Climbing the mountain of life.

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Many a time, when we think that we have already learnt what we need to and move on to the next chapter, we are forced by the unpredictable nature of life to go back to the previous chapter. This step backwards is a reminder of our forgetful nature , when it comes to learning from our experiences.

Early this year, I had posted a poem that reflected what I had learnt from my trip to Spiti: a sampler of the harsh yet inexplicably beautiful Himalayan terrain. I had convinced myself that I had expressed all that I had learned, in those few words. However, sustainable living was not the only lesson that the imposing mountains taught me.

I am not a seasoned mountaineer or even an amateur trekker, although I always nursed the desire to be one. As a fifteen year old, I was thrilled about my first hike up a small hill close to my city. The strong breeze that hit me when I reached the summit seemed to bring along with it a strong sense of satisfaction, while blowing my self-doubts away. I have since been to many mountains and hills, albeit in the comfort of a vehicle, which could never substitute the feeling of completeness resulting from a climb. The physical effort somehow always seems to render the sights more beautiful and the mountain air sweeter.

Now, I’m not too sure if it is a universal phenomenon, but  with my growing number of years, there was an exponential growth in fear of things to come and a fall in the intensity of my carefree attitude. For some unknown reason, I had also developed a fear of heights [and flights] which was in great conflict, with my desire to scale mountains.

And so, for my thirtieth birthday, I decided to gift myself a trip to one of the remotest part of the Himalayas, just to be able to disprove my irrational fears. The fervor with which I chose the destination and booked the flight, began to wane, as the jeep  took my husband and I through the landslide infested region. In spite of the first sight of the snow capped mountains,  panic struck with every foot we climbed, I began to yearn for my long lost friend – my sense of adventure. I was further discouraged by listening to the anecdotes of the climbers, who were returning,  without making it to some of the destinations of a higher altitude, thanks to their altitude sickness. I was sure at that point, that I would definitely succumb to the lack of oxygen, and would therefore be unable to overcome my fears or to turn my dreams into reality.

Fortunately, I was driven into facing my dark thoughts, when our jeep was hit by a falling rock. The rolling pebbles that were of a size no bigger than dry dates, which owing to the height from which they were falling and the speed,began to pierce not only the windshield, but also my thoughts. As I panicked, the driver began to move forward at a great speed on the narrow strip in the mountain, that pretended to be a road. Although none of us were hurt, the sight of a web of cracked windshield almost killed my spirit. As my anxiety was brewing, the 21 year old driver’s words pulled me out of my state of shock.

“Never stop! ” he yelled. “Never stop in your tracks, even if a boulder is threatening to fall on your head, for if you stop in fear, you will turn it into reality, keep moving and don’t stop , not even to look back at the damage done”. His words were ringing for long in my head , even as we began to venture into safer regions. The words seemed to bare my not so healthy ways of dealing with my inner demons, stopping and letting my irrational boulders of anxiety fall on my head.

The new found realization, as much as I would have liked it to, did not magically and immediately transform my doubts into gold. It did however, ignite a healthier thought process, which would help me in my journey ahead. Towards the last leg of the trip, we had to trek to one of the highest villages in Asia. It was easier than I thought it would be, save for a few steep slippery paths which shook my confidence. As I stepped on the loose soil, my heart sank looking down the steeper sides of the trail . The words “Don’t stop!” echoed in my head. At that moment, I learnt that if I let panic rule, then I would get shaky and definitely lose my footing. Standing still and looking back wouldn’t help in running back nor in making any progress. Looking forward, only reminded me of the long tiresome path ahead. The only way forward was to focus on the step I was taking, not down, not behind nor ahead, I just needed to focus on that spot where I would place my foot, at that moment without letting my fear interfere.

And just like that, my fear began to slowly melt, encouraging me to take more confident steps, on my own, towards a higher point. Fear- which had almost become my traveling companion, was now replaced by the reassuring, rhythmic sounds of my foot on the surface of the mountain. The mountains, that reminded me once more the value of focusing on the present, not letting the fears of the  past and the uncertain future hold me back from reaching that peak of life.

“Don’t stop climbing the mountain of life, in fear of the rolling boulders and shaky grounds  of uncertainty” – A beginner’s lesson from the mountains in Spiti that pops in to say hello, every time I get stuck in the narrow path of self-doubt.

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Acceptance – Back to nature.

 A good friend of mine once said :

“On essaie tant de nous façonner et de façonner notre vie qu’on oublie que rien n’est dans notre contrôle. A la fin, c’est cette resignation à la volonté du Dieu qui m’a donné la paix. Toutes les stratégies du développement de soi aident, mais pour une guérison holistique, complète, j’ai trouvé que la foi était nécessaire.”

                                            – “We are so busy trying to mold ourselves and to mold our lives that in the process, we forget that NOTHING IS IN OUR CONTROL. In the end, it is the resignation to the will of God which helped me find peace. The various strategies proposed by self-help books, counselors and psychologists do help, but for a holistic and a complete solution or a cure, I found that the most necessary ingredient was Faith.”

Whether we believe in the tangible form of all that is beyond our reach , the super being which cannot be easily – namely God , or we refuse to believe in the very existence, owing to our desire or need to think rationally ; no matter what our belief system is, one cannot deny that the human race, despite its claim to be the most superior of all beings; is quite powerless when it comes to nature.

Nature, as defined by the  Oxford Dictionary :[MASS NOUN] The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. The very definition reveals the  existence of the perception of duality. Why do we, as human beings are always in a pursuit to prove that we are the outsiders, the powerful outsiders to the natural world, merely because we possess the intelligence of being able to “create”?

In spite of all our efforts to create our own ideal world , we need to accept that we cannot control all that is “opposed to humans or their creations”; for contrary to what we would like to believe, we are an integral part of this ” phenomena of the physical world, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth”.

So, does this mean that we bow down and give in to all those obstacles in our path to attain “perfection” and give up on every challenge that life throws at us. Does this “acceptance of the true nature of things” and resigning to fate/ faith, translate into defeat and submissiveness?

One country which is a frequent victim of the untamed and unpredictable nature of our planet is Japan. We all know what earthquakes are and are well aware of the consequences. No matter the devastating effects of the earth’s inner conflicts, people continue to live right on top of the fault lines. What is the motivating force behind their resilience and their persistence to stay put instead of migrating to safer regions, other than the obvious economic factors?

I believe that a part of the answer lies in “accepting” the natural world. And this acceptance is not a sign of submissiveness, for the latter would have provoked a mass exodus. The population did not even try to control nature by trying to find means to stop earthquakes from happening. Their solution was simply to accept the course of nature which motivated them to create buildings that would cause lesser damage to life. In other words they chose to adapt rather than to fight or run.

As an adolescent, I would get embarrassed by the fact that my mother suffered from a psychological disorder which made her lead an almost asocial life. I tried to change her into what I thought was an ideal mother. I would fight with her at every instance that challenged my idea of a perfect “mom”. Later on, I even went to the extent of developing a paralyzing fear of being like her, which in turn led me to loose my self-confidence, following which I would blame every failure of mine on my childhood.But the day I was forced by the unpredictable nature of life, to learn to accept her the way she was, not only did my fear began to disappear and I no longer made excuses in self-pity; but also could now see how she lived despite her sufferings and was able to lovingly raise a child with the help of my father’s unconditional support,and accept me despite all my deliberate actions to contradict her irrational beliefs .

Thus this acceptance, at many times; can be a solution to not only the conflicts between man and nature but also in our relationship with the other human beings and  in our relationship with our inner self. It is therefore never a sign of weakness to accept our vulnerabilities and the true nature of others.

 

Lessons of the past decade.

“Age is subjective.” I said, to my prospective employer, when asked as to how I, a 21 year old, naive looking chubby girl, would be able to teach a group of boisterous teenagers.  I had found the expression appealing enough to be used in a successful job interview with a 70 year old founder of a reputed school.

A fruitful stint as a teacher, a marriage, a weight-loss program, higher studies and a new job later, bref, almost ten years after I oh so freely shared my opinion on age, I truly understood its meaning.

We all like to quote inspirational sayings, use thoughtful phrases to make a point, presuming to understand them. When in reality, we are able to do so only when we have wholly experienced them.

As I turn 30 today, I can now say from my heart, that age IS Subjective. Almost a decade of teaching people from age 7 to 65, I have realized that an 8 year old can sometimes be more mature than an 80 year old. In fact, I’m as mature as I should have been a good 10 years ago; for whether we are in haste to grow up or be a Peter Pan, despite the ability  desire to be masters of our destiny; we often find ourselves at its mercy.

Life has its plans for us, setting the rhythm of our evolution which is directly proportional to rather our willingness to learn from even the most undesirable of experiences, than their sheer number. Although a reluctant learner to begin with, the aforementioned undesirable experiences, were the ones that reiterated the following :

a) The pursuit of perfection will  lead one to the path of failure.

b) Happiness is not a destination.

c) Vulnerability is something  that  needs to be embraced. [A fact beautifully illustrated here: http://questforidentity.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/vulnerability/ ]

d) Motivation is often overrated! We need not always work for a reward. Work in itself IS sometimes a reward.

And e) To quote one of my favorite authors : Le pire du pire , c’est l’attente du pire  – Daniel PENNAC , La Petite marchande de prose, 1990. [The worst of the worst is the expectation of / the wait for the worst!]

Have I learnt them well?  The new experiences in my new chapter of life will answer the question.

REBIRTH

It’s not just mythical cats that have nine lives. We as human beings too, we live many lives. All in a single lifetime, and it’s not just the different phases such as childhood, adolescence and adulthood, but the many different experiences that we live every single day.Each experience brings about a death of certain parts of our ever evolving personalities and, leading to the birth of our new selves.

Every time we die out of our old identities, we carry with us the Karma to the new born psyche.

This non-physical cycle of birth and death is essential for us, to keep ourselves from rotting, very much like the plants.

It might seem weird, being compared to a being in a permanent “vegetative” state as we claim to be a species apart, different from all that is natural around us. However, in reality, we are sometimes no different from say, the trees outside our man-made shelters.

Just like the vegetation that grows, dries, sheds leaves, wears a dark look of death every winter, only to be reborn with the tender leaves and spring blooms; feeding off the compost of the last season; we, at the psychological level, need to grow, experience, shed the bad ones and let ourselves evolve, feeding off the past experiences without being too attached to their consequences.

The above realization puts the whole notion of rebirth and Karma in a new light for someone like me, who has always been skeptical of these concepts.

The Age of Wisdom.

You don’t always need to read a Kant or a Nietzsche to philosophize. The sources of your inspirational thoughts can sometimes be miniscule in size. No, I’m not talking about those pocket books  of quotes or even the humble bookmarks with their wise words, staring at you when you are trying to crack your whodunits.

I’m talking about the toon, candy and toy obsessed little beings; who can surprise you with their perceptions of life : Children. My daily dose of wisdom, besides the occasional posters [and the ubiquitous Facebook posts]; comes from the unconditioned , tender minds.

Ri , age 5: “Do you know that you can see an object twice, without that object actually being in front of you?!”

Me: “Are you talking about photos?”

Ri [frustrated that I didn’t get the obvious]:  “No! Have you ever been on a TGV?”

Me: “Yes, once.”

Ri: “Now, imagine that one day, you dream that you are in it again. You have seen it and been on it twice!”

~

SriR, age 10 –  On watching the repetitive images on the telly, of a politician being smeared with black ink; in the presence of campaigners and the media.

“I don’t understand why they are making it a big deal! It is just some ink, which can be washed away!”

~

SriD, age 6 [ a little upset] : “God never responds to me.”

Me [Being used to people praying for help or giving thanks when their prayers have been answered] : “When you pray to God, he makes the people around you , help you with your problems. you really can’t SEE him.”

SriD: “I know that you or my mom can help me with my problems. But, when I tell him that he is very cute, he never replies.”

~


A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts

—Wordsworth