In the Middle of my Projects

At the moment it doesn’t feel good to be in and out of numerous projects, not to feel like I am moving along let alone completing anything. I am back to a state of being in the middle of three different books, in the middle of knitting my first ever blanket, baby is born already and growing fast! I am in the middle of a dance choreography, at the beginning of an online course I signed up for that most people on the course are done with by now. My kids are in the middle of stories they are writing, and are waiting for me to help them continue.

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What does it take to move forward, maybe even complete these little projects without adding new ones to be in the middle of?

Does it matter? Of course in the overall, big picture it matters little, and “it’s all about the process, not so much about the result”. However, in this moment it does matter to me. To feel that sense of accomplishment at progress or at completing something. Checking it off the list. For that boost to my self esteem and confidence.

So what does it take to get through it all, even to advance a little bit in something: some discipline and focus of course, some structure, some pushing, all with a dose of compassion. I am no longer too hard on myself. My critical side would say, “you’re way too easy on yourself of late.”

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It comes back to not pushing too hard, and not being too relaxed with myself. But, there are times that working a little bit harder is needed and at other times being kinder with myself is what’s important.

With practice we bounce between going too hard, and going too easy, and once in a while there are moments of balance, of yoga, or peace. When things flow smoothly. Usually they are fleeting moments. Hopefully the oscillations get smaller and smaller over time and we can come closer to being centered and balanced.

Wish me luck with my little projects. I am in need of a bit of focus, discipline, and structure. Putting it out there like this encourages me.

Thanks for reading and for being present.

Neither Pushy nor Sleepy

There are phases in the yoga practice where we as practitioners might push, try too hard, and we can end up injured either physically, or psychologically.

I was in Mysore in 2006 as a beginner to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga system. I managed by copying a few people in the shala. I was flexible enough to do all of the primary series.

Not strong enough though. Not engaged in the root.

I didn’t realize that at the time. So I pushed myself. Hard. Without realizing it. I was used to exercise, to movement. I had been living in Beirut just prior, where I was attending a few vinyasa yoga classes a day, along with running, dancing, and swimming.

Little did I understand the power of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teaching system, of growing with the practice, bit by bit. Training the system gradually.

I had terrible back pains and ended up visiting the local bone setters, somewhat like chiropractors. They oiled me, cracked me, and then wrapped me up. I walked out of there smelly and looking like a mummy.

I took a few days to rest and I improved slowly.

On the other hand, I have been through low periods where my practice went by what I felt. Mildly depressed. I was slow, mild, sleepy, and dreamy. When I would get into janushirshasana, by the third or fourth breath my eyes would start to close. This is a pose in which one can feel wonderfully aligned and connected if things are working and in place. But I kept falling asleep.

I would do less and less of the practice, or at least in an unconnected manner. There was definitely no growth, some basic maintenance if at all.

Then one day I realized that I was tired and falling asleep, and that my
mula bandha (root lock) was also asleep. When I had the energy to engage mula bandha my eyes opened widely. Immediately. Like magic. I was in the pose, even in the practice again. I breathed in and out. Focused my eyes.

All this, if even for the few seconds that I kept mula bandha engaged, I was connected, not worried about how deep I was in the pose, or how far along in the series, but breathing with attention.

It’s back to balance, between pushing too hard and not engaging enough. Same goes for all the other activities.

Look for the middle ground, connected and engaged, neither pushy nor sleepy.

 

Darkness in Paradise

I read something today about being in darkness. It struck me. “Fall in love with the moon”, it said.

There is beauty all around. Not only in the obvious breathtaking views and warm, easygoing island lifestyle. But also in the scariest of the snakes and spiders, in the depths of the lonely jungle, and in the spaces in cultural differences.

My 8 year old daughter Leila says to me that the Gods live in her heart, but that the demons do too. Underneath the Gods. So I tell her that they all need space, the angry, disgusted, jealous, and sad beings too, just as the joyful, kind, and pleasant ones do.

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I can’t wait to attend what I can of Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor’s retreat at Samahita this March and April. Richard often tells us stories from Indian mythology. He tells the story of the churning of the oceans, of the gods (devas) and the demons (asuras).

The gods and the demons battle to get the amrita (nectar of immortality) out of the oceans of milk. They churn one of Shiva’s serpents, Vasuki, around Mount Mandara. Vishnu advices the devas to hold on to the tail side of the snake, the proud asuras choose the head.  The demons being at the head side of the serpent inhaled poisonous fumes that Vasuki the serpent breathed out and they were weakened.

The two sides pull back and forth around mount Mandara which collapses in the middle of the story due to the incredible strength used, and is quickly held up by an incarnation of Vishnu – Kurma (the great turtle).

The gods and the demons churn like they would butter. A number of things came out of this process, including haalahala a devastating poison, amrita the nectar of immortality, the goddess Lakshmi, Chandra the moon, Dhanvatari the physician of the Gods and so on.

The gods and the demons prayed to Shiva to save them from the poison – the haalahala. Shiva took it into his mouth and held it in his throat. He didn’t swallow it. It was so strong that his neck turned blue. Hence one of Shiva’s names is Neelakantha (blue throated one).

The gods and the demons faught over the the amrita (nectar of immortality). Vishnu in the form of Mohini the enchantress tricks the asuras to obtain it and distributes it to the devas.

The devas needed the asuras to obtain the amrita. The asuras needed the devas. There is constant churning going on in our inner lives. And it is needed to progress, to evolve.

With proper guidance and good choices, understanding, compassion and love can come out of this inner work.

There’s a larger than life size statue depicting this story in the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok!

 

Change is Inevitable

It’s been a period of change, intermingled with feelings of pain and loss.

I cried. Yet I stand tall with my family.

There is suffering. Yet I know that this too shall pass. Change is inevitable.

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The Bhagavad Gita, a great text, came to mind. Krishna, the teacher of teachers guided Arjuna, a warrior in crisis, to do what he questioned. To understand that change is inevitable, as is death.

I have been listening to Richard Freeman’s Yoga Matrix over and over again lately, in my car as I drive around the island. His soothing poetic voice accompanies me to school, to the grocery store, to Muay Thai training and back home again.

He shares a story of the Buddha. A young mother whose baby died, goes to Buddha. Distraught. Her eyes alone ask the question, “why?” The Buddha asks her to take her baby and go to every household in the village, to see if she finds any house where death has not occurred. As she visits from one house to the next she realizes the universal phenomenon, that is impermanence.

And not only everyone we know will die, but so will we.

Change is inevitable.

The Magical Unicorns: A Poem by Leila Rose Kassar

She sat on the bed and was rehearsing something. All of a sudden she recited this poem of hers. Leila is quite the dramatic one!

Proud mummy moment:

A poem by Leila Rose Kassar

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The Magical Unicorns

High above the ground,
I sailed.
Helplessly. Helplessly.
Floating along in my abandoned boat.
Help! Help!
In the blink of an eye,
They appeared.

Elegantly flying across the sky.
But, what were they?
Gracefully spreading magic
Through the air.
As serene as a moonlit river,
Like rays in the water.
Their horns,
Colourful, magical, and glittery.

I didn’t know where I was going,
Yet, I didn’t care.

 

A Period of Exploration

I stopped teaching yoga and dance about two years ago. Around then I had started to blame others and myself for my drawbacks, my paranoia was heightening, and I was grieving a friend.

I felt that I was unfit to teach.

Luckily I could easily slip out of teaching without affecting anything or anyone. Except myself really.

I am beginning to realize that this might be a bit of a break, a phase, of searching for some direction and clarity. How long I will take before I start teaching again is part of the mystery. This space gives me time to parent, to be a partner, and be a little more clear about who I am.

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I have always felt the need to know myself better, to understand what my mind is upto and why. I feel lucky that I have had the chance to get into therapy, that I can continue listening to my yoga teachers and others via podcasts, continue growing by taking workshops etc, without any pressure of teaching and being a “correct example”. Whatever I had decided that really meant anyways.

I have gotten into different activities like Muay Thai and running to balance out my practices, slowly and subtely developing the “inner roar” and fitness I sometimes felt was missing.

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I am reading again after a long period of not being able to get into any of the books I would pick up. I am into various topics from self help books, to memoirs, to fiction.

I continue to start activities, stop, try again, then either continue or stop again. But now it feels more like an exploration, neither a victory nor a failure.

 

 

 

An Evening Together

My children continuously ask me to write about them on my blog. They look at old posts from a few years ago and find their stories funny and intriguing.

At this point though I am reluctant to go into detail, out of respect for their privacy. I am sure they’ll come back to me one day as young adults to complain about what I might write about them via this outlet 😉

They are now 8, still full of questions, the beginnings of little emotional drama, fights, and deepening friendships both between themselves and with others.

They asked specifically that I write about a lovely, simple family moment we shared yesterday – an evening on the beach competing who could throw stones into the sea the farthest, collecting bright, colourful, almost perfectly shaped sea shells, and walking in the breeze as the sun set. We ate pizza, drank wine, soda water, and juices.

Most of all it was a special moment being together, and importantly – present.

AE145D59-8216-440C-BD1F-8F64B0943DEDThe children sense it when we are around, especially when the gadgets are put away, that we are not in between chats with friends miles away or scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Nothing wrong with that, there is so much power in the technology we now have in accessing our family, friends, news and ideas, but it’s quite detrimental when we multitask on the phone while trying to engage with the kids. I do it much too often.

I try to be compassionate with myself,  knowing how hard it is to change habits. I try to take the time for myself everyday, to share moments with Maher regularly, to take time to connect with my people on the phone, and then exclusively spend time with the kids.

It’s all part of the practice.

I know when it’s working. It’s those rare moments that just feel right, when the underlying anxiety fades away.

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As much as my kids enjoy the time together, they are already asking “Why do we have to go out for dinner ‘the four of us’? Why don’t you and papa go out alone and let us stay home and watch Netflix?”

And yes, we have started doing that a little more frequently, going out just the two of us. The kids are growing up, and like a wise woman said to me yesterday after I shared this story with
her, “I hope you, mum and dad, have something meaningful to do when the nest is empty. That time is coming soon it seems!”

 

 

She is Compassion

“Have you seen my black top mum, the one with the short sleeves?” I scream across the corridor.

“Yes, top right of your cupboard, third one in the pile.”

That’s exactly where it was, but how did she know?!

“I’m going out with some friends this evening, can I have some money please?”

“Sure, when will you be back?”

“Oh, we’ll all come home for dinner, could you organize dinner for us?”

“OK. Many of your friends likel paneer.”

That’s a little bit of what our conversations with mum during our teenage years sounded like.

She rarely told us about herself. About her days selling clothes in the shop in Lusaka, how she took a 13 day ship journey at age two from Bombay to Dar es salaam with her mother, about her childhood in India living with her grandmother while her parents were working abroad in East Africa, about not really attending college, or about her mother’s passing.

Instead, she listened to us, she ran the household, and she kept her worries to herself.

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However, she did once tell us how her mother had called her and her younger sister home to East Africa in the middle of a school year. Urgently.

They flew on an Air India flight from Bombay to Nairobi to meet their mum for the last time. They didn’t know that.

My mum has one beautiful black and white framed photo of her mother in her closet that she guards preciously.

I was always intrigued by this grandmother I had never met. She had deep, dark eyes and a loving expression on her face.

I sat down today, to write something about compassion. What came out at first was uninteresting. But then I started to write about my mother and her mother.

It makes sense. My mother goes with the flow of life, she doesn’t dwell, she cries freely while watching emotional movies or during goodbyes. As much as she is embedded in her close-knit Indian community she stands strongly and firmly for her family.

We challenge her. Sometimes she is a step behind, but she quickly catches up and soon learns the moves better than us.

I feel that I have hurt her numerous times, she forgives sincerely.

She is compassion.

Why Write? Why Share?

I have been sitting with my anxiety and feelings of guilt, shame, and of being judged. Because writing like this lately, about things so deeply personal has left me feeling exposed. Me, the secretive, very personal one. I am trying not to push the anxiety away nor will I let myself run with it. I am watching it.

Questions pop up. Have I hurt someone? Have I used the story for my own benefit? Why am I writing these posts? Why am I sharing the story? For whom?

I wonder if every time an artist puts themselves “out there” they are faced with these anxieties. The artist who paints with all her heart, her pain, her joy, all mixed into the colors. What happens when that piece is exposed, for all to see, to applaud, to criticize, to question? Does she feel ripped apart, raw, naked?

I want to curl up into a little ball, and yet I am also free of the grips the stories has over me. I stand tall.

I want to write from that place. I try to express from a loving space. The grounding comes when there is some distance from the story I suppose.

The uneasiness I feel must mean in this case that I have said something worth saying. I want to continue, but with a clearer insight of why I do it.

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I am writing because I like to express myself. At this moment in time it is in the form or writing.

I am writing because it helps me sort through my thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

I am writing because one day my children will read this blog and have some insight into our stories.

I am writing to thank my family and friends for holding me up, for supporting me and loving me so dearly all these years. So much so I am overwhelmed.

I am writing and sharing to give permission to my family and friends to speak up too. (At least I like to think that)

I am intrigued by personal stories, sometimes challenging to share and yet they connect us to each other, they draw out our empathy.

But most importantly it is so that I can channel my thoughts and ideas, create something for myself and to share with others if it interests them.

I needed to articulate these reasons. So I can continue. So I know why. So I feel connected to myself.

A Hidden Depression

I always feared that I would be called weak if I expressed any vulnerability. So instead, I put on a “strong” face at all times. The stronger I appeared to be, the less anyone guessed at my inner sadness, feelings of isolation, or hopelessness.

Being third generation Southern Africans of Indian Gujarati descent we were pretty well integrated into Zambia. (Yet I still had identity issues which is a topic for another post!)

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I was attending the International School of Lusaka, and as a teenager, I was a straight A student, a member of the students council, on the swim team, a Bharatanatyam dance student and performer, a runner and so on. But I was always alone in my thoughts. Generally happily alone, but sometimes suffocatingly.

I developed an eating disorder. I was highly focused on controlling my intake and my exercise. If I ever felt that I overate I would force myself to throw up.

No one knew about this.

I remember thinking it might be good for me to see someone, to speak to someone, about my depressive thoughts and feelings. A fleeting thought. But it wasn’t something that was ever mentioned in my home or school milieu. It’s not usual in Zambia, to see a therapist or counselor, not usual for a South Asian to even mention it, let alone share information about it.

At the age of 15 after some contemplation I tried to take my life. Thankfully I failed. When I came-to that night, I was ashamed of what I had done and decided to move on strongly. I erased the memory of that experience from my mind.

I didn’t share it with a single person until many years later when I told my husband about it.

At 17, after graduating from secondary school, I needed out of Zambia. My parents gave me the opportunity to move to Montreal where I attended McGill university. Like a rather typical South Asian child, I imagined going on to medical school. Little did I understand that such a big move across the world might trigger depression. My grades weren’t good enough for a competitive medical school. I was barely managing to stay afloat. I put on weight. I missed my school friends.

But I trudged on. I never gave up entirely. In my second year I played squash on the varsity team, tried a few dance classes. I felt good that my brother and cousin also moved to Canada. In my third year I met my husband to be, Maher. After the fifth year I ended up with a degree in biology and economics.

After a two year long distance relationship I accompanied my then boyfriend to Lebanon. We then spent a few months in Russia where we decided to get married. After moving back to Lebanon where I tried to do a masters degree and dropped out, we moved to China, and now we are in Thailand.

In all those years of travel and experience I never asked for help. It wasn’t until I was 34, a wife, a mum of prematurely born twins, a yoga teacher, and suicidal again that I finally contacted a professional for help. When I did, I didn’t tell any of my family until I was hospitalized a year later. I was afraid of the reaction, I wasn’t sure I’d manage it if I was called weak, thought of as seeking attention, or if I was told that I was wasting my time.

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I hope more South Asians and others who grew up in Southern Africa for that matter, will open up and seek professional help from therapists, and psychologists when needed.

Stigma against mental health still runs deeply. I hope for this to change.

In my hope to share some of my stories, at first I was met with resistance, thankfully I didn’t give in to this. I feel that I know myself better for doing so. Since being hospitalized and  opening up and sharing in the last few months I have been received with love and kindness by my family and friends.

I was recently directed to an organization doing amazing work to break the stigma against mental health in South Asian communities. Please have a look at their work, connect with them on social media, listen to their pod casts, share with others.

mannmukti.org

Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask questions.