The Amygdala Hijack!

The Amygdala Hijack!

I am tense. I am racing to meet my report deadline before I can get dinner started… the doorbell rings. Vexed at the interruption, I get up hurriedly. The tea spills. I rescue my papers and start mopping the spill… The bell goes off again. And I… lose it. I shout at the delivery guy, the bag breaks as I grab it, potatoes and tomatoes tumble out. Kicking them aside, I slam the door. Hot and bothered, raging and fuming, I get back to work. I send the report finally. As I get dinner going and lay the table, I am not too happy with myself. I am troubled by the realization that I did not handle the situation well. Why did I get so angry? Why did I shout at the man? Why did I create such a ruckus?

Because I let myself get hijacked by my amygdala.

Amygdala is the lower part of the brain that kicks into action when something evokes intense emotions within us. When I heard the doorbell ring, a wave of emotions coursed through me ~ irritation, annoyance, anxiety, anger, frustration, panic… My amygdala, conditioned since times immemorial to evoke the fight-or-flight response in the face of threat, made me react impulsively and intuitively, without giving me time to weigh all possible options and their consequences. A response which I much regretted later.

***

Quite a few of us get easily bothered. When anything goes any other way than we expect, we fly off the handle. We lash out. Sometimes, we sulk and withdraw. Why? Why do we hop on to the emotional rollercoaster at the smallest of things?

When all we need to do is: PAUSE. Take a deep breath. Count to 10.

When we press the pause button, we get precious milliseconds to take in what is happening and track our feelings and thoughts. Slowing down awakens the pragmatic centers of our brain so that we can thinkingly respond to the provocation rather than unconsciously react to it. As celebrated psychotherapist Victor Frankl says, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When the bell rang, I could have paused and accepted the fact that I had no other option but to attend to it. I could have gotten up quietly, taken the groceries calmly, and gone back to work mindfully without letting the interruption play havoc with my mind. And I would have felt great about completing my work on schedule.

***

I have to admit, I easily tend to ‘lose it’. And every time, it leaves me distressed. And also horrified by the kind of example I am setting for my children. What will they learn from a trigger-happy mom?

Fortunately, my children understand me and my weaknesses and point out when I go overboard in my reactions… Mom, there was no need to shriek at the maid when she came in late or holler at us when we didn’t clear the table or thunder at the telemarketer or burst out when that man jumped the queue…

And I realize that it is entirely up to me. The ball is in my court. I have to change my emotional irrational self into a sensitive thoughtful one. For me, this has become top priority.

So I have defined a protocol for myself. Admitting my weakness to myself has been the first step… But instead of filling my mind with negativity and indulging in self-defeating inner talk, I have made a commitment to myself: that I will be less easily bothered, especially by small things. I have taught myself to recognize the triggers that make me go at the world with a dagger. The moment I begin to make a go for the kill, I pull myself back sharply with a “There I go again!” And once I am able to delay my outburst and give myself time to think, I automatically react sanely. Needless to say, my sense of achievement is huge.

And though I still ‘lose it’ once in a while, I am sure my family has noticed (and appreciate) my progress in the right direction. As for me, I am calm, collected, in control. AND Happier.

A Ha-Ha-Happy Family!

It was evening by the time we were done with the ceremonies and celebrations of our daughter Tanvi’s wedding. The day had begun early when Garvit (the groom) arrived with his family and friends; breakfast, the formal welcome, jaimala, pheras, and lunch took up most part of the day; and now it was time for the bride and groom to leave for their family home in Jaipur, 200 miles away. Tanvi hurried off to change into her going-away dress, accompanied by her aunt Malini.

I followed a while later to check on them… and found Malini frantically trying to unclasp Tanvi’s silver anklets… Hurriedly, I joined in… the task becoming a Herculean one for two overweight ladies in heavy silk sarees and high heels, our contact lenses making it impossible to focus on the tiny clasps…

Thankfully, Akshay, my son, walked in just then. Akshay got into action immediately. Placing Tanvi’s foot on a large stool, he bent to examine the anklets, resting his knee on the stool while I and Malini, precariously balanced, held up the folds of Tanvi’s lehenga for him to see better… when the stool broke knocking the three of us down to the floor!

In stunned disbelief, we looked at each other, and then! Burst out laughing! We laughed and laughed and laughed giving vent to the hectic busy-ness and excitement of the day! We rolled on the floor laughing our heads off, forgetting, for those few wonderful moments, that everyone was waiting in the hallway to send the bride away! And creating a precious memory to remember and laugh at again. And again.

***

The sound of laughter is the happiest sound for me. And I love to laugh… loudly with all my heart, and often, hysterically till tears roll down my face (much to the embarrassment of my family)!

Scientists say we learned to laugh in groups much before we acquired the ability to speak… no wonder laughing is so natural, so instinctive for us. Infants begin to smile and laugh within months of being born, children find humor in the simplest and smallest of things. Adults, though, in their struggle to cope with daily concerns and hardships, somehow lose this spontaneity… Come to think of it, can you remember the last time you laughed? Really laughed? Whereas it is precisely after a tough day that the need for a good laugh is most urgent…

Because something special happens when we laugh together, doesn’t it? We feel good when we laugh. Sadness, anxiety, anger disappear. Laughter fosters closeness, diffuses conflict, eases frustrations and tensions. Humor helps us cope and deal with disappointments and difficult situations.

Victor Borge, famous comedian-musician, says, “Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” Laughter signals that we are in it together ~ in good times and difficult times and that we accept each other as we are, faults, weaknesses, shortcomings and all. And the happy feeling remains long after the laughter subsides.

When I laugh, I feel myself coming alive with joy and energy and everything around me feels just great. They say laughter is a great work out for every system in the body, and that it lowers sugar levels, improves blood circulation, releases feel-good hormones, boosts immunity, and helps us sleep… what better medicine than laughter? And what better stuff than laughter to bring home?

No wonder healthy homes are filled with sounds of laughter. After all, what would life be without laughter?

***

There is no reason why we should not laugh many times a day. Laughter runs riot in homes where moms, dads and kids jest and jive and joke together; when they rib each other or play pranks; when they revisit funny incidents from the past; when they tease or trick, when they pass witty remarks and ripostes; when they have boisterous pillow fights or roughhouse it; when they act out comic dramas and spoofs; when they share funny videos and memes or when they are simply idiotic!

One person who almost always brings happy laughter into our home is our son Akshay. A keen observer, Akshay has the amazing knack of relating small everyday things in a manner which has us in splits instantly. Even Atul, my husband, who usually takes time to see humor in a situation, can never resist a hearty guffaw at Akshay’s amusing portrayal of life.  

I myself don’t mind being silly or poking fun at myself or giving a crazy response as long as it makes my family laugh… and I am inordinately pleased when exaggerated tales of my foolishness bring unrestrained laughter at the dinner table!

Here’s to bringing joy and delight into our homes!

PS: And in case you are wondering what happened to Tanvi’s anklets, well, we just left them on her feet, and Tanvi went jingling and jangling all the way to Jaipur!

Into the Wild

Very few films touch a deep chord within us… Into the Wild is one such film. I watched it last weekend and it has been on my mind since. The film has affected me profoundly and I need to share my thoughts…

Into the Wild tells the real life story of a bright young man Chris McCandless from a well-heeled family in Virginia. The film, adapted from Jon Krakauer’s book by the same name and brilliantly directed by Sean Penn, is narrated by Chris’s younger sister Carine aided by notes from his journal.

After graduating from Emory University in 1990 with good grades, Chris severs ties, in one swift move, with the life he has known until then. He donates his savings, destroys all traces of his existence, rechristens himself Alexander Supertramp, and goes hitchhiking across North America.

Inspired by the wilderness tales of Jack London, and the reflections of Henry David Thoreau on living simply in natural surroundings, Chris sets off to find ultimate freedom as a child of Earth. With a firm belief that money and power are an illusion, his eventual aim is to travel to the wilds of Alaska, far from the trappings of modern civilization, where he can kill  ‘the false being within’ and become ‘lost in the wild.’

***

Chris finally makes his way to the rough Alaskan bush in April 1992 and sets up camp in an abandoned bus which he calls ‘The Magic Bus.’

He lives simply. He hunts and forages for food, reads books, maintains a journal of all that he sees and thinks and feels and does. He finds joy in the isolation and beauty of his surroundings, each new experience assuaging his spirit beyond words. At long last, it seems, Chris’s quest for peace and happiness is complete.

***

As the story unfolds, we learn that Chris and his sister Carine have had a troubled childhood marked by their parents’ sordid and abusive relationship. His father’s volcanic, hair-trigger rage frequently erupted into vitriolic verbal outbursts and physical assaults on their mother; Chris too being the recipient of his dad’s derision and disparaging remarks. His parents’ unhappy marriage and the hypocritical life they epitomize, their deceit and lies, their unhappiness and discord with each other leave Chris heartbroken.

Things come to a head when Chris visits distant relatives in California and learns that his father has a son from a previous marriage and that he had still been married to his first wife when he and his sis were born. His father’s infidelity and the inference that both he and his sis are ‘bastard children’ affects him deeply. He feels his family is founded on a web of lies… Soulfully, he paraphrases his idol Henry Thoreau, “Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.”

My heart weeps for young Chris when he says, “Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.” And this is what he does… he removes himself from the toxic situation at home and disappears into the wilderness… never to return.

***

But…

Isn’t home that one place on earth where we are (or rather, should be) the happiest? Where one is the most loved, the most cared for, the most comfortable, the most secure?

The shelter that remains constant in life and free from all negativity? The space where we feel the best about ourselves? The umbrella under which children thrive and grow into happy, balanced and confident adults?

And…

Isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to create such a haven for their children? To invest time and energy into their marriage, interact with mutual affection, appreciation and admiration, and resolve their conflicts prudently so that their children see their togetherness and grow up to raise happy families of their own?

The volatile relationship of Chris’s parents could hardly have created a loving and caring atmosphere for the McCandless children. Throughout the film, we see snippets of his dad ridiculing Chris over small things, discouraging him from trying new things, and criticizing him for the smallest mistakes. And we can only imagine its harsh impact on Chris’s self-image and self-esteem.

Any wonder that once Chris graduates, he escapes the harm within his home and sets out to seek happiness in the empty spaces of Alaska? He sees himself not as homeless, but as a man freed from home.

***

Chris spends almost four months ~ 113 days to be exact ~ in his ‘magic bus.’ Soon after his arrival, spring arrives. However, finding game or edible roots and berries becomes increasingly difficult… Chris grows leaner and weaker day by day…

He realizes that nature can be harsh and uncaring too, and after a couple of months, tries to go back to civilization only to find his route blocked by the swollen, raging river…

Back in the bus, Chris resigns to his fate… As his strength ebbs, he records: Happiness is only real when shared… a realization which runs contrary to his earlier conviction that joy of life does not necessarily come from human relationships. Finally he realizes that life has meaning only when we can share it with someone… something he finds out far too late.

As death looms near, Chris finally acknowledges his true identity ‘Christopher Jonathan McCandless’ in his farewell note. Lying in the bus such that he can look up at the open sky, he sees himself home again, happy and smiling, running up to his parents and embracing them.

At long last, he ceases to hate them, forgives them, and in doing so, finds peace… and as he breathes his last, the sun breaks through the clouds and shines on him.

***

Long after seeing this spell-binding film, I am filled with deep regret. Grief at the futility of it all. Anguish for all that could have been.

As a mother, my heart bleeds for young Chris aching for truth and love and understanding. If only he could have had a home which was truly ‘sweet.’

If only.

Walking the Walk!

Becoming a parent is a joy.

A challenge. A learning. A sacrifice. An experience which is exhausting, humbling, rewarding… and much more.

A child emerges from the womb like molten glass from a furnace, says historian Yuval Noah Harari, and can be spun, stretched and shaped freely. And as the first caretakers of the baby, parents play an unparalleled and unforgettable role in laying the foundation of their child’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior.

***

Children watch everything their parents do. They are watching us when we meet others, they are listening to us when we speak with others and they know exactly what we are thinking… And they learn from what we do. The younger they are, the more cues they take from us. Our ideas, our inclinations, our actions become integrated into their being. Our good behavior gets picked up. So does our not-so-good conduct. Whether we like it or not, our children see our example as a pattern for the way life is to be lived. So what we do matters. It really does.

***

I know that my habit of meeting people, even strangers, with love and warmth and open acceptance comes from my dad… as does my instinct to hurl anything within reach in blind rage! From my mom, I have learned to be content with whatever I have without feeling deprived… She raised us on limited savings while my dad worked on his dream of creating a thesaurus in Hindi for 20 long years. When I am worried, when I am in turmoil, a feeling of calm practicality pervades me because, thanks to my mom, I truly believe that things will be fine in the end.

My daughter often complains about the time and effort she puts in when she has guests over. And yet she does. Willingly. Because she has always seen me do the same. Come to think of it, I remember my mom-in-law going out of her way to make her stuffed karelas for my dad or get my mom’s favorite cookies when they visited. Even today, in her advanced years, she goes the extra mile to make guests feel especially welcome. And in all likelihood, my daughter’s daughter will pick this habit from her!

The truth is, at every moment, we are setting some kind of an example for our children. Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Our actions, both good as well as not-so-good, are seen and factored into our children’s consciousness.  That is why children of happily married parents have a greater chance of finding the same satisfaction in their relationships. If parents abuse alcohol or drugs, their children are more likely to be addicts too. Disrespect, carelessness, aggression, unruly behavior, greed are all learned from parents as are honesty, compassion, generosity, dedication and sense of responsibility. How our children handle stress and frustration in their life, how they respond to problems, how they treat other people or deal with responsibilities and mistakes is modelled on our approach to life.

“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk,” remarked legendary psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He knew you can’t simply tell your kids what to do—you must lead by example. Any contradiction in what we say and what we expect is easily picked up by our children. For instance, how can I demand that my son pay attention to me when I myself keep interrupting him all the time? Or ask him to quieten down when I am always hollering at people? Or get my daughter to go to the gym when I don’t look watch my weight?

One successful strategy my husband and I have always tried to follow is to create the right milieu in the home for desired behaviour. For example, we have always wanted our children to be avid readers ~ we have kept them surrounded by books, journals and magazines, and both of us read a lot… and true enough, by and by, both our children have taken to serious reading!

***

Indeed. Parents are a link – a vital link – in the process of life. The way we have seen our parents live and conduct themselves has greatly influenced the way we are as also the manner in which we have brought up our children. Our children, in turn, will, by example, imbibe the same in their children! Parents shape the family legacy for generations to come! A huge responsibility indeed.

Here’s to being the role model our children deserve. Cheers!

Hey Nate, How’s Life?

 

“Hey Nate, how’s life?” raps singer-songwriter NF as Akshay drives me home one day…

Akshay, can you put on some Hindi music, one song please? Mom, listen to this one, it’s very good… and resignedly, I sit back as the popular American rapper pelts out words from his latest album The Search. And, surprisingly, it begins to make sense…

 

The song is all about Nate Feuerstein (NF) as he examines the relevance of his existence and goes on a  ‘search’ for peace. He seeks to renounce fame acquired from endless shows and yearns to find hope and peace on a journey which he knows will be long and painful. Moved by his intense story, I realize that I have quite enjoyed the song, almost as much as Akshay.

And this is how it has always been. My children, Tanvi and Akshay, now 29 and 23, have introduced me to films, music, shows that I would never have considered watching in my wildest dreams. In fact, I would have remained blissfully unaware of their existence if not for them!

***

I am filled with nostalgia when I remember watching their childhood favorites ~ The Lion King, A bug’s Life, Baby’s Day Out, Sound of music, The Parent Trap… and then later, Tanvi’s romcoms ~ You’ve Got Mail, Wedding Planner, He’s Just Not That Into You, Sweet Home Alabama and soooo many others… and Akshay’s obsession with the Pirates of Caribbean series (he made me watch the first one six times!), Harry Potter, Batman and Avengers!  And surprisingly, they became my favorites too! Now, years later, I revisit these movies on my own and enjoy them all over again!

Avril Lavigne to Shakira to Beyonce I have heard them all; C21’s ‘You are stuck in my heart’ seems as poignant and melodious today as it did twenty years ago; Linkin Park’s In the End still fills me with despair with its haunting lyrics ‘I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter…’ I remember shedding tears with Akshay when the band’s lead vocalist Chester Bennington died suddenly and shockingly in 2017!

We have sung the theme song from “Phantom of the Opera” at the top of our voices, music effects and all; we have hurled abuse from Pirates of the Caribbean “You scurvy dog!” at each other in jest and in temper; we have wondered whether Leonardo is still orbiting in his dream or has woken up…

***

To be honest, I can’t say I loved everything we watched together, or even most of it. Many a times, I would be woken rudely if I fell asleep during an episode at 2:30 am or scolded for asking questions during the movie or reproached for forgetting minor details… Yet, I will always be thankful because it fulfilled a larger role: it gave me the opportunity to forge common ground with my children.

As our children venture out and their interests go beyond ours, one of the ways to be in sync with them is to watch what they watch, sing what they sing, and do what they do. Or at least be an active participant in whatever interests them. When I think back on the time spent together discussing story lines, analysing characters, picking out flaws, speculating about sequels… I realize that it gave us common stuff to think about, talk about, joke about, wonder about… it made me a part of my children’s world. It helped me appreciate the way they think, the things that influence them, motivate them and sway them; their inspirations, their aspirations.  It helped them understand me better.  Our togetherness created a lifelong channel of open, uncritical and non-judgmental communication between us.

After all, isn’t the highly lamented ‘generation gap’ nothing but the inability of parents and children to find common ground?  And their failure to look at things from the other viewpoint? A communication gap that creeps in with age and time, inevitably?

A gap that can be bridged when parents enter and see their children’s world… as I did?

Here’s to being a part of our children’s life! Cheers!

bridging-communication-gap

 

 

MOMMY DIARIES ~ It’s Raining!

RAIN_0

It’s raining this afternoon. As I sit writing this, my mind goes back to the times when both my children, Tanvi and Akshay, were growing up in the early 2000s. Afternoons were nicely busy ~ lunch, homework, milk-time, Small Wonder on TV before rushing down to play with friends and then coming home to dinner and bed…

Monsoon afternoons were especially beautiful. As the skies darkened and thunder rolled, as Gulmohar flowers blew past our windows and rain began to fall… we would shout out: Let’s Go!

And we would rush, through the balcony, up the spiral staircase on to the third floor terrace… And there we would be in the rain: the three of us, faces upturned, hands widespread, taking in the sight and sound and smell of rain all around! Akshay jumping up and down, Tanvi pirouetting, I singing…

Not a soul in sight, not a care in the world. The thunder, the lightning, the drenched trees, the green lawns and the road a long stretch of puddles and gulmohar petals! We would bathe in the deluge, coming in only after the last shower.

I would quickly change, put on some masala tea, and rush out for samosas from the shop at the corner… and the three of us ~ refreshed, rejuvenated & restored ~ would end our happy tryst with rain with hot samosas and chai!

It is these moments of shared joy that live with us forever, binding us even when we are far away from each other. It is such memories of love and togetherness that cocoon our children and keep them safe and secure and sure of themselves when they are out in the world at large.

And as parents, it is up to us to make warm memories with our children. The children may probably not remember what we say to them, but they definitely recall things we do together ~ the pillow fight, the Batman movie, the silly song we sang in the car, the jaunty camel ride, the mad pub-hopping spree, the tickling session in bed, the impromptu picnic in the park… When we create such moments, our children themselves experience and become capable of sharing the same with their loved ones.   

Here’s to creating happy memories with our children!