentality. I loved that no matter what, everyone got a chance to argue their point of view – a very important lesson in life and management. And I appreciate the fact that even verbal commitment holds weight in the Dutch way.
These people had my back through some of the worst things that can happen in a person’s life. They had my back! not just in words but in actions. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
So while I am eagerly looking forward to kicking off a month-long vacation from work, from any and all commitments from tomorrow. Today I am pensive, sad at the prospect of not seeing my friends on a daily basis. Today there’s melancholy.
Tomorrow, I unplug from the digital life and bury myself instead into reading, writing and traveling. In existing wherever I am wholeheartedly – present in the moment.
See you all next year 🙂
Yesterday as I sat waiting at the hospital, I found myself shaking. I was curt to the nurses on my way in, I rationalised it with the excuse that I am doubled over in pain. My body was shaking from the pain of the minor operation the day before & dread over what’s more to come. And somewhere in all of these, as I watched the nurse hold on to her smile as she helped me to a seat and apologised for having to make me wait, I realised that I could choose to react differently. That I had to find a place in my head, beyond the physical pain, where I could relate to her compassion to me. She was trying to ease my suffering and she didn’t deserve my less-than-stellar manners.
So in a waiting room full of people, I took off my sandals, sat cross-legged on the seat, and took up the mudra (hand gesture) of meditation pose symbolic of being grounded & simultaneously open to the energy of the universe. I closed my eyes and breathed, my ribs throbbed from pain, my head clouded with it.
As I tried to clear my head, I decided to focus on the breath…. nothing more. Just breathe in….breathe out. And this line started buzzing in my head: if I cannot avoid it, then I must bear through it, with as much patience & perseverance as I can muster.
Another line also appeared….from a life time ago: if you are going through hell, keep putting one foot in front of the other… keep on going even when you don’t know where you are going.
Only in this case, I do know where I am going….. a 3 week convalescing period until full recovery. Traveling would have to be limited, no trekking …but full recovery is expected and it can be helped along with love & kindness towards the body that has carried me through all these years.
I find illnesses hard, mostly because I have the constitution of a horse. According to the Chinese zodiac, I AM a horse. This doesn’t make me a good patient. I wait until the last possible moment to see doctors. I hate medical procedures. I despise pumping my body full of synthetic medicines. But more than anything I hate the havoc that I have wreaked on my body over the years…. stress, pressures, deadlines, sadness, heartbreaks, neglect…. mostly from not having loved myself enough, cared enough or been kind enough.
As I sat in the waiting room, not caring about the spectacle I presented to other patients, I sat in my meditation and prayed to the universe for healing energy, to ground me in the here and now, to see me though this moment. Somewhere between the breathes, in those 15 minutes of waiting…..my body stopped trembling, my jaws stopped shaking, my teeth unclenched and I breathed more easily. I even imagined that my wound is healing itself, it’s filling in the gaping hole & the pain is receding.
Then the nurse came to get me for the dressing. As part of post-operative patient care routine, she checked my heart beat, blood pressure, temperature etc. And everything was in normal range. I almost shouted hallelujah! The doc came & dressing was painful but I managed to keep breathing through the worst of it. Funnily the doc looked at me and said ‘don’t curse me for the pain’ and I could laugh & say ‘this isn’t your fault, you are only trying to do your best for me. That which cannot be avoided, must be borne’. And all 3 of us laughed. If someone had told me 30 minutes before, that I would be laughing soon, I would’ve punched them in their f***ing face. But there I was…. laughing through the worst of it.
The day before, at the Operation theatre, I had refused a screen so I can watch the procedure. Had chatted casually about our favourite travel destination with the band of 3 doctors in the room. I had clenched my teeth through the worst of it and listened as my heartbeat monitor beeped rapidly. Before they took me off the table, I was given painkiller injections and within half an hour, I was roaring to leave. The nurses stopped dumbfounded as I walked out of post-operative, demanded my clothes and the bill, insisting on being allowed to leave asap.
I hate hospitals. I hate the feeling of being surrounded by illness, the sobbing of strangers in the corridors and not knowing if offering comfort to another is even an option. Yet as I stood at the discharge desk at the emergency section, I could not help but marvel at the resilience of the nurses, the way they managed to stay unflustured in the face of human tragedy. Maybe they are flustered but they just handle it better. Or maybe they have a level of Zen that I can only aspire to at the moment.
But yesterday I did manage to find a piece of that Zen … as I breathed in and out….
Today I am grateful for my body, for being healthy ‘most’ of the time, for being able to afford the best possible medical care, for having found a very competent surgeon, for having an amazing team of nurses care for me pre & post-surgery. I am grateful for having a home minister whose loving care is beyond priceless. I am grateful to be breathing 😉
In preparation for the soon to come hibernation & succesive changes, somewhere in the back of my head I have this urge to start purging my life once again of the unnecessary so that only the most essential remains.
Easier said than done.
The realisation that a lot of human misery (and definitely mine) comes from attachment to objects, subjects & concepts was a lesson I had been forced to learn nearly a decade ago. At first it was the concepts that pained me. The preconceived notion of what my life should look like. Then came the lesson on just how attached I was to objects & subjects. I always prided myself as being a non-materialistic person, yet there I was crying in desperation over things I was losing in life. None of it was a necessity but at that point in time, in my own mind, they were. Then came the fraying of my most cherished relationships, the death knell if you will. The force with which some unraveled left me gasping for breath. Others rotted away until their stink had invaded every pore of my being….making me question the futility of their & my own existence.
I didn’t learn these lessons easily. I screamed, shouted & kicked my heels as I went dragging along in that journey. And I learnt that sometimes the only way through a hellish experience was to just let go of any illusion of control & keep putting one foot in front of the other to just get through it. There is no rushing through the process, no coming out on the other side unblemished or unchanged.
Nearly four decades into my lifetime, I still find myself struggling – to let go, to trust the process. Even after several instances of active & wilful purging, I am still finding it difficult to let go of certain things. To purge without regret, to let go of attachment, no matter how necessary, is still a learning curve.
As usual my practical approach to purging was to cut down the process into bite size steps. Clear the junks accumulated in my house. Clear out my desk at work. Clear out my closet of all clothes I haven’t worn in a year. Clear out all the jewellery that I rarely used. Next went the hoard of cosmetics & self-care products I have accumulated. My bedside tables were emptied of momentos. My book shelves petered down to only the most beloved books. Yet much remains and I stare at them, not sure what the next step should be.
I cannot bring myself to get rid of my travel souvenirs. The artifacts of different cultures. The thousands of photographs from my travels. Each one represents something unique to me, a moment in time in which I journeyed within myself as much as I journeyed into the world. My home is a patchwork of my travels, of self realisation, finding that elusive sense of being comfortable in my own skin, of belonging to the world as much as I belong to myself. Each piece is unique to me, each a representative of stories I might never utter aloud. I have the same struggle with people, relationships & expectations. To let go is proving hard no matter how necessary it has become.
Yet to me this is what the purging is suppose to be….the wilful act of letting go of an old story in order to create a new storyline, of creating space, a vacuum so that new energy can come in. Our things own us more than we own them. And right now it seems that my reluctance to part ways with my travel stories, with certain relationships has become a bit of a problem for me. Then again who knows… next week I might realise that what’s in my head is far more precious than any momento that I have collected and what can still be is more beautiful than what has been. For now, I am just going to have to bite the bullet and see where it leads me 🙂
Every so often, I like taking time off, to hibernate, to unplug, to exist in my own head. I like filling my time with books, travels, new culture, people, studying up on subjects that I had NEVER consciously thought of or been interested in before.
I haven’t blogged in a while but that was not for lack of trying. I seem to be having technical difficulty with accessing wordpress from my home. It’s irritating in a way but obviously not strongly enough for me to have already resolved it. Maybe it’s just that it wasn’t high enough in my things-to-get-done list.
So here I am … towards the end of yet another year that has nearly passed. I had actively refrained from making any specific new year’s resolution and had instead reaffirmed my desire to live my life true to myself and to cultivate more relationships filled with honesty, integrity and loyalty. I wanted to practice more compassion, empathy and self-love. And that last one is a tricky one too. I have closed the door on relationships that took away more than they added. I emptied my plates of mindless activities so I could actively concentrate more on the one’s that truly matter to me.
At the same time, with more people in my known circle dropping dead (literally) from heart attacks, strokes or accidents, this year has shown me again that life is wayyyyy too short. The more I emptied my life of the negatives, the more space there was for the positives to expand and I have loved it. The old adage of “if you hate it, change it and if you can’t change it, then accept it” works. But only up to a certain point and not all changes are possible by everyone at any given moment in time.
2016 has been an interesting year. I have learnt diplomacy of the kind that tells people to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to getting there 🙂 I have learnt that ‘no’ is a complete answer, it doesn’t require explanations. I have learnt that if you really hate going to work, its much better to quit ASAP so you can preserve your enthusiasm and sail forth with new energy.
There is going to be change after this period of withdrawal and reflection – on both personal and professional level. Like a caterpillar weaving a cocoon to retreat into, I am emptying myself and my life. The whole process of purging has been incredibly freeing.
So here’s to another few months of silence 🙂 For my reader’s … here’s my wish for you ….. may you find the time and the chance to withdraw into quiet reflection too 🙂
Things we would say aloud if we didn’t have to constantly filter:
- In response to constant whiners – Who the f**k died and left you custodian of the world’s problem?
- Procrastinators – Stop f***ing around and just get on with it already.
- To sympathy mongers – do I look like I care? is my face not reflecting my true feelings for your problems yet?
- To constant loaners – do I look like a bank to you? this ATM is closed, the branch is closed, in fact this bank just went out of business.
- People who complain about food –
- “eat up, God knows there’s enough people in the world who aren’t even getting this”.
- If you don’t like it, why didn’t you just cook yourself?
- Men who imply PMS’ing as the reason for female irritation
- Nope, we just have allergic reaction to assholes.
- That? that’s just a spontaneous reaction to your bullshit.
- People who say things like “you have changed” in an accusatory tone:
- I am playing by new rules now.
- Oh yeah, my level of tolerance for your BS just hit zero.
- The minute you hit your 20’s, all your friends relationship goals are to get or stay married. Our relationship goal?
- to be able to fart in front of my beau and I can’t wait for five years of marriage & a kid to be able to do that.
- to eat what I want, when I want, wherever I want without worrying about getting the food on the furniture.
- To walk around the house, naked, with my tummy sticking out without worrying about looking good to another person.
- When people ask about relationship status –
- in love with my bed, I can hardly wait to get back to it at the end of every day.
- in a relationship with myself. I still haven’t figured this one out.
- why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?
- divorced – I finally scored the “get out of jail” card.
- Why would I want to deliberately dedicate my life to the whims of an over-grown toddler/damsel in distress?
- I haven’t found a NOT mama’s boy yet.
- To so-called friends who only turn up to hold pity parties – “oh, are we holding a pity-party here? I didn’t know that. So excuse me while I freely dis-invite myself from it”.
What would you say if you didn’t have to filter out your knee-jerk reactions?
I love how during the worst of times, the best of humanity always seems to shine through.
Issa Rae (photo via Facebook.com)
article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
According to theurbandaily.com, Issa Rae, star and creator of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and the upcoming HBO series Insecure, in an effort to take positive action after the police shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana earlier this week, started a scholarship fund for his children. t not only exceeded its $200,000 goal within hours, it is currently at over three times that amount, at $664,986.
“Can we get a scholarship fund going 4 #AltonSterling’s son/kids?” she tweeted Wednesday (July 6). “Some of us feel helpless when these things happen, but that’s a small step.”
Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was fatally shot by police…
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Snippet of a conversation I had last month which lingered on my mind:
A female relative (who will remain unnamed) meets me after a long time and says to me “I always tell my daughter to be like you. I use you as an example of who she should become. She should be less like me and more like you to be successful in life”.
And the only response that I came up with at that time was “I get what you want for her but are YOU ready to pay the price for her change?”
You see, in a society where patriarchal norms dictate the majority of choices that women are allowed to make, to choose to be independent is not easy. To choose to put your career first is not only frowned on, but actively discouraged. The average woman may have a job but to have a career -that she puts her time, attention and energy on, that’s inconvenient.
The problem is women themselves are the gate-keepers, the purveyors of these patriarchal norms that limit choices and options. When a woman succeeds against all odds, a high number of those in opposition will be women.
To be independent, to be free to make her own choices, is to also be willing to let go of these bonds that hold us back instead of propelling us forward and THAT perhaps is the hardest job of all. To a mother it feels like a betrayal when her daughter decides that she does not want to make the same choices that her mother did, because she aspires for different things in life. To a sister, it might feel like competition, what was good for her is not good enough. To in-laws, its a hallmark of how poorly the woman has been educated by her family on her duties and responsibilities as a wife and daughter-in-law.
These are not easy hurdles to overcome. They are not impossible either. However this transformation of going from someone who complies with all, to someone who lives by his or her own standard is not a straight or easy road. Its full of dark twists and turns and soul-wracking decisions. A complete uprooting of all that one believes in, before one becomes something more.
In the end worthy as it is – sometimes the jagged edges of those cut-off ties will come back to haunt, to cast a shadow on an otherwise sunny day. And it’s in those moments that her daughter will need her to stand by her and validate her choices with her support.
This transformation is a choice and I hope she has the courage to make it for the sake of her daughter.
EXACTLY how I feel! And it’s not just the father’s letter which makes my blood boil but the way his mother wrote about how she cannot decorate a new home because she can’t put up happy family pictures. REALLY????
What about the fact that a girl will forever be scarred by her son’s “20 minute of action”? or that She will NEVER again be the same no matter what happens because he redecorated her life with nightmares?
Such callous disregard for the victim. Such horrible human beings. I am disgusted!
I had another post scheduled for today, but this is more pressing.
I actually wrote this post last night, and decided to sleep on it in an effort to determine whether or not it was something I actually wanted to speak to. I can still feel my blood boiling as I sit here pressing publish, but when bullshit happens out in the world, and it hits close to home, and you have a platform, you react. You speak up. You contribute. You hope that somebody, somewhere, is (rather unfortunately) feeling what you’re feeling. So if you’re here, and you’ve read the title of this post, I can only assume you are as furious as I am.
In case you missed it, on Thursday, after originally facing 14 years in prison, Brock Turner was sentenced to a pitiful six months in county jail for viciously assaulting a young woman and for…
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There was a time when I said ‘yes’ to almost everything that I was requested for or felt was expected of me. Then came a time when I had to learn to say ‘no’. That lesson was a hard one to learn, to balance between self-care and being selfish. Then came a time when that too got easier as I figured out the things that I wanted to say ‘yes’ to in my life and the stuff that I no longer care about… the ‘no’s if you please.
Most people struggle with that. How do you say ‘no’ when you feel obligated? when the obligations are familial? cultural? or part of part of your corporate environment? What happens when you want to say ‘no’ but can’t because you know that the repercussion will be one that will be hard to handle?
But what happens when you are constantly saying ‘yes’ to everything? The activities and obligations that take up all your time and energy, are they enriching your life? or just draining you? or are you drifting through life, wading through a sea of obligations, wondering when it will be your turn to live your own life?
So, tell me, what are you saying ‘yes’ to today?