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.

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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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BEGIN TO BE FREE

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2014 has been a roller coaster year. I have an intense dislike for roller coasters, but as I cruised along, hitting the lows and then being hurled up into the clouds, I grasped the thrill of it all. It’s December now. That time of the year when I unintentionally get caught up in waves of reflection. Even as I’m busy hanging up fairy lights on Christmas trees or looking up yuletide recipes, I tend to gasp. It’s the falling-off-the-bed-in-a-dream kind of gasp. And yet, all I feel is gratitude.

The 100happydays challenge on Instagram gave an effervescent start to the year. A few days into it though, dark clouds appeared without warning. It was hard to keep the challenge going but somehow I managed to find the silver lining every single day. Gratitude is a powerful thing. It urges you to notice the little miracles, ungraciously take for granted otherwise. And as you do so, new miracles happen.

At one point, I realized that liberation is very important. I mean the kind of liberation that frees you from limits on thought or behaviour. Not necessarily in the big stuff but in little, everyday kind of things. When you let go of the old, you make room for fresh starts. I resolved to make changes so there was room to do the things that were worth doing. I let go, delegated and freed up valuable time. It isn’t easy to break up old habits, but once it’s done, you feel light and free. That’s the kind of liberation I was after.

For years I’d been a control freak. And I see how it had muddled up my life. From making crease-free beds to deciding schedules, I’d always wanted to do it all. Little did I realise that working in military fashion was actually cramping up my style. I finally empathised with my vagabond mind. Change seems hard. But if you pick one thing at a time that you want to change and focus on that, it is doable. There might be a rough agenda, but more often than not, where it feels like home, I follow the path.

So yeah, you evolve some and mess up some. I guess a lot more could have been achieved but it’s not too late yet.  Some of the resolutions got a little left behind, but others came up impromptu and I stuck with them. Like this blog, for instance. All my life, I’ve scribbled onto scratchpads and journals, making notes, jotting down ideas, penning lyrics, expressing myself. A whole lot of crap, but I did it anyway. It was only when I started this blog that things finally started making sense. It’s just the beginning though. The culmination is yet to happen. Even if it doesn’t, I’m clear about one thing: never stop doing your best just because someone doesn’t validate you. There’s peace and joy in doing things you love. Greatness will follow.

Now and then, we all get waylaid by inevitable questions of purposes and paths. It’s up to us to respond. Most times, we might be caught up in inane stuff. And we can drone on and on about missed opportunities. But you never know, the next one could be just round the corner. So as the year closes, let’s just tie up the loose ends; quit worrying and live one day at a time. Let’s catch up with where we need to be. Let’s just begin to be free.

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THE CHEQUERED KITCHEN

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The gulmohar tree outside my kitchen window seems to be growing parallel to my life. It’s a prime witness to my escapades in the pantry – the triumphs and failures, the sweat and the tears. When I moved into my current home seven years ago and started doing it up, my prime focus was the kitchen. Food is important to me; not just what I set out on the table, but the entire process of putting it together. I’m quite the forager at heart and you would know if you observe how much I love wandering around the marketplace. My daughter is greatly amused by my excitement for fresh, beautiful produce. The sight of blood red tomatoes, bright orange carrots, and fresh leafy greens is something I can’t resist. My insane love of veggies can be traced back to my Grandpa’s backyard vegetable patch. The taste of those eggplants, climbing spinach and ivy gourds came from pure love.

The reason I’m talking about vegetables and kitchens here and the connection it has with my minimalism theme is pretty clear. Simple food equates a simple life. Fresh foods inspire fresh thoughts. When the body is detoxified, so is the mind. We are what we eat. At least, that’s the philosophy of a sattvic or yoga diet.

Glamorous or simple, food is food. In the midst of all the Instagram and Facebook uploads of exotic and sometimes mysterious foods, I’m also happy to find food enthusiasts who promote simple, clean eats. They make you want to eat broccoli and spinach like it was manna from heaven (which it is). They are the ones I look out for. Simple meals are not passé. And fresh food is healing. As an Indian, nothing beats steaming rice topped with aromatic lentils and some veggies on the side for me. Or just-off-the griddle rotis (Indian flatbread) dunked in thick matar-paneer gravy (that’s green peas and cottage cheese). The taste of homemade food is always the best. And it’s good for you.

Recently, my house-help, Chanda taught me how to make jowar rotis (sorghum flatbread). These rotis dipped in a hot curry is a marriage made in heaven. Chanda must be around 60, but looks strong and healthy. Apparently, she hasn’t seen a doctor in years and doesn’t know what stomach gas feels like. Her diet is pretty straightforward and frugal, consisting mainly of whole grains and vegetables. She’s the kind of diet guru I’d like to follow.

For my birthday last month, my mother-in-law made me a traditional Mangalorean dessert. It was her birthday gift to me. I was absolutely stoked. To express my appreciation, I made her a nice curry of some fresh river fish and a side of veggies the next day. It’s wonderful how food became an expression of love and gratitude for us.

So food, to me, is not just about eating. It’s about enjoying the preliminaries and feeling the emotions. It’s about feeding the people I love. That’s why the kitchen is important to me. It’s where the soul of your home resides. Chopping with gusto, churning with passion, seasoning with love…these are great ways to put your focus in the moment and find pleasure in little things. Cooking is about nourishment, healing, creativity and art.  The best thing about this art… you can eat what you create!

© Renica Rego

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SWITCH YOUR FOCUS

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I have always loathed summers.  But this year, I’ve decided to pay as little attention to the heat as possible.  I cannot afford to run the air-conditioner all the time (besides it isn’t healthy), so I am trying to figure out ways to remain cool, especially in the kitchen.  A couple of days ago, I got a small wall fan fixed over the sink.  Okay, that’s only a wee bit helpful, but what’s actually proving to be precious is random chats with friends and some peppy music.  And before I know it, I’m through with the day’s cooking.

De-cluttering the mind isn’t as daunting as it first seemed.  It’s a good thing that little things enthuse me, so all I need to do is learn to focus on those and ignore the rest.  Just watching the birds in the morning, humming a song and appreciating the view from my window brighten up my mornings.

The little things are way more important than we are willing to concede.  Reading a good book, writing (of course), a good movie or TV show, random conversations, a day out with friends, walking barefoot on grass, bird-gazing, star-gazing (nature-gazing, actually), getting creative in the kitchen, giggling at silly things, laughing uncontrollably until my cheeks are flushed and my stomach aches, dressing up even if it’s just to pick up groceries, hugging people, cuddling with loved ones….my list is long.  If I’m happy, the world around me looks happy.

This past weekend I conducted a small survey.  I asked my friends this simple question:  What are the top 5 things that excite you?  Some of them replied promptly, some took their time and the rest seemed floored by the question.  Maybe some even dismissed it thinking: ‘She’s got nothing better to do!’

But hey, think about it.  If you do not know what excites you anymore, it means that you have taken the focus away from you.  And it’s not a good thing.  It’s a new-age trend to splurge on expensive vacations or frequent mini holidays just to de-stress, but most people ignore the little things that can actually dilute the stresses of their daily lives.

In the words of Rhonda Byrne, author of ‘The Secret’, “Switch your focus to the things you love, the things that excite you, and then you’ll be on track to a really good life”.

Go on, give it a try.  ; )