WABI SABI LIFE

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Mrs. Iyer and I met quite by chance. Her weathered face and kind eyes drew me to her right away. There was something about this woman that spoke to me; as if she was about to tide me over impending storms. It was the summer of 1999; a despondent phase which had taken me to a different kind of solitude.

People who know me are familiar with my largely erratic memory. It’s as if my cortical cells possess an innate, almost psychedelic sense of humor. So large chunks of data go missing without notice, and I can never recall things in tandem, but I do have visions from the past that can seem like they happened yesterday. That is how I recall my time with Mrs. Iyer, whom I eventually started calling ‘paati’ which means grandmother in Tamil.

A few months after our first meeting, I quit my job thus freeing up my evenings, many of which I chose to spend with paati. I had friends my age, but my time with her somehow seemed sacred. Paati had a lot to share about her animated life with her husband, their travels together and her recent loneliness after losing him. She was like a treasured book that I wished would never end. Our conversations spanned entire lifetimes, delved deep and colored our senses mirroring the purple-orange sunsets of the Middle-Eastern skies. Our silhouettes in the fading light must have looked weird and wonderful at the same time; a fusing together of the old and the new. Paati taught me about impermanence, imperfection and how to embrace bits of our life that remain unfinished. Above all, she taught me to embrace my flaws and appreciate myself.

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There’s a Japanese philosophy which preaches much the same thing. They call it Wabi-Sabi. It is the art of finding beauty in blemishes and depth in earthiness. It is about going for the natural and authentic. About celebrating the cracks and crevices that time leaves behind. Wabi Sabi makes us see beauty in the dilapidated and ugly.  Although on the surface, it seems to be about physical things, this philosophy runs way deeper than that. It is more about a state of mind, a way of being. As we move forward, the idea of abandoning ‘perfect’ and accepting the scars and the laugh lines seems increasingly prudent. Simplicity seems more appealing than forged exactness. This kind of shift can be truly liberating, and there’s more than just beauty in that. There is freedom.  If we can quieten our mind enough to appreciate the muted beauty in our lives and find the willingness to accept things as they are, we are well on our way to practicising Wabi-Sabi.

Three years ago, I blew my big Four-O candles. Right around then, I’d started noticing the deepening lines on my face and the puffiness under my eyes. A lot of grey strands were showing up in my hair. I playfully started calling them my ‘wisdom highlights’. So while women around me spent hours in salons hiding their greys and getting spa treatments, I chose that time to introspect and hone my skills. I figured that if I had something worthwhile to do as age crept up – a gratifying hobby or skill that I could share with the world, then that would hold me in better stead. As one year folds into the next, I am glad about that decision. If I fail at something, instead of berating myself, I relax and try something else. That to me is ‘looking life through the wabi-sabi lens.’

In nature, everything is transient. A week ago, when the last of the Ganesha idols were being immersed, a discussion about its significance ensued over our evening tea. There are multiple theories about it, but one that interested me was this. The idols initially were made out of the clay that formed on the river beds. After the celebrations were over, those idols were returned to the water and left to dissolve back into the river. I thought about how this relates to our lives. And it became even more apparent for me to celebrate the time I have here. To nurture relationships and build a life that I can be proud of. To embrace growing older gracefully and joyfully. As Eleanor Roosevelt put is so correctly, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

As for my dearest paati, I regrettably lost touch with her over the years. But her parting gift – a vintage bell, still hangs from a single nail on my bedroom wall. It is a reminder of the kind of person she was and the kind of person I wished I’d eventually be. Earthy, ordinary and unapologetically beautiful in my own way.

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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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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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BEING COLUMBUS

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‘Every one of us has in him an undiscovered continent. Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul’. – Author unknown.

During the time I was living in the Middle East, one time I caught a late evening flight to Mumbai. My mum was there to receive me at the airport and I walked into her arms like a lost person returning home. The tectonic plates were shifting and something was changing, like a seismic activity at the soul level. I later learnt that the feeling of being lost is actually a good thing, because that’s when you know that you can be found. That there is a place you are meant to return to.

I believe in the theory that our emotions, feelings and thoughts find expression through our bodies. The physical manifestations are a reflection of that. So it was evident that all the bottled-up fizz was gonna spill out sometime. And it did. I did not want to end up bitter, so I started questioning things. Instead of asking: ‘why me?’, I wondered: ‘what is life trying to teach me?’ They say that experiences keep coming back to you until you learn what you’re supposed to. It’s a thought worth exploring.

So, one thing led to another and I kept toddling along, trying to understand and explore myself. Once I put the intention in place, inspiration and help started appearing out of nowhere. There are lots of angels around, if you just look for them. There will be one at every turn, at every crossroad; waiting to hold your hand and take you ahead. One such angel I found at the right time was Leesha. She talks about angels all the time but little does she realize that she is one. From an ordinary young girl battling life’s miseries, she found the courage to not only find her own magnificence but constantly pushes others to find theirs too.  From the moment I first met Lee, I knew she was special. Her radiance, her quiet smile, her kind words cleared the cobwebs from my mind. She didn’t give me solutions; rather she made me seek them on my own.

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We all have our own unique experiences. Some like to be secretive about theirs, some cover theirs with dejection, some are just trying to get by, and then there are the ones who show us how life is meant to be lived. I like the ones who wear their heart on their sleeves. They are the ones who hold their heads high, who don’t believe in being ashamed of anything.  They are the torch-bearers who inspire us.  And so you find them and try to follow their light.

For me, there came a time when being in my cocoon was harder than breaking free. From a shy, pathologically introverted type, I seem to have morphed into this blatant, unconcealed kind of woman who unabashedly goes around telling people how she feels. But I like it this way; especially when I see that people reciprocate and respond to the enthusiasm.

The other day I met up with a friend and was trying to encourage her to explore her talent of crocheting. We had talked about everything under the sun, but when she spoke about how she had made a beautiful crocheted purse for her daughter, there was this spark in her eyes, a glow on her face, that wasn’t there before. I wish I could have held a mirror to her in that moment. And maybe I did, for she told me a week later that she had taken up a new project after a really long time.

Here I am reminded of C. Joybell C’s words: “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.  It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away”.

It doesn’t matter if others validate you or not.  You need to give yourself a chance, read your chapter out loud. Among other things, this blog is a reflection of me. If even one person connects with me through my writing, I am satisfied. It is through these tiny little encounters that I feel complete. It is then that I feel like I am crafting what is essentially ‘me’.

Like George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.  If you are waiting for the right time, don’t.  Start creating yourself now.

CAUGHT UP IN ROSTERS

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I stopped under a tree at the edge of the lane, juggling an umbrella and groceries, the rains lashing and soaking me. Out of nowhere, a sudden abstraction gripped me and I was floating to another place, another time, eons ago. An unreasonably warm afternoon and two gangly, pig-tailed adolescents walking back from school. In the distance, the ice cream vendor sees us coming and we discern his faint smile. As we get closer, he pulls out two milky cones of goodness and hands them to us with affection and the familiarity that comes from an almost daily ritual.

Sheryll and I have a box full of reminiscences, little golden nuggets of ordinariness. We used to spend most of our afternoons together. While the world around us snoozed, we happily went about our clandestine pursuits. As soon as we got home from school, I would hurriedly finish my lunch and pop over to her house next door. Little things gave us so much pleasure. Sheryll’s parents were both working, so they would leave her some money in a tin box. That patterned tin box absolutely fascinated me. It did not just hold coins; it signified a kind of autonomy that intrigued my little mind. We would pick a few coins and run to the neighbourhood store. The array of glass bottles filled with brightly wrapped toffees and sweets tantalized our senses. Sometimes we would pick dates over toffees. We would then run back home clutching the goodies, sit on the steps and savour every bit. Sometimes Sheryll would come up with quirky ideas. She would pull out some tamarind from the jar, place it on a piece of paper, cover it with sugar, wrap it up and leave it under something heavy. A while later, like a conjurer, she would unwrap the magic and offer it to me. The sweet tanginess of that tamarind could almost be a metaphor for the bond we shared.

Now why would memories like these come to me in the middle of the market place while I’m stuck in a downpour? Well, I have no idea. But they do. The mind is unfathomable. I’d love to scoop out moments in my day between doing the laundry to dusting out the cobwebs and just gaze endlessly into the deep nooks of my strange mind. But I get caught up in rosters. And in the process, maybe lose what could be ‘me’.  It’s a thought that bothered me until I staggered onto another tangent.

On my visits to see my grandparents every summer, I used to look forward to the end of the day. We would spend the whole day in mundane things; visiting people, doing chores, running errands. In the evening, when we got home, grandpa would have a huge cauldron of hot bath water waiting for us. The heady smell of burning firewood and the warmth of that water was enough to wash away the fatigue of several lifetimes. Rejuvenated from the bath and after polishing off grandma’s sumptuous dinner, we would lay around listening to grandpa’s ghost stories and how he had once brought a tiger cub home. The stories were repetitive but we hung on to every word as if we were hearing it for the first time.

So I reckon monotony is necessary. Maybe the tediousness is what leads us to where we want to go. A lot of times, it’s during those very unexciting moments that we stumble upon ourselves. That’s when life holds up a mirror and allows us a glimpse of our uniqueness.

Every evening now, when the family gathers around the table for tea and swaps stories from sometimes momentous and sometimes dull days, I realize that this is how our existence is made alive. We get to walk lurid plot lines, but only sometimes. Most times, we are just making boring stories. But somewhere in that boredom, lies the secret to a fulfilling life.

© Renica Rego

 

LETTING GO

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Flawed and fabulous. That’s how I see myself now. But I wasn’t always so sure of who I was and it took me a while to clear the fog. Self-reflection never came easy to me. Maybe because I was too busy dusting the furniture. I’ve spent half my life straightening cushions, arranging wardrobes and wiping down kitchen counters. The leftover energy was used up on excessive worrying, pointless thinking and needless deliberations. Until I realised that life couldn’t say ‘hello’ to me if my back was perpetually turned on it. 

Perfection is hard to maintain, trust me; and not really worth it. You won’t let the wind play with your hair, if you’re worried about ruining your blow dry? So I am learning to let go; to let life happen without my endless manipulation. What’s the big deal if the bed isn’t made as soon as I get out of it? Will my family disown me if I skip making dinner one night and order in? Is it a crime if I just want to spend the day listening to music and reading? It’s not and nobody really cares. I just thought they did. These are just metaphors or allegories I’m drawing for the bigger aspects of life. And gradually as I calm down, life comes beckoning to me.

The other day, we were at a dinner party and my young nephew shared with us his amazing philosophy on letting go – ‘ANYTHING IS COOL’. Coming from a 17-year-old, it was pretty deep. He droned on about how life can be easy if we just went along without making a fuss about everything. If you ask him what he’d like for breakfast, he says, ‘anything is cool’. Ask him if he’d like to watch a movie or just hang out and he’ll be like, ‘anything is cool’. This philosophy works well with the day-to-day stuff but when it comes to the serious things, it might not, he clarified. Like you can’t drop out of school or do drugs; that’s not cool. When it comes to choosing your career, you can’t say ‘anything is cool’. And so on. I was suitably impressed by his clarity and wisdom. I suppose it’s all about attitude. Being chilled out about the lesser issues makes room for your mind to deal with the bigger ones effortlessly. What stuck with me though, were those three simple words: ANYTHING IS COOL.

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Somewhere along the way, I thankfully figured that letting go and finding harmony is important. By becoming harmonious, you start attracting positive experiences and positive people into your life. Toxic people, toxic feelings, toxic thoughts will always pop up. But just like in a garden, it’s important to keep pulling out the weeds from your life too. You will always be too much of something for someone. If they can’t handle it, it’s their problem. Just let it go. Apologize if you hurt them, but do not apologize for who you are or what you want to be.

After trying to be in control, when I finally loosened up, it seemed like I had underestimated the pleasures of an unstructured life. Now I wake up every morning and try to effortlessly move from one moment to the next. It’s exciting because I’m always dwelling in possibility. Anything is possible. Anything is cool!

Growing, improving, moving, loving, listening…that’s what life is about. Inspire and be inspired. Show people the sun where they once saw clouds. Let them do the same for you. We are meant to be wonderful. We are here not just to survive, but to thrive. When you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing. And so are you!

PS: As I was writing this, my friend and I were having a discussion on whatsapp. And he said, “I am amazed by God’s world. He made everything, but doesn’t interfere in its governance. If a lion chases a lamb to death, that’s how it’s meant to be. He has set the world in motion and left it at that”. And I thought: If God doesn’t interfere with life, why do we? Think about it. 

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