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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How to start your day happy in 7 easy steps

I love to start my day with a smile. So, I have a couple of happiness routines that I like to follow. 
Sit up. Pause. Contemplate.
The first thing that I do is I sit up, slowly and close my eyes, hold my palms up with love and gratitude as "Namaskar" to my Guru. 
Express gratitude. Thank Earth.
Before I step on the ground with my feet, I bend down and ask forgiveness and loving energy from Mother Earth for trampling on her all day. I convey my gratitude that the ground beneath my feet keeps me and my loved ones safe.

Sing a song over a cup of tea
And while I brew tea, I sing kirtans. If I don't sing kirtans, I play it on my phone so that the energy stays divine and hopefully, seeps into my first cup of tea. 
Rewind to the 80s' childhood days.
When I was growing up, I always woke up to a very cheerful, energized home environment.  My mother would be in the kitchen, cooking a nutritious breakfast and supervising every little detail - whether my dad's shirt was ironed, whether we as kids had packed our school bags properly, and so on. 
Play some music
The early morning ''suprabhatam" by MS Subbhalakshmi would be playing in the background, followed by my grandmother's favorite song 'Vadakkumnathaa sarvam nadakum nathaa' by Kerala's 'Gaana Gandharvan' Dr. K J Yeshudas.  
Choose to be happy
My parents had their share of struggles and troubles like every one else but the mornings in my home did not reflect that. I realize now how lucky I am to have parents who chose to be happy no matter what the difficulties are. 
There was more laughter, smiles and hugs in my home that played out more often than the music. It was beautiful. The problem was that I felt so happy at home that I didn't want to go to school.
We didn't have a luxurious life nor did we lack the comforts of a good life. But we were happy.
Set little reminder notes or quotes to stay happy
Today, like many working mothers, I don't always wake up with a smile. There is a ''things to do before I leave for work"list that plays a cat-and-mouse game in my head. But I try to stay in a realm of higher awareness till I set off for work. 
On difficult days, I fall back on my favorite notes. These are usually hand written quotes that I read somewhere and I would have scribbled it down. These always perk me up. I have stacks of such little notebooks at home. So, no worries about getting bored of the same set of quotes.
 Start the day with a big smile
I think the best gift that we can give ourselves and our families is to start the day with a big smile, lots of positive energy and create an inner setting that enables all of us to sail into the day,  with starry eyes. 
My gut feel is that when we consciously bring a 'happy morning' ritual into our life, it can boost our productivity, make it fun and we feel happier at the end of the day.
Life is full of uncertainties but when we are able to transmit energy waves of joy, it will inspire our children to excel at what they set out to do and perhaps some day, they may pass on the same "happiness"routine to their children too.
What's your happiness routine? I would love to hear about it - do drop a line and inspire me. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Stepping out of the comfort zone

The year began with a visit to Lord Tirupati Balaji, the Kalahasthi temple, followed by three unforgettable days in my favorite place - Puttaparthi. 

When I returned from the trip, it felt as though something had already changed within me - as though an important decision was being shaped by the Universe or a Higher force. 

But of course, I didn't realize it then, nor was I meant to. That hit me later.

I returned to my place of work, happily. Within a month, there were all the signs of a new beginning, literally. I stepped down from my comfort zone.

                                                                                                            (Image credit: Unsplash)
It wasn't easy for me to do. I was too comfortable in my job and within the space that I had created for myself.

Maybe the Rig Vedic mantras had done the magic, pushed me out of my comfort zone and propelled me to take a risk and to simply find the courage to grow up. [[Do read! Quiet: The POWER of Introverts and STRONG is the new Beautiful]

Yes, I quit my job. A good, comfortable job. [Do read: Hope is sometimes a crumb]

The most important thing is this: I am happy. [READ: Never, ever GIVE UP!]

That's all that matters, isn't it?

Now it's your turn: Have you ever done anything that made you wonder why you were stepping out of your comfort zone? Do you remember the feeling of release and lightness within that comes with letting go?

Write in to me. I'd love to hear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Book Review: Pervin Saket's novel 'Urmila' is a beautifully crafted, compelling story that you must read

At 4 AM, I almost fell asleep at the New Delhi airport while waiting for my flight to Bangalore. This is when Pervin Saket’s novel titled ‘Urmila’ caught my eye.

I was suddenly wide awake.

I was glued to the book ‘Urmila’ right from the moment I found my seat.

Pervin Saket’s novel ‘Urmila’ makes the reader pause and wonder after every chapter, “What’s going through Urmila’s mind now? What will happen next?”



Here’s a sentence that I particularly loved:

The moment a desire dies is a sharp one. As pointed as the splutter of a mustard seed, as shrill as a whine, as heavy as a star on a clear night.

Here’s another one:

Marriage is an act of balance. On the one hand, you feel right about something and you make a decision. On the other hand, once you decide, you make it right.

‘Urmila’ is a contemporary take on a woman’s inner journey and the physical experience of a loveless marriage, where her spouse is more devoted to his sibling.  The author has maintained a fine balance between delicacy and boldness in her crafting of the protagonists and the situations they undergo. More importantly, she has balanced it out in a way that even strong willed believers are not likely to call this a ‘blasphemous’ novel. 

The creative camouflage is brilliant.

Urmila’s strong willed personality shines throughout the book. 

Some excerpts that will connect you to Urmila's life:
         
Our house never saw roses or greeting cards, never knew the spark of a finger against a cheek, or the whiff of musky cologne. My mother never wore chiffon sarees and my father never seemed to notice the rustle of her clothes. In our tiny 1BHK, I slept between my parents every night.

At mealtimes, the bulky pressure cooker and aluminium pan were plonked on the dining table since serving bowls were wasteful. Old saris were made into quilts and pillow covers, new ones were wrapped away for special occasions that never came. Empty milk satchets were washed and Baba took rotis and sandwiches in them to office; all the offers on the cling-wraps and aluminium foils of the world could not tempt Baba.

How can we imagine Urmila’s life without the proverbial ‘Sita’? 

We are introduced to her cousin, Vani.

"Since the day Vani stepped into our lives, she maintained an air of being wounded. She was a victim in a world so cruel that it wouldn’t even afford her a culprit. It was in her stars, she demonstrated with each shrug and sigh. She was supposed to be one in a thousand who would carry the misfortunes of humanity on her shoulders...When she enthusiastically offered four different kinds of parathas for breakfast, it was the reflection of a wonderful person in a demanding set up....Puru had a thing for victims. He was privileged and didn’t know how to handle it in a world of sufferers. He was always petting stray dogs, packing extra vegetable rolls for beggars, installing more bird feeders around the housing society, coaxing the milkman’s son to appear for various entrance exams.....”

“Vani gnawed her way into our family, making herself indispensable to its stability. Perhaps it was her way of ensuring a place in a world that wanted to keep her at bay. No task was too big, no load too heavy, no food too complex, no shop too far, no night too late...Increasingly, she took over the kitchen.

Like every Indian girl, Urmila approaches marriage with anticipation but her cousin Vani steals the thunder. The family she marries into brings another set of social challenges that she has to tackle. None of this is as daunting as her husband’s indifference to her. Nothing she does pleases her no matter how hard she works in the kitchen.

An excerpt:

“I realized soon that my banter put him off. He liked me receded and ebbed. He liked me as a backdrop, beautiful and unobtrusive. My sight was too loud, my clothes too bright, my hair too untamed, my laughter too quick. I had to learn restraint...

“...he lived in the shadow of his older brother, and secretly preferred it that way. He was fixated with Puru in a manner that everyone else labelled ‘adulatory’ or ‘devotional’, but I saw through the euphemism. In truth, it was a baggage – a parasitic attachment. The filial blood didn’t just hold them together. It walled my husband from others. His conviction about Vani’s virtues was based on an irrefutable logic – she was attached to Puru, and hence embodied an extension of all his goodness....He only registered that Puru had chosen her, and so she was blameless. The higher she floated towards the realms of goodness, the more I was pushed down in Shree’s perception.

The turning point in Urmila’s life is when her husband leaves her, following the footsteps of his older sibling. Urmila sets off on a path of self-inquiry and in art, she find the ultimate solace.

Will Shree return to Urmila? Will they enjoy a happy married life? What about their children?

There are other disturbing questions the story of Urmila explores:
  • A woman who is abandoned by her husband – how does the society treat her? 
  • What social pretences continue to force her to appear and behave like a ‘married’ woman when she’s living single?
The characters of Puru, Vani and Shree come to life very briefly, but in a very unconvincing way that deflates a reader’s emotional engagement with them. As a reader, I would have liked to read more about their version of the story. Each version could have added a different layer to the one-sided portrayal of a failed marriage.

Excavating the inner journey of a woman who has been treated with indifference by her husband, Urmila brings to life a novel that explores a woman’s right to feel discontent with her married life and to pursue  happiness in a separate journey, in the way that she believes is right.

Urmila is a book that you MUST read.

Friday, March 18, 2016

So, what's wrong with being an introvert?

I have always liked being alone - be it at school, college, work, family get togethers. 

At other kids' birthday parties, the moms get together and talk about their in-laws, their spouses and children.  I feel like an alien. 

Ask me about the Indian economy or politics or books, I can still make an attempt at decent conversations. 

But no, the moms tend to talk about irregular periods and different colors of baby poo over a slice of cake, some bourbon biscuits and tea. That's when I am tempted to jump off from the nearest cliff. 

I have nothing that I want to share. That's the problem. 


                                                                        [Image: Unsplash]

I like being alone. What's wrong with it? 


I have tried to come out of my "shell" but I am happiest and at my most peaceful self when I am alone. I can be a fun person to hang out with when I am with my loved ones or close friends. 

This article by Deboshree sums up the dilemma of an introvert with disturbing accuracy:

"I have always been a quiet person. I operate best in less-talk-involved settings.It’s how you are; you can’t snap out of it." 

"Their (introvert's) unwillingness to chat you up all the time doesn’t imply antagonism, indifference or scorn. It only implies that they want some quiet time."

Word!

But I know one thing.

Whether we are introverts or not, we will be remembered for the crazy funny sort of happiness that we share with loved ones. 

That's good enough, I guess.

Monday, March 7, 2016

You should do this one thing every time you are worried or depressed

Our thoughts worry us all the time, especially about the future.

Sri Ramana Maharshi has these simple tips to tackle worries or depression:

1. Take the mind to its starting place again and again.

2. The mind exists only by reason of thought.

3. Stop the thought. Then there is no mind. [READ: How to control the quality of thoughts in your mind]



The meaning of this teaching is powerful - The Real You is Divine, untouched by sorrow, worry or any kind of suffering. 

Therefore, ask yourself when upset or worried, "Who is it that is angry/upset/hurt/worried? The real me is pure love energy, the real me is Divine."

Friday, February 26, 2016

You've got mail!

It turns out that a very dear friend's father is critically ill. I didn't have her number so, I checked Facebook to message her. It surprised me that I am no longer her friend. I still wanted to reach out to her anyway.

So, I sent her an e-mail:


                                    [Image credit: Unsplash]

"My dear.........,

I heard of your father not being well and I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that you are in my prayers and thoughts. I am certain that you will come out stronger as you have rock solid faith in God and that faith will keep you and your loved ones protected in these difficult times. You already know how blessed you are in God's gaze. Still, testing times come your way to help you grow stronger.

I do not consider Facebook as a barometer of friendship but it took me by surprise that I am no longer your friend on it. I respect your reasons for unfriending me yet I cannot help wonder if I may have caused you any pain that you felt forced to do so. If so, I seek your forgiveness because I am not aware of hurting you or having an intention to do so. How I ceased to be your friend offers me an opportunity for inner contemplation and fond remembrance of the wonderful memories and moments we shared when we first met and you were my first amazing friend in Delhi, whom I can never possibly forget.

My loving prayers are there for you and your family at this time. God bless you. If there is anything at all I can do to help, please reach out to me. 

Love & regards,
Swapna"

I don't know if my email will be read. I have done what feels right to me, deep inside my heart.

And that's what I want to convey to you, dear friend:

Explore the light in your heart. 

Do what you feel is right. 

That feeling in your heart, it's your light. Let it shine!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day at School

The best moments in a mom's life are when she spends time with her child. 

So, here I am at the school carnival on Valentine's Day, holding up that heart cut-out and wearing a tiara of pink roses the girls in his school insisted that I wear on my head.



 Never felt so silly and funny and happy - all in a day!

As the wise ones say, "C'est la vie."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Malayalam Actress Kalpana: Keep Shining Your Light among the Celestial Stars

A colleague called out to me, from the news desk, "Did you see this breaking news, Swapna?"

I froze when I saw the breaking news that read: "Kalpana dead."

My first thought was, "There's been some mistake, this can't be true." 

But this news turned out to be true. 

Many actors in the Malayalam film industry are still in a state of shock on hearing this news. People from all walks of life are paying emotional tributes to her. She was an accomplished actress but that's not the only reason why people love her. She mingled with people easily and warmly. She showed love and warmth to everyone she met. 

Like hundreds of Malayalam movie goers, I too grew up watching many of Kalpanachechi's comedy sequences. 




Charlie was her last film, she had a heart wrenching role in it as 'Queen Mary'.  I had closed my eyes in the scene where she embraces death. 

As actor Prithviraj tweeted, "What a sign-off in Charlie!"



My brother Manoj B Menon is like a sibling to her. Kalpana chechi and her mother had visited my home in Palluruthy a few times. In her interactions with my parents, she was simple, almost child-like and full of humility. She was Swami's devotee and longed to hear about Swami. She also liked to take Swami's vibhuti's packets that are kept in our puja room from my father. 

My mother jokingly told her, "In person, you are like a college girl. But in films, you come across very differently."

She agreed with my mother and said that people who met her for the first time make the same observation about her personality. 

When she was in Delhi to receive the national award for the best actor in a supporting role, I spoke to her for the first time on the phone. 

She was full of happiness, almost child like. She said that she feels great to share the moment with her daughter. She jokingly said that her mother sat up all night to complete reading my book and gave all of them "lectures" based on it.  Then, she lovingly told me to keep writing and I told her that it means a lot to me that she had said so.

She also told me that whenever she heard my father talk of Swami, she felt Swami's presence around her. 

Then I told her that I am writing another book on Swami and would like to document her experiences as a Sai devotee. She said, "Why not? Lets meet next time in Kochi. My mother will have many experiences to share."


Her bubbly voice and positive energy humbled me.

She apologized for not meeting in Delhi as she had a meeting with the President and a few other commitments in New Delhi. We agreed to meet the next time we are both in Kochi - a meeting that never happened. 


What touched me was her humility. She valued people, no matter who they are and she gave respect to every individual she met. 


Kalpana chechi, rest in peace. We will always miss the joyous laughter and love you brought into our hearts and homes. 

But you live on in our hearts.



Shine on, Kalpana chechi. Your place is among the stars. Keep smiling and shining your light among the celestial stars. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to control the quality of thoughts that arise in the mind

For those of you who wrestle with thoughts and want to do some quality control, Eknath Eashwaran's book, Conquering the Mind is a good reference. [DO READ: Signs of Progress in Meditation ]

Here's what kept me glued to Eknath Eashwaran's book:

1. You get practical examples of how to control the quality of thoughts that arise in your mind. [Do READ: How Raja Yoga unites Mind Power with Cosmic Power]

2. Simple but useful tips for meditation. [BONUS READ: What happens within you when you meditate ]

3. The daily challenges we face when we try to control the quality of thoughts that arise in the mind are dealt with using simple examples. 




As a working mother, the most important takeaway for me is this: I have seen a positive change in my 9-year-old son when I cite Eknath Eashwaran's 'quality control' arguments to him.  It makes sense to him.

Using specific tips from this book, it is possible to instil the habit of training children to watch the quality of  thoughts that arise in the mind.

Are there books that you would recommend on this subject?

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