This moment

“The way to suffer well and be happy is to stay in touch with what is actually going on; in doing so, you will gain liberating insights into the true nature of suffering and of joy.” No Mind No Lotus – Thich Nhat Hanh

I started reading the book No mind No Lotus at the recommendation of a friend. When I ordered the book I did not notice the words in the center of the front cover. When I opened the amazon package I saw it ‘the art of transforming suffering’. Interesting, was my first thought. I started reading the book and am only a few pages into it. This is a book I want to read slowly, savor the lines, because this is what I need to learn, the art of transforming suffering.

In the few pages I have read, I realize the zen Buddhist teacher wants us to realize how important it is to live in the moment. I am anxious to unfurl the rest of his wisdom in the book. A few weeks ago my mind was clouded, I was stressed, I was depressed. If I was reading something, it flew past me. I could not register a single word. There was a dense fog clouding my mind, with zero visibility. My therapist kept reminding me that I have been here before and the fog has cleared before. I did not, rather could not believe a word she said. It felt like forever. I was living with ghosts from the past in my head. I thought I needed a higher dose of my depression meds. The news of my son’s college admission did little to clear the fog. A few hours of happiness and I was back as an ass with the heavy load.

It is difficult to explain depression, it is not like fracturing a toe that one can see in an x-ray. It is not possible to see the moment, let alone live it. It is like a web of your past, your anxiousness of the future, woven so intricately, that you cannot seem to find the edge. The more you try to get out, the more you are entangled. With a bone fracture, you can get a cast to set it right. With depression, you can get meds, but you alone have to make small changes, take baby steps to come out of it. My baby step as pointed out by my therapist was to make a list of the things clogging my mind. Separate them out as those that I can control and those I cannot. It is an extremely simple thing to do, but put the serenity prayer into action.

Coming out of trauma is not a small ordeal. It takes time, you need to give yourself time. The longer you have been in trauma, the longer the road to rediscovering yourself. It takes effort, sometimes it feels like every ounce of you is at work. It is hard, extremely hard at times, but that small voice inside you somewhere, the superpower hidden beneath the layers, kicks your gut, pushing you, every moment, every day. There are different categorizations of people, but emotionally there are only two. The ones who have been abused and the ones who have not. It is that simple. The world shapes up based on this.

People who have not been abused have a strong sense of self. They know what they want, they know how they will react in a certain situation. Their highs and lows are closer to the normal. They don’t get too excited or too sad instantly because their center of emotional gravity is deep rooted.

The abused are the utterly confused strata of society. They have absolutely no fucking clue, of self worth. You cannot blame them, because their reality has been so masterly altered by the abusers that it’s all a haze. Their level of expectation of happiness is so low that anything small makes them euphoric. If they are lucky they go through years of therapy to find some normalcy. But do they ever become whole again? I wonder.. one’s life is so caught up in looking for red flags that they forget to experience the happiness laid right in front of their eyes. It’s always a question, “Can I trust this?”. It’s atrocious how our souls are battered, by another mere mortal. How someone could think that we are a toy to be pulled and pushed and reshaped the way they choose.

It is very difficult for a person who has not experienced abuse to understand. There is so much to unlearn and rediscover, not something that’s out there in the world, but yourself. A whole lifetime wasted on this unlearning and being able to trust again. I wonder how many years of therapy it will take to be whole again.

I write so much about trauma and abuse and healing and depression, I wonder if people who are reading this are bored. But then I feel the awareness is not there, and it is very sad. In this age and time where information is at our fingertips (overused phrase, I know), millions of people who don’t have the avenue to get out abusive relationships and get access to a good therapist who will help them move forward. Through therapy I have relived the suffering to be able to heal from it. At the other end of this reliving is joy, a release of the pain, my version of it, a person listening to it who has my emotional wellbeing in front and center.

If you are thinking, she is so broken, yes I am. And this is unashamedly, me. Healing is more difficult than the suffering. You are a constant work in progress to calm the waters, settle the waves down to reach that state of serenity where water is one with nature. People will come and throw a stone, because they don’t like anything still. There will be ripples, which will disrupt the stillness, but healing is knowing that the ripples will eventually die and the water will be still again. The stone deep inside cannot be moved, it will lie there and in the end we gather many stones, moving from stillness to ripples and back to stillness again..

Grief

My father passed on Sep 3rd. The same day my US Passport was issued. It has been tradition that my life progresses when he visits me in the US. The first time he came, I bought my first house and got my green card. The second time he came, I bought my second home, a dream home. The third time he was here, I got my citizenship, and got divorced. The last page was getting my passport and that happened right before he passed. Thinking back, it is strange that my passport was issued on a Saturday.

3 Saturdays later I sit here on my couch watching an SPB concert on YouTube. My younger kiddo is playing on his PC upstairs. A Saturday I have longed for this entire year. There is nowhere I have to be, there is nothing I have to get done today. Even if I do nothing today, its okay. I don’t like roller coasters, I am shit scared, yet this year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A job change, my elder son graduation high school, researched and visited colleges for him, got divorced, cared for my younger son through his wisdom teeth extraction, sold my house, moved to another house, convinced my dad to come to the US for the third time, vacationed with my boys at Mexico, got COVID, appeared for my citizenship interview, saw off my son to college in another state, nursed my father during his last two weeks of life, held his hand as he passed, cremated him. And I am here on the other side, strong enough to tell the story.

The week my father fell ill and the week after his passing were the worst. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would google ‘signs of death’ for my father. But I read each one of them and recollected what my aunts or uncles or mom had mentioned when others in the family passed. It all started on Aug 27th when he started throwing up only to discover on Aug 28th that the endoleak from his aneurysm repair had caused an aneurysm rupture. Almost lost him on Aug 27th and Aug 29th but I guess he was not ready. He woke up like nothing had happened. Nursing him for the one week before he finally passed on Sep 3rd is what I consider as one of my biggest blessings. The last few days of a parent is the absolute last ask they have of their children. There is nothing after that. Absolutely nothing.

I have had some really strong eye openers these past 3 weeks. After he passed, the funeral home tied him in a white sheet, transferred him onto a gurney, strapped him and covered him with a fitted blanket. They loaded him onto the back of a minivan and took him away. Everything one does in a lifetime ends in the back of a minivan. How much we emote, stress our asses off, hold grudges, push and pull in relationships, things we want to buy, positions we want to achieve, the egos we manifest, everything seemed so meaningless in that moment.
I am a believer of the concept, where the soul lives on and the body is merely a cloth that the soul sheds when someone passes. I also believe in signs. Three days after he passed, I saw the brightest light, lighting up my garage as I opened the door in the morning to drop my son to school. I knew he was going. I have never seen that light before or after. The funeral home director placed the bag with his box of ashes in the front seat and fastened the seat belt around the bag. It appeared like he was sitting right there, I spoke him on the ride home. When I got home, there were 4 birds, I have never seen them before waiting on the trees around my driveway. Like they were there to welcome him home. That first night, deers from the neighborhood sat vigil next to the wall where I kept his ashes. So many signs he has shown me, strengthening my belief in the soul.

I have been perusing a lot these last two weeks after his passing, and I realized that two roles of my life that I had been playing for years, ended in a matter of months, that of a wife of 19 years and of a daughter for 43 years. I may be a wife again, but I will never have to be a daughter again. And that has been the strangest feeling. We get so used to the multiple roles we play, that of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and we think these roles stay until the end. They do, but the realization that we stop being them is strange.

Suddenly I am not so sure what I should grieve for. My son leaving the nest or my father passing or my divorce. Walking into my son’s room and trying to organize his room is the most painful thing. I cannot bring myself to moving his clothes or looking for something in his closet. It is easier to hold my father’s phone or see his shoes outside the door or his glasses on the coffee table. Bringing a life to this world, giving that little human everything you have, taking every chance because there is no rule book and then letting them go is by far the most unfair transaction in this world. In the end parents are just bridges for the first 18 years of their life. When I left him in his dorm room briefly and walked out, I felt something leaving my body, maybe the umbilical cord? Weird.

Then seeing your parents pass and doing everything for their physical being, is just so unfair. And you go through that twice. It takes years to overcome (if you ever overcome) to push the sadness of one, that the other one goes and creates another layer of sadness that you have to push through one day at a time.

All said and done, I am not quite sure what I should grieve for or just let it be. As my therapist says put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.

Prepping

Like my friend put it, it is a ‘weird feeling’, sending off your kid to college. There are a few moms I know who are going through this weirdness this month. For some moms it is the first child, like me. For some it’s their second or third child and they have no more at home. For me, this is my first one, the one who has taught me most of the firsts of parenting from caring for a newborn, to teenage years, to everything a young boy goes through in their first 17 years of life. He made me better prepared for the second one.

What is prepping for college? I don’t know. I guess it is savoring every moment you have with the not-so-little-one before they walk out the door. It is not like you will never see them again, but what bites is that you will not spend years with them under the same roof, like there is no end. They will come for breaks and summer, but all those are finite times, a few weeks and they have to go. After college, they will decide where they want to live, work, and start chalking out their paths. So this is when the umbilical cord really slivers down to a bare minimum. Oh it never is cut completely, that I am sure of. You loosen the reign little by little, but you never ever let go.

I have not hit rock bottom yet, or had that crying like someone is ripping your heart out, but it will hit, sometime in the next few weeks. I am not quite sure what I am going to miss most. Most likely its the calling out ‘Ma’, a thousand times a day. It is always Ma, this or Ma, that or something else. Even if I am sitting next to him, his conversation always starts with ‘Ma’. Or the hug, or the bragging about muscles, protein, gym etc. I guess what I will miss the most is the singing. I don’t know. The feeling is of standing at the shore, waiting for that huge wave to come and drench you.

I don’t know how our parents did it. Let us go in a time without cell phones, just handwritten postal letters or a PCO booth, dinging at every minute. It is a strange feeling, because you have fed, nurtured, been with them through their emotions, held their hand, given them a hug every time they felt low, told them right from wrong, watched their every step.. Now you are letting them walk out the door into the wild, on their own. All you can do is sit back and wait and hope that you did well.

I know you may be thinking, what is the big deal, it may not be, but I know fear for their child is something almost every mom carries in their heart for their child. Fear of being safe, of eating good food, of taking care of their bodies, of being respectful and being respected, its a transition where we switch from being sure to hope. Hope that wherever our children may be they are healthy and happy.

Like I have said before, my children are the best thing that happened to me. My older one says to make me feel better, ‘but you’ve got the younger one’. It is just not the same. It is like 2 pieces of a puzzle, one cannot replace the other. A void is a void. So like everything else, this is the next phase in parenting. The most challenging one so far. Everything until now was easy peasy, compared to this. And now I fully well understand why they call it empty-nest. Whether you have a partial empty nest or a full empty one, hang in there Mama and believe that ‘you did well’.

How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

first kiss..

“Do you remember dear?”

“What honey?”

“Our first kiss?”

“What made you think of that?”

“Those young ones we saw at the park today..”

“They were cute, weren’t they?”

“Yes, just like us, many many years ago. How long has it been now?”

“Let’s see, it was 1952, so fifty nine years ago.”

“We were so young..”

“Yes, you were sixteen and I was eighteen.”

“You looked so handsome..”

“The white blouse you wore was spotless, with lace around the neck.. “

“Oh you remember?”

“Yes my love, I do. Like yesterday.”

“I love you darling..”

“I love you too honey…”

Destiny..

I don’t know what else to title this write-up. I am sitting here in a ‘media room’, something I didn’t even know existed say ten years ago, in Austin TX, land of the free, typing this on my Macbook. There is central AC in my 3000 sq ft home and luxury seeps out of every corner. It is nothing but destiny that has got me here and a lot of hard work and sacrifices from my parents.

My father was born in Puthur, Mangalore a year before India gained independence from the British. His father was a pujari (Brahmin priest at a Hindu Temple). His family migrated from Puthur to a small place called Shivapuram near Mattanur in Kerala. The king then granted the right to do pooja at the Shiva temple and an acre of land surrounding the temple to my father’s eldest brother. Mi padre went to the local school where he excelled in Social Studies and Malayalam but failed miserably in English and Maths. By grade 8, he was the school magazine editor, wrote plays for the school, and was involved in everything creative at school. That is when his father fell ill and he had to tend to the pooja at the temple. So he skipped school for a year and followed the family traditions. After a year he went back to school and failed grade 9. His skill was arts but the education system back then, just as it now, did not care about his creative talents. He tried again, but failed. After this he quit school.

Sitting at home, he saw an ad in the paper for a course in craftsmanship at Calicut, conducted by the Government. It was free and provided a stipend to the participants. My father applied, got in and went to Calicut with 10 rupees. The institution provided the training but he had to arrange his own accommodation. Staying away from home at the age of 16, made him uneasy. After a week’s class, he told one of the other participants, that he was leaving. He walked to the railway station to catch a train to Thalashery. He recalls how he hid behind a pillar in case someone recognized him and took him back to the training institute. As the train arrived, he dashed into the train and fled.

Back home, with nothing to do, he was called by his brother to join him as an assistant at Suratkal. The Engineering college was being built and his brother had a small contract job as an electrician. My father accompanied his brother on a train journey to Suratkal and did odd jobs handing over equipment or hammering nails helping his brother. During his time there, his brother a few others and my father went on a trip to Mookambika. As my father recounts, the national highway was under construction and due to limited resources, they walked.. barefoot. On the way, a stone pierced through his foot. A makeshift bandage around his foot, he continued to walk.

Due to some misunderstanding, my uncle stopped working as a contract electrician and decided to move to Bangalore. He told my father to go back to their hometown and wait for his call. After my uncle settled down in Bangalore, he would send for my father. My father packed their kerosene stove, and a few other belongings in a burlap sack and headed home.

After a few months he got a letter from his brother asking him to come to Bangalore. My father packed the kerosene stove and a few other things in a burlap sack and was put on a train by his father. In an old shirt and white mundu, he left to the unknown world.

At Bangalore, my uncle cooked sweets at weddings to earn his living. My father started doing odd jobs writing sign boards. They lived near Lalbagh inside a certain Munisamy’s electrical shop, behind the stairs. They cooked after the shop was closed so as to not interfere with the customers and their business. His first sign board assignment was in Natkalappa Circle, so he took the route from Lalbagh Rd, through Lalbagh to get to Natkalappa Circle. That is where he saw a young Jayalalitha dancing on the lawns shooting for a movie.

During those time a certain Saamy visited my uncle and brought the newspaper. One day there was an ad calling for artists to work at the Museum. Saamy encouraged my father to apply. He cut out the ad and walked to Gandhibazaar where his brother’s friend would help him write up the application and post it. After a few days he received the news to attend an interview. In his same old faded white shirt and mundu without footwear he walked into the Museum for an interview. They gave him some assignments to assess his work and offered a job as an intern. They asked him how much we wanted to earn. Since he was earning 3 rupees with his board sign writing, he asked for 6 rupees. He got the job as a daily wage temporary employee at 6 rupees a day.

His first day at office, a colleague came and told him that his attire was not appropriate and he should wear a pant and some footwear. That evening he bought hawaii chappal (flipflops) for 2 rupees. Munisamy gave him 10 rupees and asked him to go meet a tailer for pants. A stitched pant was waiting for him unclaimed by the owner. He bought the pants for 10 rupees and he walked the next day to office (from Lalbagh Rd to Kasturba Rd) looking like Chaplin in his new pants and footwear. This was the first time he had worn footwear, and his feet revolted. By evening that day his feet were swollen and he was in severe pain. His feet were not used to anything beneath them, except the ground. It took him a week to get used to wearing footwear.

After a year, owing to his exceptional work, the Museum created a position as a line artist and competitively offered him the job. His basic pay would be 110 rupees and monthly salary 210 rupees. After his first pay, he went straight to buy cloth for 2 shirts and 2 pants. He got them stitched to his size this time. His colleagues were surprised to see him in clothes that fit him and chided him saying, he looked like a different person altogether. After this his brother and him rented a room with a half wall separating the kitchen enclosure at 30 rupees a month.

There is more from how I got here from his one room dwelling. But that is for another time.

Now do you see why I call this destiny? Hearing these stories from him, just makes me exponentially grateful and humble for everything I have today. It also teaches me the value of hard work. It reminds me how my life is interconnected with many lives and people that I don’t even know. Like it is all a web linking the past to the present and the future.