the art of being still

At least three or four times a week, I take this routine walk by the lake. It’s about two miles to and from my apartment…and really the only form of exercise I actually enjoy, especially when it’s nicer out.

On one of my recent walks, I stopped and sat down. It was around 8pm, so the temperature was slightly cooler and there were less people around. I watched in silence as the water rippled from the wind. I listened to the sounds of the waves crashing into the shore. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling the last bit of sunshine of the day on my skin and the smell of fresh air only a lake can bring. And I was hit with the realization that this was the first time in a long time (probably ever) that I was truly just being.

Like so many others, for as long as I can remember, I have been constantly on the move and planning every second of every minute of every day. Hell, I even plan for things months and years in advance. I do this so often that I have spent the last 20+ years of my life never really appreciating the small moments where I can just be. I don’t even know how to appreciate those moments.


I believe that there is exceptional beauty to be found in the quiet and stillness of our world. Unfortunately our world is always moving, always striving to achieve something new, and always running away from things we wish to forget. So it’s rare that we ever truly find moments of stillness. I know for me, my mind is constantly running with thoughts about my dreams, expectations and responsibilities, hopes and aspirations, regret and fear, etc.
 

When I was in India studying, after a long week of exams, I’d occasionally pack a small suitcase and hop on a train to a paradise awaiting 5 hours away. There’s this scene I play over and over in my head when I feel like I need a breather. My happy place, if you will. It’s of a street in Goa I once visited. I’m riding around in a vespa; unknowingly observing things that were going to be imprinted into my mind forever.  The sweet smell of earth before a rain shower, fills my lungs. Off in the distance, you can hear the sounds of a soccer game.  The whole town seemed to be out.  Groups of women in floral dresses clutching their Bibles as they walked home from church.  The priest joins in on the soccer game, lifting his cassock to avoid the mud and to execute a splendid kick that sends the ball flying into the air. Families leaving little ice cream shops with cones topped with scoops of ice cream in the most vibrant hues of pinks, greens, and purples.  Children frantically licking away at them as the heat melts away their treats.  The corner shop is playing old Hindi tunes while the bakery next to it puts out the sweetest smelling pastries. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. In reality this whole scene happened in less than 30 seconds. But in my mind I’ve slowed it down to frame by frame and have tried numerous times to re-experience it all again.

I listened to a TedTalk recently called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. He spoke about our tendency to constantly put happiness over our cognitive horizon. Meaning we adopted this mantra that we’ll be happy after we reach a goal. “I’ll be enjoy my life after I graduate college,” “…after I get a my degree,” “…after I get a job” or “…after I get married and settle down,” and so on and so forth. We all do it. And there isn’t anything necessarily inherently wrong with this mantra. But unfortunately we adopt this as our reality, as the ultimate formula to achieve true happiness.  The only problem with that is that we’ve pushed the possibility of being happy so far over the horizon that it becomes unattainable, and we miss all those moments in between. It also contributes to our difficulty finding pride, appreciation, and satisfaction in the goals we do achieve. “I got good grades this semester…next semester I’m going to get even better grades,” “I graduated high school…well, no big deal, still got to graduate college.”

 Just today we were talking about wanting to jet off to the Netherlands (Dutch people are the top 10 happiest people in the world) to get away from the noise and start farming our own produce. But there I went again waiting for joy. When I get there, then I’ll be happy. I’ve wondered why this particular scene from Goa sticks with me. I have an abundance of amazing memories to choose from, but this one fills my heart with warmth.  I’m always subconsciously telling myself that I don’t deserve to relax or enjoy my life yet. “You have a mountain of things to get done and you’re sitting here daydreaming. Get a grip girl!”  Actually that’s exactly what I need to do: get a grip…on right now!  The people in my story aren’t doing anything extra ordinary. In fact, they are all quite mundane, everyday things.  It’s not that people in Goa or the Netherlands lead particularly stress-free lives. If I were to move to a new place, I would still carry all of my baggage with me. I need a change in perspective not a change in geographical location.  Practicing gratitude and awareness (aka Unagi) can help.

 A wise teacher once told me “if you change nothing, nothing will change.”  So what can you do to learn to be still? 1.) Unplug. This is easier said than done, but has become essential in the world we live in. If there was an app on our phones that told us the number of times a day we picked up our phones to check “what’s new,” we’d be left feeling a little embarrassed.  Whenever I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, I pick up my phone.  Opening apps I’ve never used before to avoid a slightly awkward social situation.  Hmm…stocks, don’t know anything about it but now would be a great time to open it and pretend to be interested in it.  Our phones have become our lifelines.  Easily connects us to everyone we know but still leaves us more distant than ever.  It gets so exhausting, constantly checking what other people have posted, what the latest breaking news is, tracking the location of our latest Amazon order, and the list goes on.  And if I lose my phone, I’m a frantic mess. A series of “what if” scenarios play out in my head.  “What if someone calls me with an emergency and I’m not there to pick up? What if I lose all the pictures and videos on my phone? What if someone steals my personal information and steals my identity?” After all that worry I usually find my phone buried in the bottom of my purse.  And wouldn’t you believe it, there was no crisis in those 10 minutes it was lost.  Therefore, unplug. Learn to sit with yourself and be comfortable.  The person I fear most of facing is myself.  

 This leads me to my 2nd tip, allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling.  I can’t count the number of times I push away unpleasant thoughts because I think it will ruin my mood.  I never allow myself to acknowledge feelings like fear, anger, and sadness.  Everything is about “positive vibes only” and “fake it ’til you make it.”  While I understand the good intentions behind such phrases, the truth of the matter is, we are human.  There is a whole spectrum of emotions and its okay, and actually good to feel and experience them all.  So if you are feeling anxious, allow yourself to feel anxious. If you are angry, be angry! But, then move forward. Repressing thoughts temporarily numbs you, but like any anesthetic, it wears off.  

 My 3rd tip is to allow yourself the chance to grow. This is not an overnight change.  We don’t think you’re going to read our post and have an epiphany.  These are all things we already know but occasionally need a reminder. It is a constant struggle, but will get better with practice. Allow yourself some grace and find joy in the journey.  

I looked at all the stragglers on the beach, the couples holding hands and walking along the shore, the group of friends laughing and pushing each other around, the runners/bikers who make the rest of us look bad (successfully), and I wondered how many of them truly appreciate this moment in time. I wondered if I even truly appreciated the new found stillness of that moment.

 As I sat by the lake, I was mesmerized and enchanted by the immensity of the water…of our world. A world that is so inherently beautiful, still, and quiet, drowning out the noise of our expectations, responsibilities, and regret.. A world where we keep pushing happiness over that cognitive horizon. A world that we can continue to let pass us by…or try to truly live in.

 “Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace.”
Spirit says, “Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place.”

 Marianne Williamson

*Featured image retrieved from: https://www.jamendo.com/radios/Relaxation

Inside Out

“My knees are so fat! I have thunder thighs! I don’t even have a forehead, I have a five-head. Don’t even get me started on my waistline!”

This is the kind of conversation I overhear anytime I am in a fitting room when I am out shopping. This is even the same conversation I hear when my smart, sassy, and confident friends and I are out. 

Every so often, I like to pull out old albums and go through pictures of my friends and I from our childhood. I can’t help but cringe at the awkward poses, interesting hairstyles, and unfortunate outfit choices.  We all have an understanding that these pictures are NEVER to see the light of day.  While those pictures probably aren’t going to get us modeling assignments any time soon, there is something to be said about them.

 We were unashamed. Of our clothes. Of our bodies. Of ourselves. 

Before we can take a picture now, we call each other ahead of time to make sure we all “dress-up”, we look for the perfect lighting and background, and before the picture is clicked the phrase “cheese” is replaced by the words “suck in your stomachs!”  And we’ll repeat this procedure a few more times until we all express our half-hearted approval of the pictures, or until someone yells out “Use snapchat’s ‘flawless’ filter!” 

What changed along the years?

I was at church yesterday when I ran into someone who I have known since I was a little girl.  They only spoke two lines to me, but I haven’t been able to get them out of my head.  They made a comment that I had gained weight.  And I know what you are thinking. So what? Just ignore it. What’s the big deal?

There are flaws that you have and hope no one else takes notice of.  But when someone vocalizes that flaw, it becomes magnified in your mind. I know in the last few years I have put on some weight. Believe me, I know!  And I mean it when I say I am not happy about it.  I’ve always had a small frame and been a “skinny” girl.  But in the last few years, life happened and I gained some weight.  And over a year now I have been trying to lose it.  Unsuccessful, but still trying. Every Sunday I’m super pumped to start a new workout plan that I found online.  Every Monday morning I guilt myself into doing the workout and every Tuesday I quit because I’m too sore from Monday’s workout. Everyone talks about this “runner’s high” that they experience. I’m still searching for it.  I go grocery shopping and buy all kinds of things I saw online in an article saying “10 superfoods to include in your diet to lose weight.” After 3 days of “dieting”, those things find permanent homes in my kitchen pantry. 

While most of body shaming campaigns focus on the female population, it’s not just women who fixate on their flaws. Men’s idealized image is that “perfect model type body.” You know the one: Ryan Reynolds meets Chris Hemsworth, muscular, infinity-pack abs, and hairless skin type. It’s a standard that most of the world’s male population struggle to achieve, yet it’s the standard that we as a society define as “sexy” or “attractive.” 

We’ve all been there, at one point or another. Even if it was a brief, fleeting moment, we’ve bullied ourselves and focused on our flaws versus the things that make us beautiful. In fact, we spend most of our time trying to conceal our flaws. How many hours in a day do we spend applying makeup, doing our hair, shaving, and primping to fit into what society sees as “beautiful?” How much of that time could be put to better use?  This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I wake up almost 45 minutes earlier than I have to every morning for work or school, not to make breakfast or take my time in the morning. No. It’s to make sure my hair and makeup hide my flaws perfectly. It’s so that I can try on 10 different outfits and finally pick one that I don’t feel “fat” in. Lately, it’s just been weighing on my mind so much that I’ve started to resent myself for it. That’s 45 minutes of my day that I could spend sleeping in, eating breakfast, or spending time with people I care about.  While there is nothing wrong with putting effort into looking your best each day, don’t forget to take steps to also feel your best also.

Being in the medical field, I know there are a whole host of things that cause a person to gain weight. Everything from hormone imbalances to genes to depression.  Some people simply can’t help it.  With the media constantly throwing images at us for the “ideal body” we begin to lose sight of what of is truly important; health.  Your outward appearance is an indicator of your internal health.  And by health I am not just referring to your cholesterol and HbA1C levels.  I am talking about the health of your body, mind, and spirit.  So what you see on the outside of a person is a reflection of what is going on internally. 

The incident at church happened over 24 hours ago and I’m still thinking about it.  That’s an indication of my mental health.  That person didn’t know that I was already feeling pretty low because that morning I had tried on 3 different outfits which didn’t fit, before I settled on the one I ended up wearing.  That in my head I was basically bullying myself about how I looked.  Summer used to be my favorite season up until a year ago.  Now I count down the weeks until “cardigan season” returns so I can cover up my flabby arms.  More than what was said to me, the thing that affected me most, was realizing that how I saw myself was how the world was beginning to see me.

This realization isn’t going to make me want to jump on a treadmill and run 10 miles or make me head to a grocery store and buy a week’s supply of salad.  But I am vowing to do whatever it takes to change how I feel about myself.  How I see myself, how I think, and how I talk to myself. 

So, why not challenge ourselves to embrace our flaws? If society defines what attractiveness is, why not make real attempts to change that definition? Create a new one that focuses on individual beauty versus the idealized body image.

Let’s start with the 10-minute challenge. It’s really simple. All you have to do is set a timer for about 10 minutes (or 15, for those of us who are not morning people), which will be all the time you have to get ready in the mornings. This includes hair and makeup (but not showering, hygiene is important!). At the end of the timer, whatever you look like…is how you look for the entire day (insert gasps and shocked faces here). Take a picture, post it or send it to your friends with the hashtag #10minutechallenge. And we’ll do the same! By doing the #10minutechallenge I’m going to be saving 35 minutes each day.  I’m making a commitment to use that time wisely.  Use your saved time to work towards your goal of total body health.  It can be taking the time to cook yourself a wholesome meal, squeezing in a quick workout, or spending a few moments to meditate or journal.   

It’s not going to be easy, but its time to start embracing our natural features, instead of trying to hide it. It’s time we stop focusing so much on body shaming others, and ourselves, and start focusing on accepting one another. It’s time to re-define beauty.

This is Home.

 Perfection is sitting front row at a Justin Timberlake concert while you watch him sing and dance to his latest single “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”  The man is supremely talented and never fails to put a huge smile on my face.  That’s where I was when someone grabbed my arm and yelled something to me. The only word I seemed to catch was “fire.” I was thinking to myself, isn’t it illegal to yell “FIRE” in a crowded venue? All of a sudden the earth was shaking and before I knew it, I was woken up from my peaceful slumber.  My eyes opened and I saw a blurry vision of my mom standing over my bed shaking me.  I rubbed my eyes and tried to open them as best as I could.  Her face had panic and fear written all over it.  She said, “I think the neighbor’s house is on fire!”  This didn’t really alarm me.  I think everyone has had an incident at least once in their life when their moms think they smell smoke.  Mine was no different.  In my mind I brushed it off as paranoia, but got up just to amuse her.  I walked down the stairs in the dark and stumbled across the living room to the window facing the backyard.  What time was it even?  I peered through the blinds to look at my neighbor’s house.  I could not believe what I was seeing.  My eyes grew wide and I stared for a good few seconds before my body started to react.  My heart rate started to rise and I rushed to find a phone.  Of course in the time of a crisis, it’s near impossible to find what you’re looking for.  I finally found a telephone and dialed 9-1-1 like I had been trained to do so in the time of an emergency since the first grade.  “9-1-1 what is your emergency?” “My neighbor’s house is on fire!”

It’s amazing how much information your brain stores that you aren’t even aware of.  There is a dance I was taught when I was a little girl, for a church function, that I am fairly certain I could do if I heard the song even while in a coma.  Like that, in the time of an emergency, your body becomes hyper-vigilant and your brain switches into survival mode.  It’s amazing. But, back to the story.

She asked for the crossroads of my house.  “There is a fire truck on the scene, two more are on their way.”  After hanging up I rushed back to the window.  How long was I gone?  The flames had erupted.  When I first saw the fire, it was only on one side of the house.  Now the entire house was covered in flames and the area surrounding in smoke.  It was like watching a scene from a movie.  Way up in the air I could see water pouring down on the house from a tall ladder.  A few moments later, my dad came rushing down.  The fire seemed to only get bigger.  The three of us held each other and cried as we helplessly watched.  We hoped and prayed that the family had gotten out safely and that no one was hurt.  Physically, at the very least. 

We stood and watched as the most beautiful house in our neighborhood went up in smoke.  We watched as firefighters worked tirelessly to fight the fire.  As the sun began to rise, the smoke finally began to die down and we could see the extent of the damage done to the house.  Their entire gazebo and deck were gone.  Whole trees were burned and just a skinny trunk was left.  Windows were broken and a huge chunk of the roof had been swallowed up by the fire.  The firefighters took off their safety suits and guzzled down bottles of water and then doused their faces with it.  They made multiple rounds making sure every ember was extinguished.  I could hear news choppers flying above us and the loud cry of a woman.  The couple that lived in the house hugged and wept as they slowly walked the perimeter of their house looking at what was left over from the fire.

The whole thing took about an hour and a half.  That’s all it took to take down what on the outside looked like a magnificent structure.  We have lived in our house for exactly 12 years.  For 12 years I have watched the member of the house pull weeds out of their lawn, host weddings and BBQs on their deck, and sit around with their family and friends under their gazebo.  Never have I met 2 people who worked this hard.  I have watched as each year they meticulously worked on their exquisite garden.  They took great pride in the appearance of their house.  Not a leaf was out of place. 

The entire day I sat around feeling numb from the tragedy I just witnessed.  I looked around my own house at the family pictures on the wall, little mementos from trips we had taken, and many plants my mom had collected over the years.  I was reminded of that age-old question, “If your house was on fire what 3 things would you save?”  I have always given the standard answer of 1) my family 2) picture albums and 3) important documents.  But now as I sat and thought about that same question, I couldn’t come up with a list of 3 things.  Actually, the very thought of my house being on fire brought tears to my eyes.  Because the truth is, each and every thing in my house had a memory tied to it.  My house wasn’t perfect.  In fact it was anything but that to an outsider looking at my house.  There was a coffee stain on the carpet peaking out from underneath the rug, dried flowers on our mantle that I had been meaning to toss out for months, and dust collecting on our coffee table.   Only to me it was so much more.  That stain on the carpet was from the time I spilled coffee on it because I was laughing so hard at a joke my dad told.  The dried flowers on the mantle were the boutonnieres from my brother’s wedding.  And the dust on the coffee table is because sometimes it’s better to be Mary rather than Martha. 

We left our blinds shut the rest of the day because we couldn’t bear to look over at the house.  If our grief was so much, I could only imagine what our neighbors were going through.  I know so much importance shouldn’t be given to material things.  They are temporary and will fade away.  But a home is an extension of your family.  It is your haven and place of rest. It is the place you hold sacred and feel most safe.  When that is compromised, you lose your sense of security.  A lifetime of memories are tied to 4 pillars of wood.  Fortunately, those memories didn’t fade away with the fire.  They are kept alive by their family, friends, and the community that rallied together. 

This tragedy didn’t make me hug the walls of my own home tight but it did remind me to hug the people inside.  It didn’t make me value the things inside of my house, but it made me value the time I had inside. 

If you asked me a week ago what perfection is, I would’ve answered, “sitting front row at a Justin Timberlake concert” without hesitation. But now my idea of perfection is sitting at home with my family, talking, laughing, and most importantly, making memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Below is a video clip I took a few weeks ago admiring my work after painting our deck. Little did I know the focus of the video was about to shift to the house that I just happened to catch in the background. 




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Two Weeks

  
2 weeks. That’s how long I spent ignoring my mother’s phone calls and text messages. I knew what this would do to her. She’s a paranoid, anxious, person. I mean she watches me walk all of 100 feet to take out the garbage at night, because she thinks someone might kidnap me. So I knew that ignoring her would only increase her anxiety. But I didn’t care.

2 weeks ago my mom and I had a huge fight. Not our normal “you’re a crazy person”-“I don’t care, I’m your mother” kind of fight. But the kind of fight that had even my dad running for the hills. She said some hurtful things, things that had me doubting who I am and everything I’ve accomplished. If my own mom thinks that about me maybe it’s true, right? We never fixed it or talked about it. I packed my bags and walked out with just a wave of my hand in her direction. Mistake One.

She tried contacting me at least once a day ever since. I ignored her. Mistake Two.

She had my brother FaceTime me. I ignored it. Mistake Three.

And then icing on the cake? I told her I wasn’t coming home for Christmas break…right after TEXTING her ‘Happy Anniversary.’ Mistake Four.

She called me this morning. I contemplated not answering, but something told me that I should. We talked for a minute or so, arguing about why I wasn’t coming home. I told her I have a lot of work to do over the break and I never get anything done when I’m home. To be fair, I wasn’t lying. Grad school students are never really on break. She started crying asking if it was because of our fight. She didn’t know this, but as soon as she started crying…I did too. I told her it wasn’t because of her, but she didn’t believe me. And she was half-right.

With a strained voice she said to me, “You’re my child. You’re my daughter. And I will always love you. And if you need me to apologize, I will.” The fact that she felt like she needed to say that to me, makes this Mistake 10000000.

After we hung up, I thought back over the last two weeks. I stopped being angry with her the second I woke up the morning after our fight. I realized that I was punishing her, not because I was angry but because deep down I wanted to hurt her as much as she hurt me. And the award for the crappiest daughter goes to….well, me.

It wasn’t until I actually heard her cry and felt her pain over the phone that I realized how much I actually hurt her. And by hurting her, I actually hurt myself even more. I have never felt more disappointment for myself than I did in that moment. I was acting like she was a stranger. Like she was a friend I could live without. I forgot that she is the woman who raised me. Held my hand when I was scared. Stayed up at night when I was sick and in pain. She cried when I graduated high school and left for college. She laughed when I made fun of my dad or brother. She smiled when I told her that I wanted to help make a difference in the world. And most importantly, she forgave and loved me every time I made a mistake or said something hurtful when I was upset. I had the opportunity to do the same…and I screwed up. Big time.

I am always talking about trying to change the world for the better. I talk about how human beings have the capacity for change, but we won’t ever accomplish it because it’s easier to show hate than love. I speak out about these things, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that I, too, struggle with this. I could never hate my mother, no matter what. But I didn’t show her forgiveness when I could have. Instead, I punished her. In the face of a tragedy, people always question, “how could someone hurt another human being?” But don’t we hurt the people we love every day? Don’t we punish our friends or family for hurting us all the time? So is it really a stretch to ask how someone could hurt a stranger?

I am not proud of what I did. And even though I don’t deserve forgiveness, I know my mom will willingly and gladly give it to me. THAT’S the difference between hate and love. Forgiveness. There is so much suffering in the world today. People killing other people, floods, Donald Trump, etc. But in the midst of all of that, is the chance to forgive. The opportunity to show even our enemies how we can still love. This won’t be an easy task, trust me. So maybe we don’t start with our enemies…maybe we start at home. Maybe we start with forgiving our friends for stealing the last piece of cake. Or forgiving the stranger that knocked into us while trying to get to work.

I want to use this experience to make a real change within myself. I know I have a lot of work to do and that it starts at home. I’m incredibly sorry for the way I’ve treated my mother the last two weeks. And I hope that someday, we can all be as loving and forgiving as she is.

Be the change you wish to see in the world- Mahatma Gandhi

 

The Complaining Jar

complaining Jar

I was driving my mom home from a long doctor’s appointment last week and I felt like everyone on the road thought they were characters in the next  Fast and the Furious movie. There were so many cops out on the road. It was the end of the month so I guess that solves that mystery. I looked down and saw I was almost out of gas. Great, that’s another stop I had to make. It was 11 AM on a Monday and there was so much traffic. I just wanted to get home and eat something. My belly was aching. I hadn’t had anything except for a cup of coffee and boy am I glad I had that because I don’t think I could have handled the chaotic morning otherwise.  On top of all of that I had to pee so badly! From the looks of it, it was going to be a long and stressful day; probably week.

After what felt like an eternity, I was finally home. As I sat down to have my bagel and cream cheese, I saw I got a Snapchat from Ashley. This is what it was:

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I took a screenshot of it immediately.  Something about this really struck a chord.  I started thinking about my day.  Everything from the moment I woke up.  I had been complaining ALL DAY! I was so negative.  I even assumed the rest of the day and week would be bad.  I didn’t realize how much complaining I did. I ruminated these thoughts for a few hours and finally decided I should do something about it.  I was going to take up the challenge.  I took it a step further and set it for a week. That’s right.  I was going to go one entire week without complaining.  At first it was easy: as soon as I felt a negative thought come my way I would just change the topic or squash it right away.  That lasted about 30 minutes.

This was going to be harder than I thought.  I needed a new plan.  A few minutes later, I completely forgot about the challenge and complained about the WIFI not working properly.  But I didn’t want to give up on the challenge so easily.  And if I restart the challenge, it won’t prevent me from making the same mistake again.  So for each time I complain I would add one hour that I need to go to the gym and workout. And if you know me, I hate going to the gym.  I’m a broke college student so putting a dollar in a jar isn’t feasible. Instead  I got an empty jar and put in a clothespin.

Here are some of my thoughts on the challenge from throughout the week:

Monday: “Two hours in, I complained.  Maybe I should have started off smaller…”

Tuesday: So far so good. I think I’m starting to get a cold though.  I could go for a doughnut right about now.

Wednesday: Definitely have a cold. But that’s okay! I have an immune system that will help me fight it.

Thursday: My immune system is useless. Still haven’t gotten that doughnut. And I think I just complained…

Friday: I think I got both of my parents sick too.  But they take care of me with no second thoughts.  I’m so lucky.

Saturday & Sunday: I can feel my thoughts and way of thinking changing with each passing day.

Monday: I have some working out to do this week…”

As of yesterday 3 PM, I have officially finished my week long challenge. There were 9 clothespins in the jar, which means I owe 9 hours at the gym, out of which I have done 4.

So at the end of the week did my life really change like it said it would in the picture? Did all the stars align in my life? No. Did all of my problems magically disappear? No. Did I win the lottery and buy myself a Chipotle restaurant so I can eat burrito bowls every day? Definitely Not. None of that happened.  And I didn’t expect it to either.  But, was there a change in my life? Absolutely.  Did I stop, and think before I spoke? Yes! Did I try to better understand each situation? Yes! Did I occasionally fail? Yes! Did it get easier as the days went by? Yes! Was I happier? Yes! Noticeably!

This was the goal I had set for myself.  And although I did fail a few times, I feel I have succeeded at my challenge.  It’s easy to complain the minute something goes awry.  It took conscious effort on my part to not complain.  When someone was driving 30 mph on a road that is 50, I had to stop myself from yelling “GO!!”  Maybe they had a stressful day and had a lot on their mind.  Maybe they were driving a cake for their friend’s birthday that they didn’t want to ruin. Or maybe they were just on their phones not paying attention.  Whatever the reason may be, I cannot change their actions.  I can however change mine.  And that’s something I needed to learn.

This week I read about so many tragedies in the world around me.  I thought about how fortunate I was that none of those things happened to me.  I wasn’t the victim of a violent attack.  My home wasn’t destroyed by massive floods.  My family and I were safe and we had a warm place to call home.

What was the most important thing I took away from this week? Gratitude. For who I am, where I live, what I have, and for the opportunity I have to share that with all of you.

I always think its nice to start new year’s resolutions a little earlier than January 1st.  Use this last month as a training period for your goals for the next year.  Set those habits and routines in motion now so you don’t feel so much pressure come New Years.  This coming year will be all about moving towards living a life of gratitude.  Each day I want to be able to think of something I am thankful for.  You will never run out of things to put on that list.

So we challenge each of you to a Complaint Free Week. I guarantee if you keep up with it, you WILL feel a difference in your life.  If you do decide to take us up on the offer, we would love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Ohana means family.

Last week I was talking to a friend into the wee hours of the night. It started off with just the usual “how’s life going” questions.  Pretty soon we were talking about our families, friendships, and faith, and before I knew it, it was already two in the morning.  Ever have that happen to you? You get so engrossed in a conversation that you lose all track of time and you forget about all the rotten stuff going on in your life? I was telling this friend how I was so jealous of how much extended family he had around him and how close they all were. Even though I have 20+ first cousins, only 3 of them live in the US, and none of them live here in Michigan.  We get together once in a while when there’s a family function and while those times are great, I really wish I had them around all the time. But he helped me to discover something I had that he said he wished he had; friends that turned into family.

As you get older, you begin to discover the type of person you want to be. You explore different parts of yourself and find your voice. Consequently, it’s a time where some friendships are made, and others are broken. It’s easy to focus on the broken friendships because they’re what cause you the most pain. But if you step away for just a minute, you’ll see that maybe those relationships were meant to be broken, because it paved the way for you to discover what true friendship means. I was lucky enough to find this type of friendship in several strong, beautiful women.

We all met because our families moved here after immigrating to America.  Individually we couldn’t be more different if we tried.  If I were to document individually how each of us met, we’d be here for days.  I’ll just sum it up and say we had the BEST childhood.  We all lived within walking distance of each other, and never went a day without seeing one another.  By the time we reached high school, one by one we each started to move away.  But we were adamant that our friendships stay strong, so we kept in touch and tried to meet up as much as possible.  As time went on, we met up less often, and soon got carried away in the busyness of our own lives.  All 5 of us went to different colleges and pursued various things.  One of us went to East Lansing for college, another Kalamazoo, there was one in nursing school, one all the way to India, and the last member didn’t move to America until 2008. We weren’t just separated by city lines, but by oceans. So it’s no surprise that during this time, we lost sight of one another.  We, who were inseparable in our childhood, were starting to become content with acquaintance-like friendship.  This went on for a few years.  We let our immaturity and our naiveté cloud our judgment, and ultimately our friendship. We were close to each other independently, but not as a group. It wasn’t until several years ago that a shift occurred. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened…it just did! It was like everything fell into place. And I’ve been grateful everyday since.

These women are strong, beautiful, opinionated, sarcastic, honest, and have the biggest hearts. They remind me of the person I want to be. The person I truly am on the inside. We don’t always agree…but that’s the best part. Friendship isn’t built on finding someone who is exactly like you in thought, personality, and belief. It’s built on the foundation that despite your differences, you love one another. You accept one another. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have stuff in common, cause we do. For example we love to eat…so much so that we’re pretty sure it’s what brought us together. Ironically, a member of our group created the philosophy that the point of life is to “live life and eat chocolate.” I mean, look out Aristotle!

Over the years each of us has faced devastation and hardships, and this group has been there to pick up the pieces.  While I was very familiar with the concept of sympathy, it was just recently I understood empathy.  For example, when one of us has an exam or interview, we all feel the anxiety from it. We count down each passing hour and with bated breath we wait until we’ve received word that it’s over. Likewise, when something incredible happens for one, we all feel that same joy.

As supportive as we are of one another, we don’t shy away from calling each other out.  Every decision goes through a careful screening process and comes out having been brutally scrutinized. It’s often the words you need to hear but not necessarily what you want to.  You can be sure it’s never hollow advice from these ladies because they want what’s best for you.  

These women have taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes and do immature things. Granted, they’ll never let you live it down…they’ll even make it into a punch line and use it every chance they get. But not once, do they treat you like you’re less than a human being. Not once do they make you feel like your choices and beliefs make you any less part of their family. They don’t hold grudges or get mad about the little things. They don’t shame or guilt you. Not once, since our friendship truly began have I ever felt anything less than a strong, beautiful, intellectual, person. And that’s how I know what true friendship is. Because true friends bring out your best qualities and accept your worst. They let you explore and discover who you want to be, without shaming or criticizing your decisions. They’re honest with you, even if it’s not what you want to hear. They’ll voice their opinions, but they won’t try to convince you to change yours. They aren’t the ones causing you pain…they’re the ones that are the kicking the butt of the person who is.

That’s how I know that these women will be by my side for the rest of my life, no matter what or where we go. No city, state, or ocean can ever change that.

I’m getting misty-eyed just writing this because this week is reunion week! After weeks of talking, planning, and waiting, we’re all going to be reunited for Thanksgiving!  We have many stories to exchange, venting sessions to be had, and lots and lots of food to be eaten.  This year for Thanksgiving, we are truly thankful for these wonderful girls in our lives.  Thank you for keeping us sane, grounded, and hopeful.  In a world where all we see is the evidence of shattered humanity, you are a reminder for us that there is still good in the world, and that love and friendship are two of our most important weapons to fight the hate.

friends

What are you most thankful for this year? Comment and let us know!

 

Burned Toast Syndrome

“A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

baby

Well, that mother, she got older. She got older and older and older. One day she called up her son and said, “You’d better come see me because I’m very old and sick.” So her son came to see her. When he came in the door she tried to sing the song. She sang:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always…
But she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick. The son went to his mother. He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And he sang this song:
I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my Mommy you’ll be.”

old-mom-and-grown-up-son

Love you Forever By Robert Munsch

One of my most favorite memories from my childhood is waking up before the sun even comes up to watch Saturday morning cartoons with my brother. While during the rest of the week my parents basically had to drag us to the bus stop, Saturdays we knew how to wake up all on our own. By the time we finished the first episode of Looney Tunes, my parents would make their way downstairs. Saturdays also meant not having to eat a boring bowl of whole wheat Crispix cereal. Instead my mom would whip us up pancakes, french toast, omelets, or one of a hundred yummy Indian breakfast dishes, while my dad would call our relatives back in India. I loved Saturdays. I loved the sounds of a bustling kitchen. I loved listening to my dad yell into the phone as if he was speaking loud enough so our relatives abroad could hear directly. Our tiny home became alive. Once the food hit the stove, we were ready with our plates to grab it and get back to our cartoons. In between commercials, when I would rush with my plate to get the next hot and ready piece, I would see that in the midst of doing a million chores in the morning, occasionally a dosa, french toast, or pancake would get burned. My mom would always set those aside and hand us a perfectly cooked piece, only to later eat the burned ones herself.

I always used to wonder how she could bear the taste of burned toast. The charred pieces were bitter and ruined the taste in your mouth. Why not make another one or eat something else? She always did this. Then I started to think maybe she just liked the taste of burned food. As I grew older, I started to ponder these thoughts more and more. I tried to come up with a logical explanation as to why she did this. Several years later I conducted a little experiment. I made a batch of pancakes for breakfast one day and left them on the kitchen counter. In that batch there were pancakes that were cooked perfectly and ones I deliberately cooked longer. I waited and watched as my each member of my family picked their share. My brother came in and sifted through all of them looking for the best ones and left. My dad took whatever one was on top and left. Then it was my mom’s turn. She looked at me and told me to take before her. I grabbed one good one and one slightly burned one and left the rest on the plate. For the first time in her life she took one that wasn’t burned. I intently watched her that day. It was clear, she didn’t particularly enjoy the taste of burned food. I gave her a diagnosis of Burned Toast syndrome (BTS). She behaved similarly with other things. When she would cut an apple for us, she would leave all the pieces for us and take the core for herself. When making our beds, she would give the newest bedsheets to us and take the torn ones for herself. I noticed my dad did it as well. When my brother and I were old enough to drive he gave us the newest car and took the oldest one for himself. What made people behave like this? What was the cause of this burned toast syndrome?

Years later while I was experiencing one of the lowest points in my life, I saw the symptoms of their BTS flare up. They were even more compassionate and displayed unfathomable, unconditional love. Their existence was dependent on my happiness. In fact, that seemed to be the only cure. It was in these last few years that I truly understood what parental love really is. Setting aside your own wants and desires and solely being concerned with the health and happiness of your child. Setting aside the best of what you have and giving it to the one you love most. Not being a parent, I can’t completely understand where this love comes from.

As my parents started to get older, I began to notice a bit of role reversal. I started developing the early symptoms of BTS. In some ways I see myself becoming their parent. I worry about their diet and make them exercise. While driving in bad weather I ask them to call once they’ve reached their destination. While my dad mows the lawn, I run out with a hat and tell him to take breaks and drink water. And then when he doesn’t listen, I scold him and tell him about the effects of dehydration. I take my mom to her appointments and flood her doctor with “what if” questions about her health. I feel like I’m more stressed than ever, worrying about their well being and happiness. Only it isn’t the kind of stress I have about studying or worrying about student loans. It’s a stress that I gain genuine happiness from. A kind of happiness I had not ever felt before.

Being a young immigrant to this country has given me better understanding of the hardships my parents went through to get to where they are today. How frightening it must have been to come to a foreign land and have to build a life for your family from the ground up. They taught me the importance of family, building relationships in the community, and helping one another. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m just like every other kid and have times where I fight with my parents. Sometimes they just don’t see where I’m coming from. They are just so stubborn and strong-willed. But that’s when I realize that this is where I got all of my qualities from. My work ethic and resilience comes from a long family history of BTS patients. And I hope someday I pass on this syndrome to my kids.

So take the time today to look at your life and see how much sacrifice was made by your parents to get you to where you are right now.

IMG_6664

Coincidentally, this is a picture of what today’s breakfast looked like =)