WHEN IT RAINS

ImageThe dust of summer has been washed away. This morning the freshly rinsed leaves are glinting proudly in the sunlight. Over the past week, the rain gods had been sending little teasers; a modest sprinkling, so to speak, of pristine hope. Last evening the skies finally opened up freely and thunder rattled the window panes. All the neighbourhood kids went berserk, shrieking and frolicking in the rain. The adults, too shy to join in, watched from the windows.

In Mumbai, the monsoon divides people into two categories – the ones who hate rains, and the ones who love it. I am the latter kind. And to me, this is precious time. When the world around is drenched and there is nowhere to go, it’s time to dredge up all the dis-remembered things. This is when we need to find art in ordinariness. When we need to fall in love with warm baths, cardamom flavored tea, yellowed pages of long-forgotten books, classic movies and hot soups. This is when it’s time to practice awareness.

Awareness is a wonderful thing. It pulls you out of all the sleepwalking through life and centers you on the beauty of it. Who wouldn’t want that? Haven’t we all experienced that feeling of not having enough time all too often? Of wanting to do things, but getting so wrapped up in busyness that we don’t know how to untangle ourselves? We fixate upon finding joy, we run around in circles, until realization dawns that it’s right here, right now, in every little thing.

We might not be great at making time, but we can learn. Even though there is always plenty of it, we still fall short. So I’m learning how to pull out those precious strands and weave a rich tapestry into my day. I want to make time for all the nothingness… loitering in the park, gazing out the window at nobody in particular, putting things in order until it’s time for chaos again, meeting up with friends just like that.

Last week, I made an impromptu lunch date with a friend. There was no agenda. We walked around, yakked and window-shopped. Then we lingered over food. I savored every bit of chick-pea, beansprout, lettuce and roasted chicken in my salad. We slurped, me over gelato, she over frozen yogurt. And later, we hung around sipping ice-cold frappuccino while our minds de-cluttered and our hearts bonded.

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Yesterday, while it poured outside, me and my girls made mango cheesecake. We got messy with the cookie crumbs and butter, spilled batter and licked it with our fingers and had a wonderful time.

That’s what I hanker after; the little nuggets of joy. When I think about the kind of life I want to create, I am clear about my vision. It might seem fanciful to some, boring to others and hopelessly idle to the rest. But that’s what gets me excited. A few fresh flowers, a slice of cheesecake, the people I love, time to feed my creativity and a lot of ordinary days. Yes, that’ll do.

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© Renica Rego

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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STAINS ON MY HEART

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It was around early May. A light breeze caressed the countryside and the day was fragrant with the sweet smell of summer bounties. We decided to explore the moorland and took the most twisted path there was. I was about 12 at the time, a city-bred child, but carrying around a rural soul. My young aunt led the way through thorny bushes and slippery trails. A couple of the neighbourhood kids, whom I’d befriended, followed us regaling me with stories from here and there. We reached the top an hour later, panting for breath, hungry and thirsty.

For a while then, we flopped on the yellowing grass, a steady banter making us break into breathless giggles every now and then. When we were all fagged out, we just lay there, silence covering us like a blanket. And just like that, I looked up at the sky and my soul stilled. I cannot really describe what went through my juvenile heart, but I was completely riveted. I lost all sense of time and can’t recall how long I stayed there; but to this day, I rate that as my most sacrosanct moment.

Later, we had devoured freshly picked wild mangoes, the juice running down our hands, creating almost permanent stains on our clothes. But looking back, the stains of memory left on my heart were clearly much more permanent. I wanted to stay up there longer, but the sun was dipping westwards and my aunt was afraid we wouldn’t make it home before dark.  So we hurried back. Even as I stumbled along behind the others, my mind was still in a trance.

Sometime during February of this year, when I was grappling with one of my dark days, the above incident popped into my head. I closed my eyes, trying to relive the peace I had felt on that hilltop. And sure enough, I felt it.  From that day onwards, I have been looking for and finding joy and sanctity in the most inconceivable places. It’s funny how we get caught up in the drama of daily life and overlook the central theme completely. If we look hard enough though, we always find what we need.

Last week, when I was visiting mom for a couple of days, I made the most of the lovely parks in her neighbourhood. I pretended I was 12 again, lay down on the grass and gazed at the sky, taking in the vastness and beauty of the heavens. It was beautiful. In moments like these, the mind empties itself of the clutter we carry around needlessly and all that’s left is peace and gratitude.

Some wild mangoes afterwards would have been perfect, but the store bought ones did just fine. : )

© Renica Rego

 

WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS

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There’s something about early morning walks that fills you with hope and affability. I’m saying that now, but frankly, I’ve arrived at this bit of wisdom after a lot of foot-dragging! Mom had been raving to me about the benefits of walking for an eternity. Of course, like always, her wise words bounced right off my disinclined ears. I couldn’t bring myself to dress up and step out of the house first thing in the morning. It was too much effort.  But since I started ‘The Mind Declutter Project’, I’ve been more open-minded and willing to give anything a go.

So recently, when mom started her rant again, I dusted my walking shoes, dug up my track pants and toddled along to the neighbourhood park. At first, I just wandered about, exploring the trail, checking out the joggers and gawking at the hard-core sprinters with open mouthed awe. The first couple of days, I just enjoyed the backdrop. The new blooms in multiple colours, the lush greenery, the butterflies flitting from one flower to another, the incessant chirping of birds and the perky squirrels scurrying around filled me with delight. I got so busy admiring nature that I forgot everything else.The walking just happened side by side.

A week later, it became evident that the apathy was being replaced by enthusiasm. I started spending more and more time in the park. The exertion seemed to bother me less and less, my stamina surged and the bonhomie of my fellow ramblers added to my buoyancy. I discovered songs I didn’t know existed on my playlist.  And I enjoyed the favourites even more, simply because now I had the perfect setting to enjoy the melodies. Most days now, even after I’m done with the exercise, I hang around on my favourite bench just to enjoy some more music. One of these days, I’d like to climb atop the wooden deck which looks out over the mangroves in the distance and write. It looks like the perfect spot to lose myself.

It’s been a couple of months now and I’m completely hooked. I try not to miss a single day. It’s an adrenaline rush I am not willing to pass up. I’ve tried other forms of exercise earlier, mostly indoors, but the simple act of putting one foot ahead of the other is therapeutic, enthusing and humble all at once. It’s free too. So if you aren’t already walking, I urge you to try it.  Pick some good music, lace up your walking shoes and get going!  It’s the easiest way to gain health, declutter the mind, find perspective, may be make some new friends or just space out. The air is ripe with possibilities.

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A LITTLE RANDOMNESS

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When I recently wrote about my rule of learning one new thing every year (you can read about that here: http://m.speakingtree.in/spiritual-articles/lifestyle/hey-aren-t-you-bored), a lot of people responded saying it inspired them to question their priorities and think about how they could do the same. It proves that we all have the desire to go beyond the mundane and experience our creative side. That’s where the passion lies.

Working hard and being ambitious is a good thing. But a little randomness is critical to your personal growth. Say hello to yourself every now and then. Go a little retrospective on yourself. When you are in touch with your inner self, you will gravitate towards things that interest you naturally. If something appeals to you, dig a little deeper. If it fascinates you enough, go ahead and try it.

Believe me, I was clueless myself.  Like most people, I did not even know what I wanted until much later in life.  Even when I did, I procrastinated. But one fine day, I woke up and decided that I did not want to feel like that anymore, or ever again. When I acknowledged who I was and what I was meant to do, it all fell together like a jigsaw puzzle.  The picture on the box was already there, all I had to do was pick up the pieces and fix them together. No one is going to fix you; you have to do it yourself. Sometimes one little step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.  It doesn’t really matter if you’re going at snail’s pace, as long as you don’t stop. There is so much beauty and creativity out there. It’s crazy not to enjoy it.

This whole minimalism and mind declutter idea too is just a way to make sure that the inspiration has enough room to settle in.  All I’m doing is giving it a shot. Try and do the same.  See what touches your soul.  Feed your creativity. You will be surprised where it takes you. You put yourself out there, you explore the outer world, and slowly but surely you end up discovering your inner world.  That is where you are supposed to be. That is your destination. That is where you will feel alive!  Let things play out the way they’re meant to be.

Recently I was rummaging through some old books and found an old, dog-eared copy of ‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCollough.  That book had mesmerized me when I first read it. I leafed through the yellowed pages and it was like living the tale all over again. That’s how I feel about life.  I want to pick it up, brush off the dust, iron out the ends and recreate the magic.

Magnify your blessings

The other day, I had the privilege of catching an uplifting homily by Rev. Justin, a very dynamic speaker at our community gathering. He spoke about how we focus on our little problems and make them bigger.

He shared a story which goes something like this.  A young couple, madly in love with each other, finally got married.  The wedding was an elaborate, expensive affair.  Everything was perfect.  The only spoiler for the bride was that her beloved brother could not attend.  His leave was due a couple of weeks later and he promised to visit her then.  So she decided to save him a piece of the wedding cake.  She packed the piece of cake in a pretty see-through container and kept it in the freezer.

Sometime the following week, the couple got into an argument.  The husband tried his best to apologize and pacify his new bride, but she was stubborn and wouldn’t even talk to him. A trivial issue blown up for no reason. Two days later, as she opened the freezer, she saw the cake sitting there and tears welled up in her eyes.  That frozen bit of pastry was a reminder of their wedding ceremony, the merry guests celebrating their love and the vows they had made to each other.  She realized that a little argument wasn’t worth all the pain of the past couple of days and immediately went and hugged her husband.

So yeah, the little things matter. We all make mistakes despite our best intentions.  But what’s important is to keep reminding ourselves to ignore the petty stuff.  When you find tiny nuggets of joy, try holding a magnifying glass to them. See how the smiles grow into giant grins.  Life isn’t a joyride all the time.  The humps will be plenty and they’ll slow you down.  The vipers might get stuck and cloud your vision.  You will run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.  But always carry your magnifying glass wherever you go.  Like the cake in the story, it will help you focus.

Time to simplify? Well, yes.

BECOMING A MINIMALIST

So yet another brand new year had come hurtling along.  Usually my resolutions hardly ever make it past the first couple of weeks.  But I had decided that 2014 was going to be dynamic!  Those early January days might seem like a waste of time, but I believe that if nothing, they’ve added a tiny bit of growth to my slow-in-progress evolution.  Now as I’d hit the 40s, and after two doctors had discreetly mentioned ‘menopause’ as probable causes for my random symptoms, I figured it was time to bring push to shove.

I started to take my writing seriously and completed a song writing course with commendable grades. Okay, here I need to mention that I have previously had quite the reputation for leaving things halfway without any remorse or regret.  That had changed with the completion of this course and it was an achievement in itself.  Another major change in the offing was attention to health.  So even though I practised yoga in the mornings, I added evening walks to my schedule a few times a week.

January passed, things were rolling along smoothly and I got a wee bit smug.  Then came the epic fall!  Literally!  Yes, I fell down a flight of steps for no apparent reason.  As I went around garnering attention for my sore foot, a nasty rash appeared on both my lower legs.  It wasn’t funny anymore.  As it turned out, it was way more serious than a common rash and the doctor gave it a fancy name after putting me through a series of fancy tests. Sometime, in between, my mostly dormant spondylitis decided to act up as well. My writing, exercise and morale had hit a low.  I yo-yoed between self-pity and panic!

Just when I had started putting in effort to stay healthy and follow my passions, roadblocks had started appearing a little too much.  However, as I settled down and started analyzing, a surprising mellowness started emerging from within.  I ditched the allopath and went the ayurvedic way.  The clean sattvic diet started making me feel good.  So much so, that I hardly even missed the exotic stuff.  I realised that simplicity was indeed the essence of beauty, health, and all things good.  There were lessons being learned.

Heartened now, I decided to take simplicity to the next level and made a conscious effort to declutter my life.  I started with the obvious, unwanted stuff lying around the house. Next, I turned to my most sacred space, my wardrobe.  I’ve always been obsessed with clothes and my closet is filled with beautiful stuff that I regularly pick up at glossy stores.  (But even then, I have nothing to wear when I go out.  But that’s a story for another time.)  I cleared out DVD/CD drawers (it’s 2014, who keeps that stuff anyways!!!), and cutlery drawers and lofts and shelves until I collapsed into a gleeful heap.

But as my very wise husband pointed out, the biggest clutter mountain was yet to be scaled.  The dark, daunting closet where all our skeletons reside – the mind!  Our thoughts, feelings, past hurts and memories, these are the very core of our problems, physical or otherwise.

So now I’m taking on the most unnerving project of them all – The Mind Declutter Project.  It’s only when I succeed in this one that I can actually write about ‘Becoming a Minimalist’.  Until then, I’m just an evolving declutterer.