The Warmth of a New Morning

It was a quaint little village tucked in the mountains of Nilgiris. Birds welcomed the first rays of the sun with their chirping and woke the village up.

Madhu stretched on her bed and opened her eyes to a new morning with a smile on her face. She stepped out of the warmth of her room and felt the cold floor outside. She hugged herself to keep her warmth wrapped within herself. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

The smell of fresh morning filled her body. The sounds of the chirping birds filled her soul. She stood there taking in the fragrance of flowers opening up to the rays of sunlight. She felt the pores of her skin open with joy.

She looked straight ahead at the silhouette of mountains and trees. She stretched out her hand and traced the outline with her fingers as she gently closed her eyes.

The next thing she knew, she had sat there with her book and pen and was sketching the beautiful morning in the village on her book. Gentle and fine strokes of her pen decorated the paper, capturing little acts of people around her. She hadn’t failed to acknowledge the little children running around half naked, who were starting their day with a round of games. She captured the laughter and frolic that filled her ears.

As she sketched, she paused to notice the people carrying out their everyday chores. She smiled at the villagers who looked in her direction wondering what she was up to. She felt a sense of connect with them when she met their gaze. Yet the reality of being an outsider never once left her.

Ethnography made her heart come alive. And her passion for art gave her meaning.

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A Fragile Piece of Heart

She walked around like a fragile piece of glass that might break into pieces further. What was her trigger? A loving, caring, genuine “How are you?

Those three words broke the dam and flooded the plains. The dam erected in the name of resilience was nothing more than a shield against the barrage of memories she wanted to protect herself from. She wasn’t resilient. She was afraid. Afraid of being hurt, scarred and broken.

She didn’t recognize what she was carrying within her. But now she did. It was pain, anguish, sadness and anger that she held within. It stemmed from a place of despair. Despair of not finding a home. A home that is comforting and caring. A home that is safe.

Home wasn’t a place. It was an emotion that she associated with being safe. She continued her search since that summer night in her quaint village.

Many hands on a tree trunk

Co-Existence and Gratitude

I wondered what was making me feel excited about that day, my birthday. As I spent time reading Thanks! on the eve of my birthday, I realized that my excitement was associated with the fact that there were people who took a little moment out of their lives to send a text or make a call or to send something across to make my birthday special.

Like 7 billion people, I could be just another person for them. Yet I am someone in their lives. A classmate, an acquaintance from college or social media, someone their friend wished, a friend, a cousin, a long-lost buddy or someone more than just a friend.

This thought made me realize the network within which I exist.

Calvin and Hobbes looking at a star studded sky
(Image (c) Bill Watterson) Calvin & Hobbes look at the star-studded sky.
They must be wondering what makes them a part of the universal network.

I imagine stars in the universe as I think of a network of co-existence. Maybe I do that because I consider co-existence as the root of human life.

While competition and comparisons have forced people to think and act in an individualistic manner, a quick review of therapeutic practices and also religious texts will tell you the importance of having a social network. No, this isn’t the number of people who follow you or the number of “friends” you have on social media. Yes, they can be your extended social circle. While that is necessary, try and identify people who will form your inner circle. These are people you can fall back on. They are the ones who will hear you out and sometimes, try and help.

Your support system may have one person or ten people or a hundred. Appreciating each of them for playing a role in your life in some way is an act of gratitude.

Many hands on a tree branch
Support can come from anywhere
Image credits: @shanerounce (Unsplash)

When I think of people in my life, I feel grateful. I am grateful that they have shaped me, I am grateful that they have taught me life lessons, I am grateful that they have been there for me.

From being a teenager who often said “Ultimately you are alone”, now at 23 years, I believe that there will be at least one network that will change in your absence. And I am grateful to be a part of such networks.

Billions of people live on this planet. Therefore, every shooting star is appreciated by someone, somewhere. If you think you aren’t, I want you to know that if you are reading this, I appreciate your existence. You matter as much as I do (may be even more!)

Shooting star in the sky
A shooting star in the sky
Image credits: @krisroller (Unsplash)

I want to end this piece with a question for you.

Robert Emmons, in his book Thanks! discusses that individuals with depression showed less symptoms after undergoing a gratitude intervention, i.e. thinking and reflecting on what they are grateful for, over a period of time. He says that gratitude allows for attentional shift from the self to the other.

What are your thoughts about this?

Being a Speck of Dust

I am a droplet in the ocean. I am a speck of dust. I am one among 7 billion. And yet nature holds me in her arms. She caresses me like her only child. She adores me like the only moon that the Earth has. She makes me feel at home in a crowd.

Oh wait, aren’t we following social distancing norms?

Image of me in the lower center, with vast sky covering the rest of the space.
Knowing the vastness does not diminish your value.

We have been seeing days that we may have never seen in our lives. This has forced us to adapt to a new way of living. Some of us found comforting hands, while some lost touch with reality. Some of us discovered our heart’s calling, while some created art with their hands. For some of us, family provided a safe space, while for some, members of the house were draining out every drop of energy. We faced new reality. We encountered new challenges. We saw the different faces of humans.

But nature, she showed us what she was forced to hide all these years. Wondering what forced nature? Everything that we call ‘development’. We pushed nature to the periphery. We forgot that we ourselves are creations of nature and share a bond that is stronger than any relationship primarily with nature.

The months we were holed up in the house, we noticed nature. Be it the increasing sound of pigeons or some bird which you have never spotted before. For some, it was seeing a flower bloom for the first time ever or in many years, while for some, noticing a rainbow in the unexpected summer showers.

Image with two tiny white flowers that has yellow center, with a background of ground that has grass and other plants
Don’t have any flowering plant? That’s ok. Here’s a picture for you from my archives.

Countries are opening up, economic activities are limping back. I wonder how many are, again, going to be conscious of nature that is around them or maybe within them?

This period helped me grow inward and recognize my connection with nature. It has been an experience of connecting with something larger than the self. Existentialists would call this a spiritual experience. The spiritual dimension is one that focuses on meaning, faith, and a connection of humans in a cosmic context. It involves looking at this larger than human feature by being human.

That’s too wordy, isn’t it?

Basically I understood that being a speck in the galaxy is important, because nature is embodying herself through me; that as much as I am a part of a system called nature, I also make an important component through which the system (nature) can be seen.

And that’s why, however tiny you are, you are never insignificant.

My Best Friend Taught Me The Core Conditions Of Counselling

I had a friend who taught me the meaning of the term “best friend”. I found her at a time when I was vulnerable. It was at that stage in life where I was searching and asking myself, “Who am I?” (Not that I have found the answer today; I am still searching.) I felt lost. I did not know how to define who I am. I felt incompetent. I thought that I was not good enough. Reasons to believe that I was insignificant was more than believing that I was important or significant to someone.

It was then that she entered my life. Not a dramatic entry, but a slow, insidious one which I did not notice. Before long, I knew that she was my “best friend”.

She was someone who listened to me, asked me questions, made me think, and laughed with me on my silly jokes. She recognised when I wasn’t feeling okay, and also when I was joyous, and she asked about it. She shared her worries and happiness with me. My interactions with her always had a strong layer of trust and understanding underneath. With her, what I felt inside was what I expressed.
This taught me the first core condition of Humanism given by Carl Rogers, Congruence or Genuineness. An effective therapist is genuine in her interaction with clients and does not put on a mask while interacting. This helps in building trust and allows the clients to be comfortable with the therapist.

My “best friend” recognised me for who I am and motivated me to take up tasks that I would have otherwise shunned away from. She told me that I had the potential to do xyz. She pushed me just enough beyond my comfort space to make me realize the capacity that I have was not limited to what I was aware of at that time. Through all of it, she took care that I didn’t feel overwhelmed. And if I did she was there to support me.
This is the second Rogerian condition, Unconditional Positive Regard. A therapist recognises the client for who they are and values them, and attaches no moralistic or judgmental value to their thoughts or beliefs. The role of a therapist is to help the client achieve growth and realize their potential.

This piece wouldn’t be complete if I did not talk about how she stood in others’ shoes more often than in her own. She could see things from others’ perspectives, and she was sensitive to their needs. She knew when someone needed some time alone, and when they needed someone to talk to, to be heard. She was there, always, to understand how I thought of something, and therefore how it must be for me.
And this is the core condition of Empathy. It is the ability of the therapist to enter the private world of the client and understand life through their eyes. The therapist experiences the world of the client as if it were their own, but without forgetting the “as-if” quality.

These three conditions- congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy (and concreteness, as the fourth condition) make a therapist effective in her interaction with a client.

These three core conditions of counselling were shown by my best friend. She embodied these conditions in her everyday interactions.

But all wasn’t so well, as I recognised these in my best friend only when we ceased to be friends. Losing her friendship changed me as a person. I went ahead and pursued Psychology and learnt in-depth about counselling. The process of learning to be a counsellor made me reflect on my relationships and I realised that while my best friend showed these conditions, I showed these conditions on a superficial level or none of it when it really mattered in those years of friendship.

I moved away from that person whom I called my “best friend”. But I learnt what it is to be a Counsellor or a Therapist, thanks to my “best friend”.

Sunset over the sea, at Marine Drive
Sunsets are proof that even your bad days have a silver lining

PS: She loves sunsets. And even I do.

PPS: I am a trained Mental Health Professional. If you want professional help, you can reach out to me.

You can know more about me here.

Mumbai and its love

Today, I woke up to the petrichor of the first rain in the city. It was 7 in the morning. As the earthy scent entered my nose, my body felt alert and like a bird, I flew to the window and perched myself atop the window sill. With a smile of my face, I looked around. It was a slight drizzle, but enough to make my heart cry with joy.

Rain droplets on leaves
Petrichor

Only last evening had I said longingly (or complained) that I wanted it to rain here, as my friends shared about rains in their cities. It had been two years since I had witnessed Mumbai rains. As cliché as it sounds, there is nothing like Mumbai rains!

Though I know that the drizzle that I witnessed today is part of a looming storm and not the onset of monsoon, it still fills me with happiness.

Through the years, I have had a love-hate relationship with rains. Like many from Mumbai who share the sentiments, it isn’t a lovely sight to travel in buses or trains when it rains as the tiny space smells and there are mud trails and slush everywhere making it difficult to take one step without stepping into another puddle. Yet, one glance or one evening at any of the sea-facing location, accompanied by rains, would make one forget the ordeals of the rains. The lashing waves with the winds hitting your face, makes you forget the bitterness of all the travel experiences. I have sat at Marine Drive through rains and have had no regrets being drenched all the way back home (35 minutes of travel in a crammed local!) Maybe someone sitting beside me had regrets choosing the seat next to me!

Sketch showing a person drenched with another lady who seems to be expressionless, holding an umbrella in her hand; both sitting in a local train.

Year after year, the monsoon has gotten erratic. Floods have become a common sight.

Come rain, and the (in)efficiency of the governing body to be prepared for any disaster comes in focus. These changes in the pattern of rains each year are indicators of climate change. As a city, as a nation, are we taking steps to do our bit to slow down these changes?

I am still thinking…

A no-stopping sign submerged in water, with text reading "Climate Change is real."
Can we be serious about climate change? (Img Src: 1)

As I think of local trains, the harsh reality of the COVID-19 outbreak comes before my eyes. It will be a long time before I start travelling in a local again; because I have the privilege to stay at home and enjoy my chai as I watch the rains. My heart goes out to every single COVID warrior who has been relentlessly serving people over the last three months. From the first case in March until today, it has been the police personnel, healthcare workers, sanitation staff, the governing body, hundreds of volunteers, NGOs and so many others who have kept the place running. The rains are setting in. The challenges that the city is facing are only going to rise.

These thoughts leave me feeling heavy. I can only imagine the difficulties that people will continue to face.

Image of the universe with stars
The universe is listening. (Img Src: 2)

I am doing my bit by sending a silent prayer into the universe to take care of every person on this planet, irrespective of their caste, creed or race. (and by staying home)

Like the sunshine after three days of heavy rains, I am hopeful that we will be back smiling, enjoying the little drizzles and may be, spot a rainbow in the sky.

P.S. Today, I learnt that someone who loves rains is called a pluviophile. Am I a pluviophile? Naah, I am a bird!

Image source: 1. https://pixabay.com/photos/water-flood-high-water-4944009/

Image source: 2. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/universe-sky-space-cosmos-galaxy-4260760/

Unbound

On a cloudy December morning, I stood by the sea. Wind gushing onto my face, waves rushing into my feet. A thousand thoughts ran across my mind in a moment, but the next moment, there was silence.
I was unbound, like the waves. I was the sea, I was the wind. I was time. I was direction. Unbound, I followed no rules, except the rule of constancy.

Losing Your Home

The heart fluttered hard, felt wrung out of life,
Shattered of the shield,
Homeless.

Roof above changed,
Roof within clamoured without support.
Housed, yet homeless.

Love gushed, without a receiver.
Concern remained, never acknowledged.
Care needed, but ignored.

Sacrifices forgotten,
Promises broken,
Trust lost.

At 20 and at 70, life didn’t change much. The perspective had.

Love: Divided?

Moments
Here and now
Overwriting the past.
I am replaced
In your mind
With memories of your love.

Who am I? Who am I?
I am no one.
Who am I? Who am I?
I am who taught you to love.
Who am I? Who am I?
I am the one you chose to forget.


I see there are conflicts within thee,
You stand below the open sky
Staring into infinity.
As I see you from a distance
Near the dark Oak tree,
Your eyes shine
as they wander through your dreams.
A smile surfaces on your face
that leaves a natural blush on your cheeks.

Then, your thoughts of uncertainty cloud in,
They snatch that smile away.
But here I am besides you
To cheer you up
The same way you always have been for me.

(This is in collaboration with Soham Dighe. Read more of his writing by clicking on his name.)

The Sailing Train of Thoughts

Sitting in a train
Looking at the world passing by,
Thoughts fill my mind.

I attempt to silence them,
With words, with pictures.
“Let us out,” they screamed.
“Let us blossom,” they screeched.
Constricted. Restrained.
I couldn’t let them out.
I couldn’t let myself break.
I couldn’t let myself bow to them.
I hold myself tight.
I wait for them to pass.

Like the passing scenery that I witness through my window,
I see my thoughts grow,
And sail away from my mind,
But not before leaving a mark,
To remind me of the dark.
Also to remind me of my spark.