Thursday, 30 April 2015

Day Twenty Four - 40 Rules of Love / 40 Days of Love

Rule 24
“Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy or fight someone we tumble straight into the fires of hell.”

Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, "L'enfer c'est les autres" (Hell is other people). Ah, now there's a man after my own heart. 

The trouble with the rules right now is that instead of making me feel all warm and fuzzy about my fellow humans, I feel more frustrated by how wrong things are going in the world, how blind we are as a collective. It's bad because it's bordering on judgmental, and I'm hoping that it's something like the 5 stages of grief where this is also a phase that will soon pass. Or muscular pain when you start exercising that you need to get over before you see results. Till then, I shall chuckle at memes like this

I am always fascinated by people who practice "brownie point" religion. Never heard of it? Of course you haven't, I made it up. Brownie point religion is when people go through the motions and rituals of practicing religion and talk about nothing but the afterlife. They act as if this life is not worth their time, they might as well ignore this world and just go about their rituals to save their own soul. Everything they do, it's not for the betterment of others, but for their salvation in the hereafter. This strikes me as curious, because God gave us this earth and this time here. There must be more to this life than just being preparation for a final exam, no? Read this verse this many times and your sins for x number of days will be pardoned. Is that all? 

Maybe, just maybe, we are meant to make this earth a little more like heaven, too. Call me crazy, but isn't that the hardest test? It's so difficult to love others, to truly care about their lives and their souls. It's often painful. We can all read something x number of times, and please, do so, I'm not knocking that. But we also need to each take time to step out of ourselves and our preoccupations to see what's going on around us and actually give a crap. And no, not just throw money at the problem, but find solutions. 

It's either that or move to a remote island with my loved ones and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. Hey, I'm entitled to my fantasies, and who knows? Maybe if I did that I'd find an amazing way to help humanity. A girl can dream, right? 

The point once again is that the choice is in our hands. God gave us free will for a reason, which is what separates us from the angels. If you don't believe in God or a monotheistic religion, then you can still understand free will. It's all up to us. To create heaven or hell. To make our lives and the lives of others better or unbearable. Someone once told me that when you remove "maybe" from your life, things become a lot simpler. Just bring it down to "yes" or "no". For instance:

"Should I lose my temper?"
"Should I apologize for doing that?"
"Should I eat this chocolate eclair?"

Whenever you are about to do something, ask yourself if this will make life heaven or hell. I shall try to do this every time I feel myself about to go over the edge today. Till I can get to that remote island, it's the only way to try and make life more bearable. 

I've been backsliding on the yelling, sad face for me. So I need to go back to finding creative ways of not losing my s**t, no matter what life throws at me. This morning it threw a baby lizard in my kitchen sink. Not going to lose it, not going to lose it... Not. Going. To. Lose. It. 

Going to think about chocolate eclairs now while having porridge (*sob*). 

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Day Twenty Three

Rule 23
“The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit,” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it falls upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.”

Are you doing what you are meant to be doing? Seriously, are you? Sometimes it feels like we are waiting for life to happen, waiting to understand why we are here, what we were put here for. Other times, we know what we want to be doing but we just can't figure out how. Or we think we know what we should be doing... life. Why you so confuse? Huh? Why? 

"Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God's delegate on earth." This probably means very different things to different people, and it's quite scary. 

Do you know where I go when I want to feel completely hopeless about life? Public Facebook comments sections, especially if the topic is religion or politics. I call it the festering cesspool, where humanity goes to die a slow and miserable death with each keystroke, hiding behind the comfort of a computer screen. To be fair, there are some brave, honorable souls who try to argue with the idiots, but as a friend keeps reminding me with that famous quote, "Never argue with an idiot. They'll pull you down to their level and beat you with experience." 

So what I wonder is, is being a total d-bag some people's divine calling? Are they meant to spread their douchery far and wide to make life miserable for others, so that the rest of us can learn important life lessons? Or is the world such a mess precisely because people don't bother to figure out why they have been put here. 

Anyway, forget them. Let's focus on you, mate. Are you doing what you are meant to be doing? It's downright painful when you know what you love to do, what you're great at doing, but it's not really a "serious" profession, it's not something that "pays the bills", it's just a "dream". Do you want to know who told me all this when all I loved doing was acting and directing? Me. I told myself all these things. I was my own biggest fun sponge. This is one of those moments I would like to go back and slap myself. You see, I did not want to go to New York and go through the auditions grind. I was so used to being my college Theatre department's golden child that I couldn't bear rejection. So I gave up before trying. When I moved back home, I didn't want to have some smarmy producer or casting agent tell me I am not tall enough, hot enough, or whatever enough to make it, and there really weren't the kind of acting opportunities you have now. So I made a choice to walk away from what I love doing. I regret turning down some projects, but to be honest I can't see how things would have turned out too differently. I am exactly where I am meant to be right now (don't laugh). And as I'm getting on in years, maybe someday I can play the mom or a crazy character role. Have you seen this video by Amy Schumann with Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus about an actress' "Last F***able Day"? I love all those women (Tina Fey is my hero!), but I did not really laugh... I couldn't because it's too true and painful, like a swift kick in the feels. It then also occurred to me that for a female comedian, self-deprecating humor is the default, and I started to wonder why. But I'm digressing. 

Right now is possibly the best time to follow your dream, since world economies and job markets have gone down the crapper and even the "safe jobs" aren't that safe anymore. If you're going to be broke, might as well be happy! Olé! Am I right? 

What you love could be anything. What you love could be molecular science, and one day you'll be the one to find the cure for cancer. I really hope one of you does.

One thing FB has proven itself to be useful for is the plethora of quotes (many dubious) by legends who talk about their struggle when they started out, and the difficulties they faced and still face. If John Steinbeck had a hard time writing more than a page a day, and if Abe Lincoln felt that global warming... oh, wait a minute...

What I know for sure is this guy definitely found his divine purpose, and I'm so happy he did, because it's just beautiful. It's making my world a lot happier these days, and I'll bet that he's read a lot of Rumi 'cause he's got the love! On that note, I'll leave you to have sweet dreams about whatever your happiest dreams may be! 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Day Twenty Two

Rule 22
“Life is a temporary loan and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for the real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.”

[I wanted to make an addendum to yesterday's rules before moving on. Poppy used to always say she didn't like the word "tolerate" because it sounds like you're putting up with something unpleasant. Instead of "tolerating" differences, we should embrace, accept and celebrate them. I felt this was an important distinction to make.]

Someone call a doctor, I'm sure there's something wrong. I realized today that... I like to exercise.

This is huge. HUGE.  See, I am a "gymophobe". For over three decades I have carefully avoided gyms and exercise classes. I recently started yoga for the first time to try and counter some health issues. I like dance classes, swimming and riding bikes, but I don't do these things regularly and have never done them as "exercise".

Rewind to two months ago, when I first started. While doing the relaxation / meditation part (read: nap time), my teacher said, "Thoughts will come into your head. Recognize them, and then let them roll past." For the rest of that time, I saw beautiful glazed cinnamon rolls rolling gently past me. Ah, it was a happy nap time, that was. 

Fast forward to today, when I was having the kind of morning that would have driven anyone half mad, drinking my morning coffee in the car (oh, the travesty! That first cup is my calm morning ritual...!) but what kept me going with sharp focus was that if I get through it with German efficiency, I can make it to class by 10:30. 10:31am I practically rolled in on my flying mat and parked in class. I squeezed, stretched and breathed out all the morning's stress and madness in class. The teacher now makes me do more challenging variations because I am ready. Who'd'a thunk it? 

I never, ever thought I would be the person who looks forward to exercising. I just hope I can remain consistent, which is why I am doing it moderately. I don't want to burn out and then drop it, which I tend to do in life. What I do know is that I wouldn't have started this journey had it not been for that epiphany in yoga class, and I would not be able to stick to it without it, either. When I'm feeling worn out, I know exercising will help me find some balance again. Two months in, I do feel those long-held blockages loosening up. I still have a very hard time clearing my mind in class, but now I do try and just look at whatever comes up and then swipe it away. It's a shame that by the time I'm done with the school run, I've encountered more dimwits on the road than my brain can handle and my zen turns into bhain...!

Today's rule is all about moderation. To live a balanced and moderate lifestyle, you need to move. Our bodies were not made to be stationary. I realized this while watching one of those impossibly beautiful dance pieces on "So You Think You Can Dance". If a human body can do that, if we were made to be able to do that, then we are surely meant to. We are meant to swim in the sea and let the salt water heal our skin, let the sun strengthen our bones. Nowadays we talk about work-life balance. A balanced diet. All these are pushing us towards moderation, to move away from extremes. Yes, even in faith. Extremes are the root cause of most problems. 

Whether you are trying to quit smoking, lose weight, lower cholesterol, fight illness, or just look better, start exercising if you don't already. You hear it over and over, but this time you're hearing it from the world's worst "gymophobe". You will thank yourself for it, and you can thank me later... preferably in the form of a cinnamon roll. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Days Twenty and Twenty One

Rule 20
“We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is an amount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

Someone page the ghairat brigade right now!

I've been waiting for this rule since I started this exercise. If there was one rule I wish I could bash into the heads of most people, it would have to be this one. Especially those ultra opinionated people who feel it's alright to shove their beliefs down your throat. 

I've had to hear so many times in my life that I should not be left-handed, it's wrong. It's the "bad hand". Seriously? In my youth, I used to feel hurt. Now, I just smile to myself because I don't even think it's worth saying anything. In my head I might say, "God made both hands. He made me left-handed. What's it to you?" To me, it reduces faith to an insultingly petty level and I'm not interested in engaging. 

We are judgmental creatures, but I don't think it's innate. It's learned. Look at a child and observe the world through his / her eyes. They don't judge, they don't know how to. They can understand right from wrong, they can spot differences, injustice jumps out at them immediately... but judging others is a conditioned response. They pick up on our comments about others, our attitudes, and so begins a life-long journey of sizing others up. 

Not being judgmental is possibly one of the hardest things for us human beings, since we are always bound to have an opinion that's colored by how we perceive and how we have been raised. 

I'm ashamed to admit that I've totally been that jerk who sat in public places, saw other people's rowdy crazy kids with parents looking like zombies, and thought, "ugh, I'll never be that person". HA! Boy have I eaten humble pie since, most recently this afternoon when my younger one decided to throw a full-on screaming tantrum in the grocery store (she wanted to go home). 

*Momentary fantasy: I plop her down on her feet, walk away and pretend not to know her.*

Just kidding. 

*Reality: Distracted her with the promise that she can choose a pink towel for swimming lessons.* 

If there's one thing I have learned through having children, it's not to mock other parents. I find it surprising when I see the number of judgmental parents still around, are they getting through this without eating humble pie, seriously? Meanwhile, my working mom friends constantly feel guilt-tripped, my stay-at-home mom friends constantly feel like they have to prove themselves... Society has told us we "can have it all". Bollocks, it's all bollocks. I've been on both sides of the fence, and both have their ups and downs. I miss work and my team, but I don't miss the late hours, stress and working Saturdays (is it a 30's thing to yearn to do your own thing and not be tied down to a job?). Trying to have it all would either lead me to an anxiety disorder or stress eating. Lots and lots of stress eating. Life is hard, we don't need to be making it harder by passing judgments on each other, and yet, there we are, fuelling the countless fires and battles between parenting styles and philosophies, or knocking someone else's love life, work or lifestyle without knowing the first thing about their reality, challenges and problems. 

Sounds a lot like religion, doesn't it? It can go either way: you either realize you know jack and hope and pray you're doing the right thing, or you become a pompous jackass. The choice is yours. 

Rule 21
“When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference, not our outer appearance. Sufis do not judge other people on how they look or who they are. When a Sufi stares at someone, he keeps both eyes closed instead opens a third eye – the eye that sees the inner realm.”

Why is Shams such a wonderful character? He judges no one. He talks to the drunkard, the harlot... the outcasts, basically, and after every encounter they feel a little stronger, a little better. When he meets people who think too highly of themselves, he doesn't miss a chance to take them down a few pegs. Shams sees what's inside a person's heart, not their stature, their power or their looks. 

In an age when we put so much emphasis on "networking", both socially and professionally, we have reduced human interaction to a commodity. How useful is this person to me right now? Are they worth interacting with? It's amazing how many people remember you when you're at the centre of activity (it's also amazing how many people will hate you at that point). When you are out of the limelight, that's when you find out who your true friends are, who really likes you for who you are. We spend our lives trying to avoid the pain of finding that out. 

Shams stripped Rumi of his status, his respectability, because he knew that it was the only way Rumi would truly understand himself and the universe. Free from the shackles of society, free from what others will think of you... imagine that kind of freedom, to be who you truly want to be without any fear. 

This rule is sheer common sense. It's no wonder the New Testament has a very similar quote to this rule: "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person" (Matthew 15:11). 

We all judge people on appearance. Countless research has been done to gauge how we respond to good looking people, facial symmetry, our primal need to assess the reproductive prowess of the other person. We are wired to respond to these cues, but here's a rule that tells us to open up our "third eye", to see past the physical realm. (My yoga teacher also talks about the third eye, which usually means it's time to put our foreheads on the ground and do something rather painful. All these different faiths, all these links... a shared humanity we tend to ignore.) 

One thing is for sure, the deeper we get into the rules, the more they require us to deconstruct our conditioned responses, and this questioning is tough but a lot of fun. It suddenly opens up a world of possibilities, and I hope you're enjoying that. 

PS - This rule does not mean you have free license to be a slob and throw personal hygiene out the window. You're meant to improve upon yourself, not be gross. 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Day Nineteen

Rule 19
“Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That is the hardest part and that is what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.”

I'm still reeling from the shock of Sabeen Mahmud's brutal assassination. In the span of two months, Pakistan's two most prolific progressive arts and culture centres - Kuch Khaas (Islamabad) and T2F (Karachi) - have lost their founders, two incredible women, forces to be reckoned with, who made an impact on everyone they met, even if only briefly. They were friends, understood each other's struggles and dreams. To lose them both so close together... it's incomprehensible for all of us. I feel drained. When something like this happens, it's hard for me to write coherently, and in the last several months it feels like one tragedy has hit right after another, including large scale disasters like the Nepal earthquake...heartbreaking. 

Today's rule, however, is a perfect one to dedicate to both Sabeen and Poppy. The courage of taking that first step and pursuing their dream, of standing up to injustice... they were the flow, they created the flow, they changed the tides with sheer spirit and determination. Formidable, remarkable women that they were. The only consolation I find in not having them anymore is that they truly lived, unflinchingly and unapologetically. They loved all people, welcomed them with open arms, and had that enigmatic Shams quality about them. 

If either of these women had listened to doubts, had faltered before taking that crucial first step, we would not have Kuch Khaas or T2F today. The steps that followed were not always easy - running an independent non-profit arts centre in Pakistan requires a huge investment, both financially and emotionally. From the outside, the stress on such an organization doesn't show, but those on the inside know too well that each month brings with it new challenges. If you're not about to go belly up, it could be that local authorities are itching to shut you down, or not grant you enough NOC's (legal permission) to hold the events you'd like, or have an objection to the content of your event. It's an uphill struggle, one both these women faced head-on. 

They may both have been physically snatched away from us too soon, but the lives they have touched continue their legacies. Sabeen's voice is still loud and clear everywhere on social media, as people ask difficult questions about why, who, what the heck is going on in our own country? Forget being the flow, Sabeen is nothing less than a tidal wave right now. No matter what the opinion or allegation, she would be proud of the fact that people are at least questioning and talking about an issue they hardly thought about before. And, given the chance, she would have been able to win her critics over, of that I'm sure. 

I hope that wherever you are, if you have a beautiful dream that can make this world a better or more beautiful place, that you feel inspired and empowered to take the first step, be the flow, and live your dream. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

RIP Sabeen

Pakistan has lost a brave, caring soul today, but they can never take away what you've accomplished. Sabeen Mahmud, thank you for all you did and tried to do for this country. We are not worthy, but we have to keep trying to find even a fraction of the courage you had.

Day Eighteen

Rule 18
“If you want to change the ways others treat you, you should first change the way you treat yourself, fully and sincerely, there is no other way you can be loved. Once you achieve that stage, however, be thankful for every thorn that others might throw at you. It is a sign that you will soon be showered in roses.”

T said, "Hey, I'm going on a 40 day challenge to become a better person."
Universe said, "Bahahahaha!"

Universe then proceeded to, much like in a physical workout, throw some interesting curveballs and crank up the resistance to ensure I'm getting my money's worth. To be fair, it's keeping things interesting. 

Rule 18 is one I want to tell so many people... anyone who's ever been hurt, cheated, felt taken for granted, and is generally stuck in that same old rut. When people come to me for advice, so many times I feel like telling them to just walk away, they're too good for this. But that's not what most people want to hear. They want to hear that it will get better, and who can blame them? We all need hope. 

Let me put it this way, though: if you lie down on the floor right in front of the door, you can't complain about people using you as a doormat. If you have self-love and self-respect, you will not tolerate anyone using you as a doormat. Too often we just can't say no, or are scared of asserting our self-worth, be it in relationships, socially or professionally. What are we so afraid of? That people won't like us anymore because we aren't useful to them? If that's the only reason they liked us in the first place, good riddance. 

When it comes to relationships, be with someone who likes you for who you are. Many times, people want to be with someone because of what they can bring to the table, and if that's the case, believe me that whatever value addition you bring to their lives will grow stale very quickly if they don't actually like you for who you are

Think of this scenario: Like a product, you had value proposition for them at one point in their lives, and now you've delivered it, they're only left with who you are. At which point they realize that they don't actually like who you are. There's not a whole lot you can do about who you are (unless, you know, you're a rapist or murderer or compulsive liar, then the other person understandably has an issue with you). But for all mundane intents and purposes, you can only try to be a better version of yourself, not do a complete engine overhaul. That won't happen, and expectations won't be met which leads to bitterness and anger. If someone just doesn't like who I am and says it to my face, I can't even be angry at them. It's their right to hate my guts, and I can't force them to change that. All I can do is try to be considerate to my best ability, but beyond that, it becomes about them choosing not to like me. 

Everything in life is a choice. We have a choice to see the good in each other, to be considerate to one another, to be kind, to not simply use people and then forget about them. And yes, love is also a choice, completely and absolutely. 

Love yourself for starters, that in itself is a kindness to others. For instance, if I neglect my health because I'm too busy looking after my kids and being a martyr with housework, I won't be in any shape to look after them for long. Even if I'm not scared of getting sick and am ready to face the consequences, they will bear the burden of my problems, too. 

Today, I'm making a commitment to be nicer to myself, in the hopes it will have a trickle down effect on everything and everyone else. 

So, go on then Universe. I'm ready for whatever curveballs you're throwing at me, just like the team in the movie Dodgeball. I have faith, and I'm going to make sure the roses come.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Day Seventeen

Rule 17
“The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you. Everything that you see around, including the things that you might not be fond of and even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees. Therefore, do not look for Sheitan (Evil) outside yourself either. The devil is not an extraordinary force that attacks from without. It is an ordinary voice within. If you set to know yourself fully, facing with honesty and hardness.”

When I read the rule for today this morning and started writing it out, it felt very heavy. At one point I even said it felt like a sign. Ominous. I was all too happy to go to yoga and breathe it out of my system. 

Four hours after reading the rule, I witnessed a hit and run. Luckily no one was seriously injured, but the driver not only tried to drive off after the collision, when he realized one tyre was useless he simply got out of the car, ditched it and ran. Physically ran away. He hadn't stopped to check if the other people were ok, or even to assess the damage. Let the car's owner deal with the aftermath. 

Evidently, his inner voice told him that running away would be the right thing to do. The way to save himself, and who cares about the two men on the motorbike whom he almost completely ran over. In his mind, he was justified. 

That thought has been troubling me the whole day, how easily we justify wrongdoings to ourselves. "I didn't have a choice" is the favorite justification for pretty much any wrong we do. I hope he is not allowed to drive again, and here the onus is on employers. You don't have to directly do something bad to be complicit - allowing something wrong to keep happening is just as bad. 

"...even the people you despise or abhor, is present within you in varying degrees."

Have you ever heard that when something irritates you in someone else, it's usually because it reminds you of traits you don't like in yourself? It's quite an eye opener. Now imagine when you hear someone else nag, or act selfish, or be unreasonable, or even lose their temper... when it makes your skin crawl, it's because YOU make your skin crawl. Not a pleasant thought, but a crucial one if we want to fix the problems within us and appreciate the beauty in others. 

It's not easy to look at yourself with clarity, to recognize the traits that make you want to b**ch slap yourself. After the day I've had, I don't know that I can, to be honest. But if I had to pick one that I've had hurled at me before, it would have to be "self-righteous". I admit I am, and the results aren't particularly nice. But hey, you know what, on a day like today, I figure I can take a break from the self-loathing on my self-righteousness, thank heaven no one was killed or badly injured in that accident, and know without a shadow of a doubt the guy who ran off will get his comeuppance. I believe in karma 100% because I've seen it happen too much. Pound for pound. So don't be fooled...hell can exist right here on earth for you if you keep sending out crap and letting the devil in you win. 

As Florence says, "Looking for heaven, found the devil in me."

“The whole universe is contained within a single human being-you."

On another note, today the chores at home were about to do me in, so I asked the girls if they would like to help me a bit. To my complete surprise, they both jumped at the opportunity. Who knew? I never give them a chance because I figure it's just quicker if I do it myself, but they were stellar. Happy faces for the girls today! If we give our children the chance, they'll surprise us wonderfully sometimes. They, too, have the whole universe within them. 

That is the thought I will try to close with for the night to try and feel less bleak about humanity, and here's hoping tomorrow's rule talks about chocolate brownies and cinnamon rolls. Now those are some signs I could really do with right about now...

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Day Sixteen

Rule 16
“Real faith is the one inside. The rest simply washes off. There is only one type of dirt that cannot be cleansed with pure water, and that is the stain of hatred and bigotry contaminating the soul. You can purify your body through abstinence and fasting, but only love will purify your heart.”

For me, religion and faith are polar opposites. Perhaps this is because religion has come to mean "organized religion" to me, what man makes of it. Faith comes from within, it's what you feel, it can't be explained or listed as rules. Faith, at its best, makes us accepting, removes judgment from our minds and hearts. You can wear your piety on the outside as much as you like, but it counts for nothing. 

"Deen mein daari hai, daari mein deen nahin", "L'habit ne fait pas le moine"... In any language, in any faith, you will find this recurring theme. The simple truth is that if you can't find it in your heart to love wholeheartedly, be it your Maker or anyone else, nothing you do on the outside makes a damned bit of difference. In a religious sense, it's fairly self explanatory. What if we look at it outside a religious context, though? 

"Oh, but I'm not a bigot, I don't hate anyone", you might well think to yourself. There are many ways you can stain your soul, and they don't exist in absolutes. You might be inconsiderate, impatient, and quick to speak harshly. You might not even realize you hurt another person's feelings horribly. 

Or you're incredibly vain about your appearance, how you look and smell. You might pride yourself on your perfect body or your expensive clothes, but if you can't spread joy in the lives of others, what is any of that really worth? All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten your soul. 

It's important to be the best version of yourself that you can be in all aspects. What if we decided to do a workout of the soul? There's this 42-day fitness challenge that's all the rage these days. I'm not interested in having the perfect "summer body", instead I'm here for the 40-day soul cleanse. And you know what, it's a lot harder than I ever imagined. Letting go of hurt, of the nafs, of fear... of all the pain that makes you mistrust those around you, of all the obligations you just can't be bothered with, and replacing it with the collective human responsibility of being considerate to others and making that your default setting. And not just by giving charity or throwing money at the problem, but by actually giving a s**t about someone else, about all of us at large. 

Tonight, this brain of mine is muddied. So now I'm going to leave you with the words of Florence + The Machine's "Shake It Out" - a song that's with me continuously through this journey.

"Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn

It's always darkest before the dawn

And I've been a fool and I've been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I'm always dragging that horse around

All of his questions, such a mournful sound
Tonight I'm gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues drawn
But it's always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

And I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart

'Cause I like to keep my issues drawn
It's always darkest before the dawn

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It's a fine romance but it's left me so undone
It's always darkest before the dawn

Oh whoa, oh whoa...

And I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't
So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I'm ready to suffer and I'm ready to hope
It's a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat

'Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me

Well what the hell I'm gonna let it happen to me, yeah

Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa
And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa"

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Day Fifteen

Rule 15
“It’s easy to love a perfect God, unblemished and infallible that He is. What is far more difficult is to love fellow human beings with all their imperfections and defects. Remember, one can only know what one is capable of loving. There is no wisdom without love. Unless we learn to love God’s creation, we can neither truly love nor truly know God.”

This post is dedicated to Shayan Afzal Khan, known to all of us as "Poppy", on her birthday... She loved creation to the point of wanting to leave this world a better place. A true mentor who taught us to think of the good of others.

Have you met people who think of themselves as terribly pious, but all they seem to do is harp on minute details and criticize everyone? Yeah, so have I. I have also met people whose faith makes them exude happiness and light, acceptance and love. 

It's easy to love a perfect God, it's easy to love rules and rituals, to get so stuck in them that you can't see beyond your own salvation. Faith is not about scoring brownie points with your maker, that's entirely between you and your maker, but how about keeping it to yourself? 

Those who love all of God's creation, genuinely care for them and their wellbeing be it humans, animals or wildlife... they shine the brightest because they are so rare. 

I don't love all of God's creation, I admit it openly. I am a cynic and find most humans to be insufferable. At age fifteen, I used to write such scathing poetry about societal ills that my father said my ideal profession would be a "social critic". I said it sounded like my dream job but I didn't think it would pay the bills. In my Political Theory class at university, the text I liked the most was "Leviathan" by Hobbes. Positively charming, wasn't I? 

These days, I'm possibly closer to Rousseau's philosophies, though I say possibly because people are still terribly disappointing at times. When given power they are likely to turn corrupt and ignore any moral compass they may have had. Rumi, like Rousseau, might say that they are straying from their natural state. Most humans are nowhere near that romanticized pure, natural state. And what else can we expect when every framework humans have created for themselves revolves around money and power? 

Looking at the state of humankind today, it is hard to completely discredit Hobbesian theory; that said, we cannot change what others choose to do, but we can individually vow to prove Hobbes wrong. Love each other, care for each other. Accept our collective responsibility towards one another. 

Let's hope the "pious" get the memo, too. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Day Fourteen

Rule 14
“God is busy with the completion of your work, both outwardly and inwardly. He is fully occupied with you. Every human being is a work in progress that is slowly but inexorably moving toward perfection. We are each an unfinished work of art both waiting and striving to be completed. God deals with each of us separately because humanity is the fine art of skilled penmanship, where every single dot is equally important for the entire picture.”

This one is so beautiful and self-explanatory. What a way to think about yourself, your life. Today someone said reading the posts got them to feel better. Wow. If reposting these rules makes even one person feel better about themselves and their lives, I can't express how happy that makes me, makes this journey even more worthwhile because it's way beyond me. 

In a way, this rule speaks especially loud to that one person today. You are a work of art, and at any given point in time, remember that you are still adding colors to your canvas. It never stops, so never stop. Keep striving! That's what we can do, not just wait, but work on our canvas. There is always possibility and promise as we look ahead. I may be crap at controlling my temper today, but that's not who I was a few years ago. That's not who defines me, and not who I will be in the future. We may be just dots, but we are as important as any other dot in the big picture. 

I also feel Rumi's notion of God sweeps away the constant fear-mongering version we hear about. In this case, He is "fully occupied with you", invested in you and working on your canvas with you. 

The next time you feel like you aren't doing enough, aren't where you want to be in life, feel down in the dumps or that someone got the best of you, remember: your work of art is waiting for you to get back to it. But you can't stop trying! 

I stopped writing for years. Words terrified me, I couldn't even sit down and start to write, the thought alone made me freeze. I can't explain what it was, I suspect part of it was "people will hate it". The couple of things I did write in that time felt like they came through me, not from me, and it was some of my best writing. I honestly felt I had no control over the process, though, and that I was simply a vessel to channel those words through me. The trouble with that feeling is that it's impossible to be consistent with it. You can't wait for lightning to strike again because it might never. Then I had to start writing for work, and the advantage with that was none of it was personally taxing, but it helped me get back into the habit of getting words out of my brain. If you become scared of your art, you cannot expect to be hit by divine inspiration. Your "art" (and it doesn't have to be art, it's anything you love doing) is something you can't live without, so don't ignore it. Life gets busy, jobs take all of our time, our emotions spent on loved ones... if we don't make time to do what we love, we slowly stop loving everything around us. 

We have to find the balance. And then, some days, it's ok to just feel like THIS

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Days Eleven, Twelve & Thirteen

Rule 11
“The quest for love changes us. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.”

A few posts might get put up together in the coming days as, contrary to what it might seem like, I do actually have a life (don't laugh!). In any case, in these crazy busy few days and with some travel involved, it's not always possible to get the post up that very night. These posts do in fact go up live on the day right after I write them. Yes, the journey is real. Also, the images you see are my handwriting (I realized I never talk about the calligraphy aspect). I used to play around with calligraphy a lot while growing up, and I recently read an interview of a "modern day calligrapher", Nicolas Ouchenir, that I found incredibly inspiring. It made me miss calligraphy, so I broke out my very first "calligraphy pen" - a cheap Dollar fountain pen for school which I hated, until I decided to experiment and cut the nib off. I was in the 7th grade. After that, I got much nicer ones, but that old Dollar pen, even if it's falling apart, holds a special place in my heart and has proved itself to be a loyal companion. 

The calligraphy helps me focus on the rule for the day, to centre myself, and think about it as I write it out over and over, trying to get it right. Also, I feel these rules are beautiful and deserve to be treated with that love and respect. Then onto photographing them, and making the image for the post. I take the rest of the day to think about the rule and its implementation in life. It's a process I'm enjoying, and I don't like missing it, but well. There are just those days. 

If you're following this journey and have found a way to make it relevant for something you want to change in your life, you may notice that you now start asking yourself "why" you do certain things or why you feel a certain way. It holds the clue to our reactions, or what they should be. Understanding ourselves is, in my opinion, the key to a peaceful life. Trying to only understand others without any sense of self is the guarantee to misery. We cannot control or change how others behave, only how we react to them and what place we grant them in our lives. 

The quest for love makes us forgiving, but also gives us parameters for what we will and won't allow in our lives. A welcome change, if you ask me.

Rule 12

“There are more fake gurus and false teachers in this world than the number of stars in the visible universe. Don’t confuse power-driven, self-centered people with true mentors. A genuine spiritual master will not direct your attention to himself or herself and will not expect absolute obedience or utter admiration from you, but instead will help you to appreciate and admire your inner self. True mentors are as transparent as glass. They let the light of God pass through them.”

Oh, hello there. This is one of my favorite rules, just as my favorite chapter in Shafak's "The Forty Rules of Love" was "Hussam the Student", where Shams challenges the religious scholar. I am naturally mistrustful of anyone who over-glorifies themselves. In my family, we have a term for such people: "full of gas" or "gassy". If you are so great at what you do, you don't need to exalt yourself. If your knowledge is so vast, you will not flaunt it because you know that you can always have more. 

I have seen a number of "spiritual men" who act as gurus even here. People go to them, ask them to say prayers on their behalf, seek spiritual and practical guidance. Some people will not go ahead with any big decisions in life without getting the go-ahead from their guide. Thank you, Rumi, from the bottom of my heart for setting the record straight on this matter. A TRUE mentor will encourage YOU, empower YOU, and give YOU the tools to embark on a spiritual journey. For a mentor, the best gift is to see someone you gave guidance to soar high. If they acknowledge you, that's a wonderful reflection on their character, but if they don't, it's not a reflection on your mentorship, and that's not why a mentor guides. Beware of false guides and don't be a false guide. 

Rule 13
“Try not to resist the changes, which come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Yes, this one is a recurring theme, but I don't feel like talking about the rule right now. I feel like talking about Shams.

"The Forty Rules of Love" might as well be called "Shams" as far as I am concerned. Shams is THE driving force of the book, the most enigmatic character. I could have read a book thrice the length of this one if it was about Shams. I assume everyone feels this strongly about Shams, but I'd love to hear your views. 

One reason I love Shams is because, well, he just doesn't give a flying f**k. Pardon my French, but there really is no better way to put it. Memes come to mind when you think of him. "Hi, my name is Shams. Watch how many f**ks I DON'T give." An image of Shams with the caption "And not a single f**k was given". Champion of the down-trodden, the social outcasts, challenger of the powerful and self-righteous. Shams is superhuman, spiritual and brave, but he doesn't give a flying toss, and he says neither should you. BUT, you can only afford not to give a flying toss à la Shams when you have reached that level of self-awareness. If you're going to abuse the right to not give a flying toss, then "no soup for you"! (Ah, I love the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.)

Allow your moral compass to guide you, vow to find what is worth caring about, and what does not deserve the time of day. Do not allow worthless, petty issues to destroy your peace of mind. Today, right now, in this very moment...choose one thing, picture it like a big red ball, and throw it into outer space. Congratulations. You are one step closer to Shamsadelic awesomeness. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Day Ten

Rule 10
“The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.”

And thus, as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, so shall you! Fly, butterfly, fly! 

Yes, that's all well and good, but change is not easy, is it? Sometimes, it's not even conscious - life is moulding and changing us constantly. Your experiences and self-will shape you into today's version of yourself. Personally, I am grateful for the humbling lessons learned, for the opportunity to learn more, and to look back and have regrets. In my 20's I used to say I have no regrets. I don't know if I can call them regrets, but if I could go back and smack my younger self across the face, would I? Happily. You could argue that then, by the logic of time travel we have learned from Hollywood movies and TV shows, that I would not be who I am today. Sure, but I'd still go back and slap myself at certain points. You know, for the sheer heck of it. And 'cause that cow was a little sh*t at times. 

This rule is an important one for me to remember as the cracks in my anger management start to show. If you've seen the episode where Homer Simpson tries to control his rage, you'll know what I mean. Every time he stops himself from yelling, a boil appears on his neck. Well, if you're going to repress it in one place, it will appear somewhere, right? Today, when the older one started whining about something not being fair, I started whining back. It was unintentional, but I mirrored her tone without mimicking her. She said, "Ok, ok", and stopped whining. It was somewhat comical, even if I'm not proud of it. 

"Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain." 
And on some level, my babies will have to also feel some heat to become better human beings, though I would like to not to make it painful. With some children, logic works beautifully, and their own logic is flawless because it's unadulterated. It's simpler when you are dealing with logic. It's the little rebels who are the toughies, and usually they're the charmers who are great at stealing your heart. Along with other household items which they are likely to vandalize. Oh, but they sure are adorable! 

As for you, babies, when you feel the heat, hang in there, forge ahead and keep doing your best. If you're really stuck, it could be because you now need to step out of your comfort zone (this applies creatively, also). 

And thus, as clay trying to become strong, I shall burn, baby, burn. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Day Nine

Rule 9
“East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.”

The struggle is real, babies. 

Today, not the best day for my quest. Mama gets a sad face. It was just one of those days, where it felt like my patience was being tested over and over, and a sleep-deprived toddler is not the best to add in to that mix. So, sad face for me, but I have to accept that this is a process. I'm used to quitting anything I want to cold turkey and convincing myself that it's "mind over matter". Not in this case.

It wasn't all bad, though. I heard from a friend... no, a soulmate... who has been following this mental journey of mine, and shared some amazing insights of her own over loneliness vs. solitude. I'm still smiling over that email, and if you're reading this, I love you and can't wait to reply in full (we live on different continents now, which is why we email). 

It brings me back to the notion of "soulmates", though. Soulmates come in all forms - friends, loves, even pets. The point is, what part of your soul gets reflected back at you when you are with that soulmate, and what do you reflect back to them? With this friend, we had crazy energy that we bounced off each other. I do believe we brought out the best of certain aspects in each other, and I miss her dearly. 

It also made me want to say something about the 40 rules... clearly, these are from a religious Sufi point of view, but that's the thing about Sufism - anyone, anywhere can get meaning out of it, out of how it speaks to your own heart. To me, it's the universal language of the soul and connects us all. That's the real beauty of it. 

Today's rule breaks down physical barriers, and talks about journeys. The focus is on the journey within. For me, physical journeys are closely interrelated with inner journeys, though. You can journey within just sitting in your living room, but for me every journey to a new place has been a journey within, helping me to discover something new about myself, and always wonderful. Travel has also been the make or break of many a relationship and friendship! How we cope in new environments, with language barriers, map-reading, unfamiliar food and lodging can bring out aspects of your personality never seen before, even by you. You know exactly what I'm talking about! Which is why I will never go camping. Sorry, not for me. It's not about simple living or fear of adventure, I can manage those fine, it's about my relationship with wildlife. I can barely step outside my house right now because I'm greeted with lizard orgies every time (don't ask!). 

Travel is wonderful, though. If it weren't for the terrible effects of our carbon footprint (read: astronomical airline prices), we would be running away every chance we get. I find myself getting claustrophobic in one place for too long. Luckily, our whole family seems to have the travel bug, and I can relate with people who save just to travel. It's well worth it. Allow yourself to get lost, to feel the energy of a new place, try the street food (drooooool), try to communicate with just gestures, and boldly go where you have never gone before. I've traveled both alone and with family, and each experience is amazing. Go and explore... and most of all, try and look to yourself, examine what's going on inside. During yoga, after certain poses our teacher will tell us to rest with eyes closed and "scan our bodies", allow yourself to feel new energies and changes. You notice them immediately. So, travel as and when you can, even if it's close to where you live. Doesn't have to be a fancy exotic vacation at all. Wherever and whenever you do travel, scan your soul, and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. 

"Run to the castle, girls! That's where Ana and Elsa live, we promise!"

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Day Eight

Rule 8
“Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.”

Oh, I do love this one. Patience...a loaded word if there ever was one. I can be patient when I want, but sometimes it's downright painful. I've never liked the attitude that patience means to just accept whatever is happening to you and blindly go along. I believe that God helps those who help themselves, and if you still don't see results, then patience needs to kick in that the next step will become clear soon enough. The fact that this rule separates patience from passivity makes me very happy. It encourages insight, trying to see an end result and analyze an outcome. Yes, analyze, you read it right. Sometimes what destiny has in store is not that surprising, it's what your heart already knows is going to happen, but your mind takes some time to catch up. If you can understand where things are headed, it comes into focus. I'm not sure I am explaining this correctly, but it's what I've witnessed in my own life. When no answers are clear, and you can't decide what you should do, sometimes the smart thing is to just wait. 

That said, there are some instances when I simply cannot endure patiently. One is on the road. Oh. Good. Heavens. I have the worst road rage imaginable, but not the kind that makes me drive aggressively, just the kind that makes me swear. It is not uncommon for me to be talking (read: yelling) to myself inside my car while driving (read: trying to stay alive). Driving in Lahore is not for the faint-hearted, as I found out since we moved here. It's utterly terrifying, and the reckless driving around me every single day really angers me because those people have no regard for person or property - not their own, not anyone else's. I just need to get from point A to point B in one piece, keep my babies safe, and I am not interested in racing / egos / guys who like to purposely infuriate me and then laugh at me just because I'm a woman (whyyyyyyy is it so amusing, apeman??). But when you cut me off without an indicator and almost run into me, then you can be sure this mother is cussing you out like a sailor alone in her car to offset the mini heart attack she's just had. 

When the kids are in the car, I have to be more restrained. "Why pick a lane? Oooobviously your father owns the road!" Truly, why pick a lane when you can have two? Especially while you're talking on your cellphone, am I right? Slow clap for you, my friend, slooooow clap. 

I can do all the anger management I want in these 40 days, but the day I can kick my road rage, I'll have attained Buddha-level calm. In other words, ain't happening. And I'm not sure I really want to. It's my survival tactic on the road, my stress release in what is entirely defensive driving. Nothing like a good expletive or five to calm the poor nerves. At least until I move to a city where the driving is hopefully calmer, and I can go back to singing along to NSync's "Bye Bye Bye" (wait, what? I never did that, that was someone else, pfft!). 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Day Seven

Rule 7
“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that he has been denied.”

I'm sure many of us can testify at having thrown a full-blown toddler temper tantrum when we haven't gotten our way. Don't lie, you know you've done it, too! Would we react the same way if we believed it's in our best interest?

My husband and I had gone to the hills for a short break. We had done a very thrilling horse ride there a few years before and loved it, so we asked where we could find the guys who rent the horses out. They said it's still early, but they could go to the village and bring them if we were willing to wait half an hour. We had just done a long trek, and since we're both impatient, we decided "nah, forget it". We were bummed about it, but decided to head back.

I did not know at the time, but I was pregnant with our first child. I am eternally grateful that the horses were not readily available that day. Fate works in mysterious ways.

There are some instances when things go so wrong, though, that there is no way to see how this is for the best. Senseless tragedies strike, and even I would be hard-pressed to say that it's for anyone's good. Perhaps it's not about our own good, exactly, but the good of all, or a chain of events that are simply meant to be. Whether you believe in fate or not, what I do know is that despair helps no one. Despair is not only condemned in Sufi thought, it is also one of the deadly sins in Christianity. Why the focus on "despair" in particular, to not even "enter the neighborhood" of it?

When we despair, we give up on everything. It starts with giving up on God, then giving up on others, and finally ourselves. The extreme act of despair is suicide, also an unforgivable sin (how ironic given the number of "religious" suicide bombers who have inflicted themselves on the world).

If you want to see what fighting despair looks like, and hear an inspirational tale of turning adversity around, I urge you to watch this video.

As for sweating the small stuff, don't. If things don't happen the way we want, there's a reason, and we should be thankful for what's given and what isn't. So true. For instance that jerk who broke up with you, be thankful. Good riddance.

Think of it this way: kids also really don't understand when something is for their own good, try as we might to explain it to them. Maybe we are the kids and God / fate is trying to tell us to wise up, but we can't fully grasp it yet. Puts it into perspective when a scenario like this arises and you need to keep your cool:

"Eat your vegetables."
"NO! I want choccie!"
"No, eat your vegetables."
*Cue epic temper tantrum.*

Sound familiar? Don't despair. With any luck, they will grow up into wonderful adults, and have kids just like themselves one day! ;)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Day Six

Rule 6
“Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.”

"Mama, I want yogurt."
"Mama, I want to wear this."
"Mama, s/he hit me!"
"Mama, I want to play outside."
"Mama, clean me NOW!"

You never appreciate solitude until you don't have it anymore. Before marriage, I could not stand being alone unless I was walking or traveling. (I love traveling alone, there's no better way to feel the vibe of a city and its streets than to walk them alone. Some of my favorite memories in life are of doing exactly that.) I was always surrounded by friends or family, a community. Theatre is a very communal field, it's a team sport, and you are at your best with your teammates. Having babies of your own means you don't have time to be alone, and while that is a blessing, you also need solitude to recharge. To hear your inner voice, to reacquaint yourself with yourself. 

I like this distinction between "loneliness" and "solitude". You can be at a party, in a crowded room, and feel terribly lonely. It happens to me a lot. You could also be completely alone but never feel lonely. Now that my solitude is a carefully measured phenomenon, I can relate to this completely. And some of us become so comfortable with our solitude that the thought of letting it go is a burden. 

Hang on one hot minute, says Rumi, though. Be content with your solitude. Bask in it. Know your heart. But don't fool yourself into thinking that you can exist in a vacuum. It doesn't just have to be a lover, soulmate, least not the way I see it. It could be your pet. Your bff. Your child. The point is to exercise the selfless act of love and feel how it changes you. How it breaks down the barriers in you. These days, relationships have all too often become about power play, which leaves little room for selfless love. Until you let your guard down, though, you will never truly see yourself as you are, and thus never find your "mirror". 

You always hear jokes about "crazy cat ladies". Nothing crazy about them, think about it. They have found their perfect "mirror". Do you have that kind of love story in your life? 

Today was a fun day. It was a family outing day, my favorite kind of day ever. At bedtime, these little monkeys were still flailing about and hyper as anything. Red Bull, you ain't got nothing on preschoolers' energy. Babies, if I could bottle that sh*t up, I would be writing to you from my own private island in the Caribbean. 

In an attempt to help them drift off, I decided to do the final relaxation routine from yoga class with them (works like a charm on me!). You get comfortable, lie flat, focus on your breathing, and start relaxing each body part moving from the feet up. 

"Relax your knees, your thighs, your bum."
"Hee hee, she said bum!"

Ok, I walked right into that one. 

"Feel your tummy relax."
"My tummy's not relaxed! I want water!"

And it was just downhill from there. I think I need to wait another 5 years before trying this one again. Till then, I should just enjoy the little feet clawing at my face, the arms and legs flung over me as hubby and I snuggle with them before they drift off, knowing that right there, in that room, are the people who made me stretch my heart beyond what I knew possible. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Day Five

Rule 5
“Most problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language, as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.”

Something amazing is happening since yelling is no longer an option: I have less to yell about. Which is further confirmation that I was yelling about absolutely nothing in the first place. Sh*t happens. So what if the little one decided to wash a favorite book? And hat? And emptied half the fabric softener in the process? The world is not about to end, nobody's hurt, it's no big deal. Removing anger from the equation lets you step back and see that. Yes, I still get exasperated in the chaos during the day, I'm not a saint, but there's always a way around anger. 

I don't know about where you live, but in my country, making prank calls is our national pastime. Maybe it's because even people without clean running water have a cell phone, and service providers have super cheap call plans. Usually the pranksters are bored males looking for "fraaandship". I'm not sure if this ever works for anyone, but some were downright persistent. Normally, ones instinct drives one to yell and swear at the irritating buggers, but that usually excites them even more. A friend recently told me that, in the case of one such persistent caller, she gave the phone to her husband as a last resort. Now, most husbands would, understandably, tell the person off. But not him. He answered, he started a l-o-n-g conversation with the prankster, they even recited some poetry, had a good laugh and, at the end of all this, he said, "Hey, listen man, don't call my wife again, she gets upset". To which the caller immediately agreed. And voila. No more calls from him. 

My method is decidedly less magnanimous. I hang up and block their numbers. If I get an SMS I reply back with an SMS laughing at them / mocking them and then block their numbers. Hey, to each their own, right? 

Now, I'm a believer that words are mightier than the sword. But if I understand Mr. Rumi correctly, even words fail us, we must never take words at "face value". Hmm. I guess he's right, since people rarely say what they mean, and it's infuriating! I wish everyone on the planet simply said what they meant, at face value, and then we would not have misunderstandings, fights, hurt, and so on. Telling the truth is not to be confused with being rude or mean... there is always a nice way to see even the most difficult truth, even if you don't want to spend an hour and a half talking to your wife's phone stalker. 

Has an aggressive tone ever been disarming? No, it just puts fear in someone's heart, but the same thing can be said in a different way and yield the same result. Something for me to bear in mind when I'm having a battle of wills with the little one.

*Cue Old Western music, me and the Little One facing off, close-ups of our squinting eyes*
Me: Drink your milk.
LO: No.
Me: This casa ain't big enough for the both of us. (Spits out chewing tobacco.)
(LO reaches for the sippy cup, throws it to the ground.)

Now, you might have seen a meme that's been making the rounds on social media and making lots of people very emotional, I'm including a link HERE. It says, "The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice", and it's by a lady called Peggy O'Mara. I had no idea who Peggy O'Mara was till I just googled her, and she was the editor of Mothering magazine for many years. Power to her. But I have a problem with that quote. You see, my mother is awesome. She is one of the most laid-back, chilled out parents a child could hope for.

"Mama, I don't feel like going to school today."
"Mama, can I have homemade chicken nuggets and fries for the 5th day in a row this week?"
"Sure, I'll just make them!"

She is selfless, caring, nurturing, loving, and, as far as I remember while growing up, she rarely scolded or lost her cool. All my friends love meeting her, maybe in some cases even more than they love meeting me, no joke. A few things would set her off when we were kids, but I knew how to avoid them by quietly watching my older brother walk on the land mines first. Sucker!

And yet, Peggy O'Mara, my inner voice turned out to be a self-deprecating, cynical a$$hole. So how do you explain that, Peggy? Huh? Huh? 

Maybe words only tell part of the story, and the heart tells the rest. In any case, use words lovingly as much as possible, and truthfully without exception. And since silence is golden, I wish you all a good and peaceful night!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Day Four

Rule 4
“Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advices, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”

It's hard to push intellect aside for me. We pride ourselves on intellect, learning, and clear thought. I always admire people with high intellect, so it can never be a bad thing in my mind. So where do we draw the line? 

I don't think it's about shunning intellect, but rather being able to listen to our hearts to know the right thing to do. How many times have I, after a disagreement, looked at my husband and thought, "I could just hug him, I could say something nice right now..."? My heart knows that it's the right thing to do, the nice thing to do, but then my head and my nafs come on strong and say, "What if he pushes you away? Don't give in first. That means you're weak." Oh yes, it's all too familiar. I can tell you with certainty, though, that every time I've listened to my heart, it has worked wonders. It broke down walls of miscommunication, swept away hurt feelings, and acted as a balm. 

Please note that I am talking about disagreements or misunderstandings between two good but imperfect people and there is no foul play. That said, use your judgment in your own case. If someone is lying to you, cheating on you, abusing you, or playing you for a fool, let your intellect kick in and walk away. As Liz Lemon would say, "Deal-breaker!" Move on, your heart will thank you for it. 

I love the line in this rule, "A broken heart hides treasures." A heart that has been broken has been stretched, torn, pulled, taken to its outer limits and survived. It lacks arrogance, it is accepting, it does not judge. To be hurt and come out with a heart that isn't cold and stiff is a true gift. It takes risks, it knows it has been hurt and lived, and though it would rather not go through that again, it is strong. You are not used goods, and don't let anyone make you feel that way. 

The more I think about these rules, the more I see how beautiful a child's heart is. They won't think twice, even if you just scolded them, they will come and hug you. They will give presents, love letters, cards, and so on without a second thought. It's disarming and wonderful. Similarly, I don't hold back in apologizing to my children if I feel I have behaved badly (well, most of the time, sometimes it takes me a few minutes). 

This is a big deal for me because, as my husband will testify, I am terrible at apologizing. In my mind, I try my best to always do the right thing, which can make me quite sanctimonious and unapologetic. When I make a mistake, I feel it's a genuine mistake or that I've been pushed to act a certain way, and I find it very difficult to suck it up and just say, "Sorry". If there's one thing time teaches you, it's that there's no shame in making mistakes as long as you own up to them, don't repeat them, genuinely feel sorry...and express that! We are imperfect, we hurt people and it's unfortunate. Big up and make amends. 

The recent death of a very dear friend led to me making up with two people I had argued with over work (why? Over what? Can you guess? Yeeeees, nafs, that treacherous, ill-willed knave! So, so stupid and pointless in retrospect!). She would have been so happy had I swallowed my pride and made amends, and if I could go back in time and do it while she was alive, believe me, I wouldn't hesitate for one second. A few years ago, I hurt someone deeply due to misinformed assumptions. With some time and more information, I felt terrible and knew I'd acted like a jerk, but I was too scared to apologize, certain they would tell me to pi** off and rightly so. So when that person reached out to me first with a conciliatory message, I was truly humbled. I was knocked straight off my feet, no joke. It takes a BIG heart to reach out like that, and I will always be grateful for the chance to say sorry. 

It's corny, but there's truth to the line, "When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'". (Yah, ok, I like corny humor, sue me.)

Moral of the story? For starters, don't be a jerk. Don't hurt others knowingly. If you do end up doing it even accidentally, a-pol-o-gize and vow not to do it again. Right now, ask yourself: is there someone you want to make amends with, someone you really miss? Message them now. For all you know, they are thinking of doing the same but are scared of taking the first step. Don't wait till it's too late. What's the worst that can happen? They won't respond nicely or at all. At least you'll know you kicked your own nafs in the butt, opened up your heart, and tried your best. Sounds like the path to freedom to me!

So, I had yoga again today, but I still felt t-i-r-e-d the whole day. My body really has a will of its own. What did that article say, that your gut has a "brain"? Oh, my gut has a brain alright - a stubborn little blighter. The brain that says, "gimmay cookies!" So while my head was saying, "so much to do", the brain in my gut was saying, "nap time!" They say when you start yoga, while you're unblocking years of stagnant muscles and energy (and YES, you can definitely feel it in certain exercises!), you can actually feel worse before you feel better. Like with the rules of love, with yoga you are working through layers of blockages: physical, emotional and, finally, spiritual. (Interesting similarity!) There is a suggestion I read that when you initially start yoga, also do something that keeps your endorphins up to complement until you really get all your yoga flows in order, but do NOT give up. The proof is in the pudding when I saw the two elderly ladies in my class (they've been doing this a while) do pose after pose, headstands and so on. My teacher assured me, "Soon you'll be doing headstands, too, don't worry." Ha. Ahahaha. Ahahahahahahaha! 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Day Three

Rule 3
“You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.”

Have you ever felt that God exists absolutely everywhere? In nature, in people, in science, in maths...I love the idea of a grand design, perfect in every minute detail, like fractal geometry. Book and theatre lovers, please read or see a play called "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard (one of my favorites, who makes me feel so dwarfed and insignificant with his epic writing, whose creativity will make your spirit soar on the one hand, but will make the aspiring playwright in you want to curl up into a ball and die, because you can never equal that level of genius). 

I've always felt that if you tune in to the right frequency in your heart and mind, you'll see signs in everything. You'll find faith everywhere. Certain places have their significance, but truly blessed is the one who can feel that magic sitting exactly where they are. Happy is the one who talks to God as one talks to a companion, who not only reads or memorizes the words but understands the meaning. 

My elder kid told me that a lot of kids in class were saying that we should be afraid of God. I was appalled to hear it. I asked what the teacher said in response, and felt relief when I heard that the teacher said, "No, God is love!". But it made me wonder, who at home is filling such ideas into these kids' heads? 

I went to a Christian Missionary High School in Senegal. It was the only English language high school, so I wasn't spoiled for choice. We had chapel every Wednesday and Bible studies, which were absolutely fine and highly educational for me. Once a year, though, we had "Chapel Week". Half the day we had regular classes, and after lunch, we had marathon chapel sessions with guest speakers. Most of the missionaries there were Southern Baptists, and I was one of a handful of Muslim students. This led to a lot of questions at home, when I would ask my father about the differences between "them" and "us", and he would patiently talk to me and explain. 

One day during Chapel Week my senior year, this particularly zealous guest speaker decided to induce mass hysteria in the room well into the 3rd hour of his session. It started with how evil Disney movies were, then how evil Led Zeppelin's music was, there was lots of singing, clapping, and, eventually, tons of crying. He asked whoever was willing to throw the devil out of their lives and accept Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Savior to come up to the front. I am not exaggerating when I say that in that big auditorium, other than the handful of non-Christian students, only 3 or 4 students remained standing in the back (I found out later on because they simply did not like the way he was trying to guilt everyone into going up to the front). We stood our ground, and he kept preaching fire and brimstone to those who weren't going up to the front. This guy was not kidding around. I was holding on to the chair in front of me with clenched knuckles, looking down, trying not to cry, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was one of the teachers, also my friend's mother, a wonderful Brazilian lady. She leaned in behind me and said softly, "This is not Jesus, T. Jesus is love." I think I did cry at that point, but tears of relief. In that moment, I believe she told me a universal truth that has stayed with me till this day, and I can never be grateful enough to her for it. 

Needless to say, I skipped Chapel for the rest of the week. I had learned whatever I was going to from it anyway. Faith is love. It is when zealots take it into their hands that they turn it into something unrecognizable, something exclusionary, something entirely about themselves and their need to establish their own supremacy (also refer to Rule 1). And that, boys and girls, is not MY faith. 

I loved Senegal, and I miss it dearly sometimes. I made good friends at school and did learn some valuable lessons about faith, but I don't miss the preaching. Those two years put me off preaching for good - whether it's religion, ANY religion, politics, ideology, etc - if I get a whiff of preachiness, I run in the other direction. 

The ability to love and care deeply exists in all of us. And I am no hippy but I do believe there is no problem love cannot solve. Including my anger. Since yelling is not an option anymore, when I am truly exasperated about something, I am having to find other ways of explaining myself. Mostly, I sound sarcastic, which doesn't work well at all with kids (or anyone, come to think of it, unless you're enjoying a good old game of repartee or you're Blackadder), and then I have to find better ways of getting the point across. Yes, I am actually having to explain why we don't do certain things. Exasperating as it can be, it's the love I have for these little people that will get me through, and tapping into the love they have in them. And bless them, they have gigantic amounts of it in their tiny bodies, don't they?