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Guest post: It’s Time to Enjoy the Twilight

By Richa Bansal who sent me this short and introspective piece on a difficult day when life revealed itself as beautiful….

I have always run a race with myself. Right from childhood. With due rewards of course in terms of career success and associated benefits. But not without its cost. The biggest one being I forgot what it meant to slow down, even if for a few moments.

Until today, when a severe back spasm and a hearty scolding from my physiotherapist placed me under ‘house arrest’ for five straight days with strict instructions of ‘no going to office’, ‘no alcohol over the weekend’, and ‘no exercise (for two weeks!)’. Clubbed with daily physiotherapy and muscle relaxants I didn’t particularly relish. In short, I had to rest it out and there was no shortcut.

I was appalled! Having been trained as a journalist in my formative years, I am used to finding my way out of sticky situations and often enough having my way. This time I had to comply. Not so much because I wanted to but because the pain was too much to bear.

I am used to being super active. If not working, I am doing high intensity exercise (my room has most of the basic equipment of a gym), or making an errands list (a must when you live alone), or catching up on news, or having a whatsapp/skype call with friends abroad, or compulsively responding to emails at night.

Yes, I meditate for a few minutes in the morning, but after that it is non-stop. I didn’t realise or value the importance of stopping in the tracks to appreciate the moment – be it the rain, a walk in the park, or watching the twilight hues. Even if I ever did, being an obsessive planner cum organiser, some list would be constantly running in the background in my head.

Naturally, as I trudged back home, I was grouchy about how I was going to get through five full days of rest. As I was planning all that I had to reschedule, my back creaked again, and a book I recently purchased called ‘Present over Perfect’ flashed across my mind.

I suppose it is not a coincidence that in the last 10 days, I watched Shauna Niequist talk about her book on Oprah Winfrey’s show, where she spoke about how she used to ‘skim’ through life and then decided one day to slow down. Not give up. But re-craft her life. Deconstruct it and decide what to retain and what to let go in order to improve the quality of her life. I was inspired enough to buy the book off Amazon but hadn’t yet opened it.

Walking up the stairs, I noticed that the weather had suddenly changed, and the sun was about to set. It was twilight. I didn’t want to lie down again, so I decided to go up to my terrace, which is surrounded by greenery and stroll a bit. Since I was not meant to even walk fast right now.

And as I stood there barefoot, with a cool breeze flowing through my hair, an overcast grey sky with shades of pink and orange, the leaves of the plants on the parapet swaying slightly, the white flowers gleaming, a salty smell in the air which precedes rain, and birds flying home – I calmed down. I was present in that moment, not thinking about anything else, not worrying about what needed to be done, but simply taking in the twilight.

Twilight has always been particularly calming for me – there is something about the stillness of that transition zone, which I find mystical. Somewhat of a parallel to life – so much of which is in flux.

Plant on the parapet

I used to go for evening walks by the lake near which I grew up in Calcutta all throughout my growing up years and often watch the sun set over the water – the solitude was blissful. And I realised suddenly how much I missed it. A few moments of solitude, not once in a while, but throughout the day are essential.

And in that moment, I decided that I was going to enjoy this forced ‘house arrest’. I was going to go up every day to my wonderful terrace for the next four days to soak in the twilight. I plucked a white flower, came down, placed it on my altar (yes, I pray) and said thank you. And messaged my physiotherapist thanking her for forcing me to slow down. Her response – ‘Great. One should take such breaks without pain ;)’!

In seasons of deep transformation, silence will be your greatest guide. Even if it's scary, especially if it's scary, let silence be your anchor, your sacred space, your dwelling place.

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Hey kid, is your parent a part-time teenager too?

No matter how confident you are about your parenting skills, the impending teens are just sheer trouble. And it’s not about the kids. They’re doing what they do. Procrastinating, wasting time, shuffling along, despondent. Or on overdrive, wanting to overachieve, pushing you over the edge. But what do you do?

Try to be there for them, is the advice I get. But what does that mean? Does that mean be a silent supporter, opining only when asked, standing around in case you need to have their back when they are in trouble? Or does that mean being the dragon mum, actively helping them work through issues, holding them to deadlines, negotiating time schedules? Neither of the two is a comfortable position. Are you doing too little, or too much? And then there is the issue of losing your cool. For when you get there, the battle is surely lost.

A wise friend told me to not overthink it. She said I have to trust that the kids will eventually be more like the parents in terms of their values and mental make-up. While that is comforting, do I not get the chance to alert them of my own shortcomings? Can I tell them what they should not be doing, tell them about the errors I made?

I’ve been thinking (no I cannot not do the overthink!) about this for a few weeks now and I think each one of us has a teen inside us. At the core, I still feel the urge to defend myself even when I know I’m not right. I still gravitate towards those who agree with me, while dismissing folks with a contrary opinion. I still think people who judge me are uncool. I still struggle with setting goals from time to time. Have issues with planning my time and even occasional ego hassles with co-workers and friends. Yes, some bit of me is still a teen, part-time sulker, part-time enthu cutlet!

And so, I will listen to the wise ones and try and lead by example. Focus on my goals and stay calm. Leave the door open. And hope my sanity does not walk out through it!

Ruminations on blogging, looking out to 2016!

Why do we blog? Because we have something to say, perhaps. Or a lot to say. Or something we think only we can say. Or because we want to find words to express what we think and observe.

Why do I blog? My blog has been as much a journey into myself as a documentation of what I see and do. It’s been an exercise in self-discipline or a mechanism to unravel and see patterns in the complex and intertwined conversations I have with myself.

I’ve also used my blog to set goals for myself and monitor them. Fitness, self-discipline, my journey in dance, travel targets and even career goals have found mention on this blog. New year resolutions too (2012-1, 2012-2, 2013) have been made and then assessed here. The blogosphere has been my confidante, my sounding board and my shoulder to cry on board, but it has also been my gauge!

Despite my blog’s pre-eminent place in my life, I haven’t written a lot on it this past year. A little over a year ago, I realized my posts were crossing several distinct themes. So I re-arranged my blog thematically, hoping to make it easier not just for visitors, but for me, to understand my own blogging behaviour. It’s been interesting to see that posts with a personal take are most visited, followed by those linked with my work in urban planning and policy.

Today, I’m at a crossroads and wondering where to take ramblinginthecity. Should it continue to be a personal exploration or take on a more knowledge-based position? Should I open it out to more voices or hone my own voice to be more powerful and much sharper? Should more academic content be on it at all, or find a new space elsewhere? Lots of questions!

As the first month of the year draws to an end, I can see 2016 is going to be the busiest and most exciting year I’ve ever had work-wise. I do hope I’ll be able to take my blog along with me on my new adventures. I fear it will be hard. I fear it will drop off on the wayside. But if it’s really come to occupy that space of the voice-in-my-head, I’m confident it will find new and interesting connections with my life! To another year of blogging……..

Life lessons from unexpected quarters #MondayMorningPosts

The most unexpected people can hold the mirror to you and show you a side of you that you didn’t think of before. In my experience, people who know you rarely offer negative feedback. The closer they are to you, the harder they find to tell it like it is, unless there is a direct provocation. Mostly, they tend to live with your rough edges. Sometimes, a surprised glance, a hurt look, a flash of anger or a sharp retort could, if you are self aware enough, bring you to the path of self-reflection and acknowledgement of wrong behaviour.

On Saturday morning though, as I returned from dance class, the security guard below my apartment block stopped me. Hesitantly and offering prior apologies, he asked me if I specifically disliked being greeted with a ‘Good Morning’. He was concerned. Was he greeting me correctly? Was there something wrong in how he says these phrases that are obviously in English and not in his native language, Hindi?

Now the person I’m referring to obviously comes from very humble origins and with little education, but he has a dignified bearing that I always notice and appreciate. Puzzled and quite taken aback, I asked him why I would mind being greeted, and why he thought I minded. And he told me that unlike the other adult members of my family, namely my husband and my mother in law, I rarely responded to his greetings. Further, he told me I usually had a frown on my face and rushed past him without paying any attention to his politeness, leave alone responding to it. All this he said in a mild way, not being offensive, but continuing to be genuinely concerned.

Now imagine my plight! I have no idea what my face told of my feelings, but I went through a few seconds of complete bafflement! I’m not even sure I was gracious enough to properly apologise though I did assure him he was not at fault in any way, that I might have been pre-occupied, etc etc. As I climbed into the elevator to go home, I fully examined my own behaviour. And I accepted that I’m not a good listener, I do walk around with a frown or an ‘I’m busy’ look on my face, I do not adequately react to those around me. I said a silent prayer, appreciating the gentleman for his courage in having this conversation and vowing to change myself for the better. To smile more, to give every person I encounter full attention and a proper response, to reinforce basic etiquette and manners (something I feel we always teach our kids but tend to overlook ourselves).

I learnt something valuable this weekend. Feedback comes from the most unexpected sources and in the strangest form. To be tuned to receive it graciously, reflect upon it and act upon it is also a life skill to be cultivated. Life may not always be good, but its ever interesting, always an adventure, big or small and I’m grateful to starting this week with an enhanced sense of what a blessing it is!

Unpredictable is the new normal

Monday morning. Tough workout to infuse energy into the week. Driving back juggling three phone calls. At home, there is suspense about whether the house help will turn up. Meetings requests are pinging up on my calendar. I nearly forget about breakfast.Thankfully, the kids went to school without event.

This is normal. My normal. And it’s going to be like this for the rest of my life. Deal with it, you moron!

How many of us, me included, go about our lives complaining about things that are perfectly normal? I wonder sometimes whether food toxins have been tampering with our levels of stress tolerance? Or is it just that the illusion of progress is also about expecting everything to me efficient, predictable and planned?

Maybe we need an intervention, something that helps us enhance our ability to be flexible. Something that trains our minds to think of constant fire fighting as the new normal. Unpredictability as the new schedule. It’s possible, I suppose. I’m working on it!

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