RIPPLES OF HOPE

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Every time I sat at my desk in the past few weeks, I ended up disgruntled. Staring at blank screens is new to me. I have never been lost for words before. But there are always firsts. After a glorious month of multiple celebrations that kept me busy, euphoric and swathed in love, there came a lull. Life rises and falls like the ocean; never constant, always battling with its pull towards the moon. And all we can do is wade in and out of the changing tides hoping that we’ll be able to carry on.

So the days got heavy and it led me to rearranging things around the house, sticking flowers in glass bottles, collecting mangoes like they were going extinct and watching a lot of television. All the time, at the back of my mind though, lurking in the shadows were dismal thoughts…about how I was whittling away at nothing, how things weren’t working out, how time was just slipping by.

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Just around then Masterchef Australia’s season 7 commenced. It is my biggest summer relief every year. I wait for this. This is when my love for life quadrapules. This is when my aesthetic sense takes over everything I do. The way I position the rosebuds, the way I organize my books, the way I rearrange my life. This is also when my emotions get the better of me. It sounds strange to my own ears that a person would cry while watching a cook off. But that is how it is. Because it isn’t just a cook off. Every episode is a lesson in resilience, courage, passion and love.

One of the episodes during the Marco Pierre-White week was particularly interesting. Marco is the father of modern cooking. He is an intimidating man but has a heart of gold. And he spouts so much wisdom. This is what he said about dreams: “Dreams are without question the most important; because without them you never achieve anything. If you have a dream, then you have a duty and a responsibility to yourself to make it come true. If you don’t make your dreams come true, then you’re just a dreamer”.  It jolted me awake from my summer reverie. It’s fine to throw coins in wishing wells, and I do that a lot, but was that enough? Where was the effort? Where was the hustle? Was I ending up being ‘just a dreamer?’

It’s true that life seems at a standstill sometimes. But nothing is ever as bad as it seems. I counted the things that deserve gratitude and my fingers fell short. So I urged myself to find acceptance. More than anything, I urged myself to be honest. If I felt pain, I ought to feel it, not run away from it. That is honest living. There is no such thing as how things should be. If this is how they are, then that’s it. So you get out of the trenches, dust yourself and pull up your loved ones. You look around and often times, you will be better off than most.

Things do get better eventually. As I looked up towards the heavens with eyes of gratitude, the clouds burst open and sent showers to wash away the built up dust. We stepped out and let the raindrops drench us. People came in droves on the bridge. It was beautifully serene. The evening sky, the freshly bathed leaves, the scent of rain on dry earth, the laughter of people around me was enough to make sense of all the perplexity that had plagued the long drawn out summer days.

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There is nothing really grand about life. It’s just a mish-mash of little things. So I set about bringing in what has always defined us – the fits of laughter, thoughts floating over cups of coffee & baked mango desserts, messing up the kitchen with new recipes, sharing music with each other from our playlists. And most importantly, keeping the faith.  Because really there is no other option.

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Then there are those dreams. Sometimes, as I go about stirring curries in pots, there’s this splendid feeling. A feeling that innocently starts in the pit of my stomach and rises up, until it engulfs and sets fire to my soul. It is then that mediocrity, failure, loss…all of it dissipates and I’m left with ripples that shimmer with hope.

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UNTAINTED RHYTHM

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To many people holidays are not voyages of discovery, but a ritual of reassurance

– Philip Andrew Adams

April lingered. It was a protracted month with hours that just stretched and stretched. The heat was rabid and sweat clogged my pores. Just as I was about to dissipate, a long weekend happened. We got into our cars and drove, from smooth highways onto rugged dirt roads. I am not big on road travel, especially on hot days when you can’t roll down the windows. It makes me nauseous and irritated. At the end of three hours, tired and somewhat lost, we had begun to curse under our collective breaths. Just then, as if on cue, we arrived and a slow smile spread across my face. There were mountains in the distance, rough backwoods and country soil beckoning to me like a mother’s arms. There are places where you exist. Then there are places that call out your name.

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Those two days were metamorphic on some level. Cellular, spiritual, I am not really sure. But as I wandered around the wilderness and watched the sun set, a kind of slow mutation happened. I let myself be mesmerized, the orange-purple sky lighting up my eyes, the breeze messing up my hair, the voices of loved ones coming as if from a distance, but soothing nonetheless. In the glow of a moonlit sky, we walked back, the bone-dry ground warm under our feet. Later at night, we sang and laughed until our voices were sore. We got intoxicated on food that tasted like the earth. It was surreal and ordinary at the same time.

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The next morning, I woke up revived and with a single-minded purpose – to watch the sunrise. My two partners-in-crime were waiting in the pre-dawn shadows. We ambled along the dusty path slightly out of breath, the red earth staining our shoes, making sure we carry the grains of that soil with us to reminisce later. The sloping knoll covered in a fine mist looked like a Van Gogh painting. We were early or maybe the sun was just teasing us, but we waited patiently to birdsong, as one waits for a bride. And then it came out, peeping at first and suddenly all at once. Our hearts dazzled with its beauty. And time stood still. The wonder of life could be summed up in those few suspended moments. It was untainted rhythm.

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Sometimes, it becomes important to briefly depart from reality, to step away from the blur of a city life. It’s not escapism. It’s just finding an unusual backdrop to adjust our vision. A different sun to light our minds. Rolling hills to balance our hearts. An uncommon breeze to lift the dust from our cobwebbed lives. A deliberate slowing down to regain lost strength. A reminder on how to live minimally in awareness, to enjoy meals served with love and appreciate all that is humble and unpretentious.

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That day, as we prepared to leave, I noticed something. The pieces of me that had come undone were healed again. An unsullied joy had filled up all the cracks and I looked ready with a radiance that was enough to carry me through another storm. It’s only when I find something that puts me back together that I realize I’ve been missing it. That I’ve been waiting for it. That without it my light wouldn’t be the same. Uncertainty still looms over my world, but I choose to ignore it. In this moment, I am full. For now, I am replete.

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LOVE-TABLES

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My days had gotten sporadic. Disarray had replaced ritual. There was no structure, no tidy arrangement of chores, no laying down of thoughts in neatly organized rows. For a while, it was okay. But like hair left uncombed for days, my mind got matted and disheveled. I needed some semblance of order, some arrows that would point me to where I should be going.

I have always been ritualistic; even if my morning ritual is nothing more than a cup of tea. The tea isn’t significant, the act of sipping it in the hushed silence of the dawn is. Some days, I wake up bursting with creativity, but many mornings I’m a tangled mess of cluelessness and no perspective. So I linger over my tea, listen to music, read or just mind-doodle for a bit. Eventually, as I sit at my desk and let the words fall out, a path is paved in the wilderness. To quote Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So the point I’m making here is about habits. Good, sturdy, rewarding habits. Whether you live in the fast lane, on the edge or cooped up in four walls, your little rituals and habits will determine who you become.

I wanted to be a few things. But the rigidity of discipline has never appealed to me. What’s appealing is everything flowing in serenity. So instead of making time-tables, I figured love-tables would work better for me. What were the things I loved to do? If I didn’t really love them, but they still needed to be done, how could I find something to love about them? That was my personal ‘Eureka’ moment – the love-table.

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I was never a morning person to begin with. It’s kind of absurd to say that, ‘cause if you aren’t cracked up about a new day, it means you lack enthusiasm and aren’t grateful for what you have. I needed to dust my attitude. When there is no real need to wake up at six in the morning, try sweet-talking your mind into doing it. Try giving yourself a reason. Practice the ‘attitude of gratitude.’ A lot of successful, organized people recommend meditation as soon as you wake up. But it did not work for me. Even before I open my eyes, my mind is ravening for words, my hand is groping for the phone and my heart craves to connect with friends. So the first thing I do is look up quotes to brighten up people’s mornings – quotes that inspire, quotes that move or simply bring a smile. Without realizing it I had started drawing in magic into my own mornings. Like the sun rays that bounce off from distant window panes, the words would reflect back to me and inspire me to weave some magic of my own. This is how I turned into a morning person and a consistent writer.

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Then there are indispensable things like exercise. I like the quietude of yoga, but I needed an outdoor activity to fall in love with. Mum kept harping on the beauty of walking but it didn’t really appeal to me at first. It was boring. So I had to find something to spur me on my walks. I love music. I like the freshness of the outdoors. And I like to smile at people. So the walk became a way of breathing in fresh air, saying hello to people, smiling at strangers and discovering new music every day. The allure of these other things became the reason for the walk.

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And lastly there’s the de rigueur stuff, the oh-so-boring chores. Like doing the laundry! How can folding clothes and ironing be remotely interesting?! So make that television time. Laugh through a funny show, discover interesting places on Fox Traveler, learn about world cuisine on TLC or sway to music on VH1. Voila! Laundry done!

Forcing yourself into a habit in the hope of becoming a better person or having a better life is unlikely to work. Instead, find things you love to do. A habit you love is more likely to stick. Replace things you dislike with things you enjoy. Make your own love-table. As you become clear about who you are, you will know for sure where you want to go. This is how you will honor your true self. This is how you will be what you are meant to be. In the words of Maya Angelou, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Sing your song. And sing it fearlessly.

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THE YEAR I MET ‘ME’

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 “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi

I’ve been so busy emoting out loud and unraveling my stories that I might have missed the in-between silences. I spent so many hours dressing up my words that I’ve ended up in a state of undress. It isn’t easy to bare your soul to the world; it’s in fact, the ultimate kind of nakedness. But I’ve grown to love the novelty of it. I love the shedding of inhibitions and the unshackling of self. You put one foot in front of the other and at some point a whole journey is made. It’s a cartload of crazy, but this is my emancipation. This is how I like it.

As I take a moment to untie the knots that were formed, little lessons fall out. But there’s one message that trumps every other. That if you believe in yourself, there will come a day when others will have no choice but to believe in you. After a whole year of discovering, questioning, learning and sharing, today my baby, ‘THE MIND DECLUTTER PROJECT’ turns one. It’s a milestone worth celebrating. This space was born out of holding onto splinters when the waters were raging; when I felt like the storm would leave me ravaged. Slowly and surely, I seem to have found my way to the golden shore.

When I made my first post, I did not anticipate the cloudburst – of encouragement, of gratitude and most importantly, of love that was to come my way. The love that I have received because of this space is sacred. Nothing compares to it. A lot of people have, silently or vociferously, shared this ride with me. As much as they have learnt about me, I have discovered them too. It’s such a blessing to be invited into people’s lives, to be allowed to roam their world. I love the familiar as well as the foreign. So thank you to all of you who read my words, acknowledge my work and support this space. I wholeheartedly appreciate it.

When I meet people, a lot of them tell me that they read each one of my blog posts and like my work. But they hesitate to comment because they don’t know what to say. I want you to know that even one word is enough to make my day and to encourage me. So please comment/acknowledge. And should you enjoy what you read, I’d love it if you share it on your social media networks. But whether you do or not, I’m still grateful.

Although I started off on a quest of clarity, my work eventually gave me back a lot more. I became more than what I do. I became a reflection of the people who love me and whom I love back. I became my wavering thoughts and altered feelings. I became a mirror to other people’s feelings. And if I keep sharing all of it and think it matters, it’s because I truly believe that our unadorned lives and our modest legacies matter in the greater scheme of things.

I have no clue of where I’m headed; there’s no checklist whatsoever. I’m not a planner. I just trust that things will work as I go. As of now, the journey and the destination seem to have merged. But I know that wherever I go, will be where I’m meant to be. Meantime, the biggest gift this blog has given me is the ability to live a full life. To appreciate everything and everyone around me. To live in awe of every mystery, big and small. It has given me strength, resilience and freedom. And blissfully abundant days. There’s much to celebrate and miles to go.

Once again, I’m thankful to all who fly with me. May we be the wind beneath each other’s wings.

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LIKE BIRD WINGS

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Your hand opens and closes, and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. – Rumi

One evening, as I walked back home from church, I decided to take a different route. It stirred up a dormant awareness; one that I’d always tried to maintain but had somehow settled into the oblivion of a bored life. Sometimes, a simple act can give you a fresh perspective. All at once, there were new things to discover, different people to observe. It made me more watchful and focused. A week later, my new found sense of adventure still intact, I tried a third route and hit a dead end. I walked back, lost for a while, until triumphantly discovering a little by-lane that led me home. I liked this route the best. There was a row of pretty houses lining the street and friendly people sitting on patios. They smiled as I passed them by and it was like being part of their lives, if only for a moment. This is how life is too. There are so many paths, so many experiences. Sometimes, there are crossroads and sometimes the road seems to lead nowhere. But life is brilliant and there are no blind alleys, no dead ends. Only experiences and escapades that beckon and entice, if only we pay heed.

In the book, ‘Manuscript found in Accra’, Paulo Coelho writes: “And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine: that kills you far more quickly”. It’s true. Moreover, adventure does not necessarily mean bungee jumping or mountain climbing. It can be anything that excites you, gives you a different take on life and helps you reinvent yourself. It can be as simple as tapping a different side of your personality, like a friend of mine who volunteers as a social worker in her spare time. It could be indulgent like learning something new. Or simple like reviving an old hobby. For a person who walked into book stores just to get drunk on the smell of books, it was mortifying that I hadn’t read a book in months. So I picked up one and in the musty vanilla scented pages, I unearthed vision, fantasy, imagination and somewhere in between, a part of myself. So welcome anything that takes you away from routine. There are new paths, so to speak, that beg to be wandered into. Once you find what floats your boat, the days don’t seem jaded anymore.

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So, as I move from structured days to the more fluid ones, I see how the hours shape me. Sometimes, I’m diligently ticking off my to-do list and at other times I’m like a languorous nomad. The former cannot be ignored, but it’s the latter I crave and thrive on. Those are the moments I like to taste and smell and soak in. When we’re caught up in the repetitiveness that defines our daily life, we tend to forget what it feels like to live in these unhurried moments.  Once you slip into insipidity, life is nothing but a series of chores that need to be attended to. You wake up and go about like an android doing what is required. And the minutes just speed by, the sun sets and you curl up in a heap of exhaustion. You lay on your bed, your mind unfeeling, the television a blur of images. That’s when it’s time to set up the equilibrium; because what might appear as indulgence is actually a compulsion to maintain sanity.

It’s good to wander in and out of known and unknown lanes. And as you do so, you feel ready to take a quantum leap from an indiscriminate life. That diminutive effort is enough to lift you out of ordinariness and make you soar. So much so, that you’d never want to go back to a lackadaisical life.

A JAR OF FRAGMENTS

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The past few days have been pretty unreal. It’s a post-holiday season break for us, if such a thing exists. Every morning, we rise and let life happen. Most days, we’ve lingered over gratifying meals, caught early morning movie shows, returned home to lazy afternoons and whiled away the evenings nattering with the kids. Considering that New Year’s Eve was spent eating Chinese takeout and watching television in bed, while others partied and grooved under disco balls, I think this little romp around town kind of makes up for it. So yeah, we haven’t let the novelty of a new year pass us by without a celebration of some sort. Not that the first day of the year wasn’t eventful. There were neighbors and family jostling around and clinking glasses. There was easy camaraderie. And later, a warm meal topped with idle banter.

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Just yesterday, we were cruising along the highway, on our way to lunch outside city limits. As I looked out the car window, riveted by the view, it struck me that this is how our lives move. Moments that seem all-important become blurry within no time. In the end, it’s just fragmented memories. But I’m a collector and like the jar of coins I keep by the door, there’s one where I hoard the memories too, fragments and all. On days when there’s nothing to do and not much to look forward to, I bring out the memory jar, fiddle around with the images and draw some hope. And with it the optimism returns, with a raw, renewed energy.

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I’d been taking off on flights of fancy every now and then the past couple of years. But somewhere, sometime, I started climbing into the reveries and living in them. A few things got done last year, but there’s quite a mountain left to scale yet. I’ve been toying around with the idea of a food blog. There are piles and piles of recipes on my bookshelf and in my kitchen drawers. It should happen soon enough. Everything takes time and for someone like me, getting warmed up to anything, be it people, places, change, ideas takes exceptionally long. But once that’s done, I embrace fully.

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Our little slob around is coming to an end. Another couple of days we shall loiter and then the monotony will return. Order will prevail on most days, but it’s the chaos I shall look forward to. In the depths of chaos, I always find harmony. Hidden in imperfections, I always find excellence. The disarray is what leads me to lucidity. For the less chaotic days, there’s always the jar to go back to.

This is how the days unravel. This is how my new year begins in earnest.

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THE WAY WILDFLOWERS GROW

wildflowers02It seems like another lifetime when I was standing barefoot in cool spring water, marveling at exotic, virgin wildflowers. They fascinated and inspired me. The way they grew indiscriminately, in random places. The way their beauty shone. And all of a sudden, I wanted to be like that; to grow unforeseen, in ways no one expected. It gave me a vision and I brooded on it for days. As the year comes to a close, I’m revisiting that moment and sharing it with you. Because letting yourself grow is the best New Year’s gift you can give yourself.

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The last post was supposed to be my final one for 2014. But I couldn’t resist another one; a little something to end the year with. It’s just that I’m so full right now. There’s pure joy, genuine appreciation and indefinable eagerness. When you’re so filled to the brim, it’s bound to spill a bit. And, why not?

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Christmas was beautiful as usual. The home was speckled with sounds and smells. My overworked little oven emitted tantalizing buttery aromas that wafted out windows and into corridors. Flour was everywhere, over kitchen counters, under my nails, in my hair. Lights twinkled and magic flowed into every empty space. And then there were the neighbourhood kids. They thronged my living room every evening, essentially for carol practice. But honestly speaking they sang less, jabbered more, squabbled even more. I feigned annoyance and made threats but the truth is they were the balm to my tired soul.

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I love that Christmas comes at the end of the year. The exultation that this season brings just washes away all the tears and pain and disappointments of the months gone by. It’s impossible to feel anything but triumphant and joyous. That’s the kind of sentiment you need to embark upon a brand new year.

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At the end of every year, I like to separate the red, blue, green and yellow blocks, take stock and make plans. But this isn’t a perfect Lego life. And perfect it shouldn’t be. Like my little nephew, Ethan, I just want to fix the pieces together intuitively without thinking too much. Logic can take you from A to B. But intuition can take you anywhere. I read that somewhere. That’s how I want to go forward.

I shall continue to share my victories and failures with you. As I go along, gingerly testing new paths or merrily treading familiar ones, you’re welcome to join me all the way, drop out mid-way or come and go as you please. Together or alone, it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: That like those wildflowers we stay true to our identity. That we grow freely in beauty and joy. That we celebrate ourselves.

Here’s wishing you all a brilliant 2015! Believe fiercely that the best is yet to come.

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