REBOOT @50

REBOOT @50

With every passing year, our circumstances change, our aspirations change, our priorities change… and life? Life adjusts accordingly.

At 20, I was a student looking to complete my education, begin a career, get married. At 25, I was married with a baby girl and working with an international NGO. At 30, I had crossed over from the field of health & nutrition to hard core consumer research. At 35, I was a mother of two and had given up my full time job to work from home. At 40, I took up my passion for writing, wrote on health for newspapers and magazines and authored a book on nutrition. At 45, I set up a firm for publishing our in-house dictionaries and thesauruses.

At 50, my children had flown the nest, and it was just me and my husband at home… We spent more time with our parents and friends, travelled, ate out, attended plays & exhibitions, binge-watched TV shows… a refreshing change from the time-bound commitments of earlier years.  

It also gave us a lot of time to think. To think about ourselves. What did we want as individuals? As a couple? As a family? What direction did we now want our life to take? More importantly, how could we prevent ourselves from sliding into a comfortable existence with only memories and remembrances to bring joy? How could we ensure that we had something to look forward to every single day?

This thinking-through process was especially important for me. I had spent the last 20 years working from home in the mornings and then being with the children when they were back from school. Now I had the entire day to myself. How could I make my days more meaningful, more purposeful?

It was now time. Time to review, renew, refresh. Time to reboot.

*

Something the American talk show host Oprah Winfrey frequently talks about finds complete resonance within me.

Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are, and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. That’s why you’re here.

Oprah Winfrey

Inspired, I dug deep within me. I asked myself: What do I really want to do for the next 10, 20, and 30 years of my life? What gives me true happiness? What aspects of my life do I need to change? What flaws do I see in myself? How can I align myself more with the world around me? And the answers set me off on a path of self-actualization wherein I have done the following:

1       I have reignited my spark for learning.

I have become passionately curious. I am all eyes and ears for news on politics, economics, technology, business, health, fashion… I realize that being up-to-date helps me understand the world we live in, it empowers me to participate in conversations freely and knowledgeably.

To stay intellectually alive, I try to expand my knowledge every which way I can ~ meeting new people; reading newspapers, magazines, and books; listening to podcasts and talks; watching YouTube videos, films, documentaries and TV shows; participating in workshops and master classes… I now seek to learn from each person I meet, every interaction I have, anything I come across. So that I never ever become outdated.

2      I have become more social.

Nothing de-stresses more than the company of people we like and vibe with. I have reconnected with long-lost friends from childhood, teachers from school, colleagues of yesteryears. I now mingle with them regularly ~ heart-warming interactions over coffee or a meal or on whatsapp. I do more ‘together’ things with them ~ zumba, dance, mah-jong, movies, short holidays and such.

I have also begun volunteering within our community, something unimaginable five years ago!

3      I have taken charge of my health.

I have – with considerable success – shaken myself out of my comfort zone and begun to focus on improving my eating habits, exercising seriously, resting adequately, getting health checks regularly and whatnot. And believe me, the sense of satisfaction is beyond description.

4      I have tried to become a better version of myself.

I have finally begun applying the self-help gyaan I have been reading over the last so many years. (Richard Carlson remains my favorite author till date… his Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series suggests simple daily changes for leading a more fulfilled and peaceful life.)

For instance, I am – slowly but surely – making peace with imperfection and becoming more tolerant; letting go and accepting others as they are; talking less, listening more; becoming more compassionate, more kind, more helpful…  Most importantly, I have become less rigid in my likes and dislikes and more open to change.

My self-improvement list is endless… but a beginning HAS been made. I now get along with the world more easily, more amicably.

5       I try to make every day count.

Every day is important and I try to include all that I consider essential in my day – work, fun, rest, exercise, socializing… so that when I go to bed, I can happily (and honestly) tell myself that the day had been meaningful and that tomorrow will be even better.

*

Given the improved quality of life and advanced health care in our times, I genuinely believe that the 50-70 year category is the new middle age. And this definitely merits a major re-think of our life as we turn 50.

Each one of us is unique. And the path we choose for ourselves will also be unique. But choose we must. So that the next few decades can be as full of energy as the decades gone by. With no regrets for the ‘roads not taken’.

The very fact that I have been able to identify my path fills me with great joy. The knowledge that I am moving along my chosen path fills me with an intense sense of fulfilment.

And I look forward to my next REBOOT@60!

I can do MORE…

“I could have done more.”

No person should ever have this regret at any point in life, especially in the later years. Not one of us should feel pangs of remorse for time lost, things not done, opportunities foregone, chances not taken. While we still could. But didn’t.

I am not a philosopher. Or an enlightened soul. I do not understand why I have come into this world; I do not know what will happen to me after I die. The only thing I know for certain is that I am alive. And that I want to make the most of my time on earth, that I want to lead a life that is meaningful. So that later when I look back, I can truthfully say to myself, “I made the most of my life.”

***

Life is a collection of days. And every single day is important. What we do each day, little by little, shapes our life. And we need to do as Robin Williams famously says as the English teacher in the 1989 American film Dead Poets Society: Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!

Yes. Every day matters. Every moment counts. Because it is only right here, right now, that things get done. The past is long gone, the future is yet to come… Only the present exists. The present is in our hands, the present is all that matters, and soon… the present too shall pass.

The present is like the dewdrop… and will be gone soon, as if it had never been.

***

So then why do we spend so much time of the day lost in our thoughts? When our body works on autopilot? When life passes by in a haze?

For instance, did you note, as you made your way to work today, the freshness in the air after last night’s rain ? The lilies bordering the sidewalk? The trees dappling orange gold in the evening sun? The happy laughter of the kid next door?

This autopilot mode when we go about the day’s work unaware of the present is what Psychology Professor Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University calls ‘mindless moments,’ moments when one is so trapped in thoughts that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what is happening right now. When we become a victim of time and our mind is everywhere but ‘here.’ When our thoughts are on what has been/could have been or what can be/will be. And we become so mindless, Dr Langer explains, we stop paying attention to things around us.

Can one enjoy the weekend if our mind is already thinking about Monday? Or laugh gaily with a friend if we keep remembering how she let us down last year?

Whereas we need to do the opposite. Because only when we are engaged with the external world and its sights, sounds and smells, and pay attention, at the same time, to our innermost thoughts, feelings and sensations, can we enjoy what is happening NOW. Only then can we hope to find happiness in life.

***

A profound concept. But difficult to follow as our monkey mind vaults from thought to thought constantly. And we have to wrench it to remain focussed in the present. So that we can enjoy every moment, relish it, savor it, luxuriate in it, delight in it.

Only when we let go and lose ourselves in the moment, can we enjoy it. See how it relaxes us, how woes and worries melt away, how uncertainties and insecurities disappear, how self-esteem and confidence return, and we can interact with others positively and productively.

***

Life in the moment moves quickly — and I try not to miss it. I try to pay attention to the ordinary things around me. I try to stay focussed on the task at hand. Consciously. With total involvement.

When I wake up, I peep out and take in the dewiness of the morning; as I walk in the park, I direct my attention to the loosening of my back and stretch in my muscles; as I hold my tea, I note the warmth seeping in from the cup; as I cook, I keep my thoughts trained on the cutting, chopping, stirring and serving; when I bite into my sandwich, I feel its texture and savor its flavor; when I write, I block off all external sounds and focus on translating my thoughts into words… When I notice my mind wandering, I repeat to myself, “Now. Now. Now.” And pull myself back.

And I try to carry this mindfulness through the day while watching my daily sitcom or listening to music or discussing plans with others or playing with our golden retriever or shopping or simply relaxing. I go along with the experiences ~ pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad ~ simply because that is what is present, that is all there is, nothing else.

And when I lie down at night, I let go completely. I feel my body sinking into the mattress and appreciate how good it feels. I breathe deeply. And realize that all the happiness is right here, right now, in the present moment. I tell myself: Today was a day well-spent. Tomorrow will be a new day, a day when I can do as much, when I can do MORE.

Solitude by chance

We are surrounded by people all the time. Even when alone, rings and pings of the phone keep us bound to the world outside. Moments of quietude are rare… and longed for longingly. I found my share of true solitude in southern Italy last winter. Unexpectedly.

Atul and I had set off to explore the Amalfi coast which is a series of cliffs that plunge steeply into the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea. We drove along the mountain edge, the narrow road curving in and out, past small towns with their pastel-colored houses and piazzas, the blue sea on our right, deep down below us.

The coastline is dotted with numerous caves partially submerged in the sea. Small openings in the walls allow light to enter through the water and flood the cave with amazing shades of blue and green. The Grotto dello Smeraldo or the Emerald Cave, our first stop, is one such cave. A hundred odd steps took us down to the jetty from where a boat would take us into the cave. Winter being off-season, the jetty was totally deserted and the ticket man went off in search of the boatman.

I wandered down the last few steps and looked out at the sea. The sun was already high in the sky, shining down on the waves as they lapped gently against the rocks. I settled down on the last step, enjoying the pleasant warmth of the winter sun.

The water stretched endlessly before me, sunshine turning the blueness of the sea into molten silver. Time seemed to stand still. I sat there lost watching the play of the sun on the waves, barely aware of the faint sounds of cars on the road above. Immersed in the moment. Unmindful of time or thought. In sync with the sea and the sky and the sun… the elements coming together with my inner self, binding us forever.

I hugged the moment of complete solitude to me, wonderfully alive, filled with unexplained joy.

***

Back home, many months later, the memory of those moments comes unbidden to me… I see again the sea stretching in front of me, the waves moving, the light dancing… and I am alone once again filled anew with remembered calm and peace. With renewed energy, I turn to engage with the world over again.

an unexpected moment of solitude

PS: Would you like to share your moment of solitude?

In search of Happiness…

nicole_Happiness_Workplace

Idle curiosity last summer made me post on FB: Happiness is…

Because aren’t we all looking for happiness? The reason why we get up every morning, work, love, have a family, buy stuff, socialize, study, exercise, entertain, travel, play… As the Dalai Lama puts it: The very motion of our life is towards happiness.

My friends’ insightful responses made me pause, ponder, and explore further…

Sure. Great films, amazing food, meeting friends, good books, all leave that pleasant warm glow within us we call ‘happiness.’ Which makes life worthwhile. For me, there is no greater joy than sharing golgappas with my daughter or watching an Avengers film with my son or simply sitting with a cup of tea. Yet, these moments are brief, short-lived. Isn’t happiness something greater? Something that pervades our soul on a more sustained basis through life?

*

My friends definitely think so. They say happiness is a state of mind. A sense of well-being. An appreciation of life.  That it is in the mind and comes from within. And that nobody can come and give us happiness… we have to seek it… on our own. That happiness is a choice we make, a decision we take. AND. We can train our mind to learn happiness! We just need to be aware of where and how to find it.

Money did get mentioned as a prerequisite to happiness. Of course, money IS important; money buys us comfort, safety and freedom in life. However, falling into the more you have-the more you want trap can cause even more UNhappiness! So once we have enough to keep our heads above water, swimming towards happiness is entirely up to us. Otherwise, the not-so-fortunate could never be happy!

*

Going over my friends’ responses, I realized that happiness means different things to different people. All agree that happy people are content, satisfied and see happiness all around them… put together, their answers paint a rather happy picture of happiness!

Happiness is… making others happy

When we help others, support them, be with them, we are happy. Happiness means loving others AND telling them so. Genuinely acknowledging the support of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, helpers, fills us with inner peace and confidence. Having people whom we can turn to for affection and understanding gives us the strength to survive health challenges better.

Happiness is… total acceptance

We Are What We Are. Happiness means being yourself. Accepting yourself as you are.

They Are As They Are. Accepting others, without trying to change them, is essential too.

It is as it is. This phrase brings out the essence of optimism perfectly.  All we can do is accept life’s quirks and carry on.

Sounds like a tall order but accepting ourselves, others and circumstances is, my friends say, the path to contentment and happiness.

Happiness is… loving ourselves

We are always busy. 24 x 7 x 365. When do we take out time for ourselves? To do what we like? Taking out time for our own self is the primal need of every human being. Being alone gives us breathing space, a chance to think quietly, to put our life in perspective, to be at peace.

Happiness is… being fit

When one of my friends commented that “happiness means being able to fit into old clothes” I am sure she was not jesting. Happiness means being fit – in the body and in the mind. And exercising does both.

Happiness is… getting the job done

Happy people do the things they like to do. AND. Enjoy things they don’t like to do too. After all, isn’t our sense of fulfilment the greatest when we accomplish something we didn’t like, didn’t want, to do?

Each of us needs to devise our own mechanism to achieve the completion of daunting tasks. For me, the thought of having a cup of tea at the end of a gruelling task is the biggest motivation for carrying on!

Happiness is… ‘Is-ness”

Is-ness: An apt term coined by a friend for living in the moment. Because the present moment is the only moment we have. The only moment we have to be happy.

Living in the present keeps us focussed, helps us concentrate better on the job at hand. This is the ‘flow experience’ described by psychologist Csikszentmihalyl ~ the experience when one is totally involved and immersed in a task to the exclusion of all thought other than the work at hand. The resulting sense of achievement, ecstasy, serenity is surely happiness?

Happiness is… finding a meaningful purpose in life

Perhaps this is the most important aspect of happiness: recognizing the things which give meaning and purpose to our life, and then, doing them wholeheartedly.

For me, this means carrying out my role in this world to the best of my ability ~ my role as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, colleague, friend, neighbor, citizen… and above all, as a human being. And enjoying every moment of it. Without the fear of not succeeding in it.

*

The most striking revelation for me was:

There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.

We all set out to achieve a happy life ~ a good job, a great relationship, a bigger house ~ firm in the belief that happiness awaits us in the future…  As a friend points out, happiness is not something in the distance, to be achieved over time; it is HERE, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW. So smile, laugh and live life to its fullest… THAT is happiness.

 

PS: A message I received on Whatsapp seems apt in these unprecedented corona times: Happiness is viral. Go infect someone.

MOMMY DIARIES ~ Jab I Left

It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the United Airlines flight in fall 2012. I was returning home from the US, alone, leaving Tanvi, my daughter, to begin school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The last two weeks had been hectic: settling down in the apartment, completing formalities at the University, browsing stores in neighboring Walnut Street, exploring the city with its quaint bridges over the rivers… The day I left, we had a typical American lunch at our favorite diner ~ burgers and fries with Coke. For a mother-daughter pair who chat all the time, both of us were unusually quiet… Soon I was boarding the blue Shuttle for the airport and Tanvi was waving me goodbye. As I turned my head to look back at her, a blinding thought flashed through my mind: Today. Today, I am cutting the umbilical cord. She is on her own now.

I cannot say I was sad. There was no reason to be sad; rather, all the more to be happy. Our daughter was moving on to a new phase in life, an important milestone for the family. Yet, I sat at the shuttle window, silently. I could hear others chatting around me but felt no inclination to join them… At the airport, I sat, reading, waiting for my flight to be announced.

The flight was quite empty. There was only one person at the window seat. I settled down comfortably for the short flight to New York from where I would take an Air India flight to New Delhi.

*

I noticed her when the air hostess came with the drinks. The girl at the window seat, a young American about my daughter’s age. She had been sleeping fitfully since take off… now, she looked at the drinks trolley and refused. Something in her expression made me ask, “Would you like a drink?”

“Do I have to pay?” Obviously it was her first flight abroad. As we got talking, I learned that she was going to France for a two year course in the Arts. The first time away from family. The first time in a new country.

Instinctively, I warmed to her. The uncertainty I had sensed in her came to the fore as we chatted. New school with unknown people… how much time would it take for her to settle? She wondered. I realized the extent of her insecurity when she showed me the address she would be staying at, uncertain how she would reach it… I was glad I could guide her. We chatted all the way to New York becoming more and more animated as we talked about our families and our countries, her education, her Arts course in France, her career prospects…

I could see her tension ebbing as we spoke; for my part, I was surprised how easily I had come out of my melancholia, how soon my dejection had disappeared. Helping her, a girl embarking on a journey abroad just like my daughter, even in a small way, had been oddly comforting.

*

At JFK, I caught sight of her as she walked towards her gate, quite confidently I thought. Turning, I moved towards mine, a warm glow around my heart, happy and secure in the feeling that my daughter would be just fine.