Healing With Gold

I recently came across the term “Kintsukuroi” while browsing the vast labyrinths of the internet. It is a Japanese art form, which literally translates as “to repair with gold”.  The philosophy behind it is quite beautiful.

When a ceramic pot or bowl would break, the artisan would put the pieces together again using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, then it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection.  Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken.

Firstly, notice the first word of the quote. It does not say “If”, it says “When”. We talk of chance and of curve balls to indicate that this is not what we expected, and now it hurts. Of course it does. But a lot of us are unable to let go of the bitterness that comes with the pain. “Why me?”, we ask. There is no simple answer for that. But what we do need to accept is the certainty of pain. Being broken is an eventuality, not an accident. And I do not mean this in a cynical way. I mean that brokenness leads to the wholeness that we have, at some point.

I do not read too much into the “stronger and more beautiful” aspect of it. It would sound like empty words to someone who is or has been broken. What I do like to take from this is the attempt, to heal oneself, with gold. I like to think of it as taking responsibility for our brokenness, and pouring in love and empathy and kindness to repair ourselves. If at all we need to ask “Why me?”, we should let that become a tool to better our reparation, and not as a means of wallowing in self-pity. I know I certainly need to learn that lesson.

35, October 3, 2015

Photo via WIkimedia Commons

 

References:

1 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/luminous-things/201510/resilience-growth-kintsukuroi

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Seeking Solace In Your Past Self

Often, in moments of fear or anxiety, I go back and read my old blog posts; the ones about bravery and growth and optimism.  I smile a little, nod a little, but a lot of times, I just wonder. Many times, I start reading and get lost in the words and suddenly, I realize that I’ve been reading the words as if they are by some stranger, when in reality, they are mine. Was it really me, who wrote these uplifting words? How did I know then?

I used to think that knowledge and experience are things that only grow with time. What I learnt once would be remembered always. Maybe that is not always true. Maybe “knowing” is an ever-changing entity and you may gain something several times and lose it as many times too.

trust yourself......

Image via Pinterest

Maybe growth does not always mean adding to your reserve of strengths. Maybe it just means that it evolves continuously, and the what was once a strength may as well be a weakness now.

I have a love-hate relationship with crossroads and decisions. I like to believe that perhaps everyone does. I like the anticipation of beginning something new. I love that the thought that what may be coming may be wonderful and colorful. But at the same time, there is of course, this fear of choosing the wrong road, and ending up lost. What if that path was better? What if that school was better than this? What if that branch was better than this? Am I in the right place? Am I going in the right direction? Am I making the decisions which will lead me to that life? The one that I have planned?

In retrospect, my past self has always chosen the paths that ultimately turned out to be for the best. Sure, I may have certain small regrets, but by and large, I suppose I am right where I should be. And yet, whenever the time comes for something new, I’m terrified. How did my past self make all these big decisions? How in the world did I know? How did I stand so bravely in the face of all those changes, all those challenges? I feel awed by that self.

Maybe some day, I will read this again. And maybe I’ll have a clearer idea of what it all meant. Maybe someday, my present self will be a solace to the one in the future.

On Vulnerability, Bravery and Failure

Trying out new things; the thought makes my stomach plunge a little every time. You know the feeling; a sudden jab of fear, adrenaline, and a worse version of “butterflies-in-the-stomach”. In general, stepping out of your comfort zone, leaving behind “what you know” invokes similar feelings.

I’m generally very good at identifying “what I know”. While that can be a valuable quality to have in various situations, it is also a liability in personal development; I form unnecessary boundaries and define limits for myself.

This is not my thing: not making an attempt.

I’ll try my best but I’m warning you, I’m not very good at this: being apologetic in advance.

I know what all of these statements mask. A fear of failure. What if I try it and find out I’m not good at it? I won’t even try. What if people see me fail? I’ll claim I knew it in advance. All the while hiding behind a claim of self-knowledge and a show of courage.

I’ve spent a lifetime in a cocoon. I’ve cottoned my surroundings to lessen the impact of any stumbling block.  All my life, I’ve held on to things that I know I’m good at. It has stopped me from giving a chance to things that I could have tried and probably enjoyed. And yet, I know I’m missing something; exhilaration. Devoting your whole and soul to something and simply hope for the best.

The past semester has taught me various things. Getting past the feeling of vulnerability is one of those things. I’ve tried to put myself forward, right into that uncomfortable spot, in small, everyday moments of life, consciously. A prick of fear, many moments of “What was I thinking!” and a final dogged attempt later, I’ve always feel glad of attempting the uncomfortable. And in most cases, it hasn’t been that bad. A lot of my inhibitions have been over-exaggerated and sometimes, downright irrational.

In this past semester, I’ve made myself face small challenges every day. I’ve tested and flexed what I thought my boundaries were. I’ve launched heads-on into things that make me uncomfortable. The results have been satisfying. I’ve found new strengths. I’ve discovered a depth in my capacities that I never knew of.

Unfortunately, I’ve found out that such attempts, while very enlightening, have not changed my basic instinct. Which is to save myself from failing. A few days of comfort, and coming back to facing vulnerability is as difficult as ever. Bravery then, is a product of not one (or a few), but many such attempts.

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This is my goal now; to continue to challenge myself every day, to try my hand at something new, to conquer that discomfort felt in the pit of my stomach. My goal is to fail, perhaps in the eyes of the world, so that I do not fail myself.

A Fair World

It was more than a decade back. The Navratri celebrations in our society had Garba competitions. (I’ve talked about Navratri and my love for dancing here. For the new readers, Navratri is a nine-nights long dance festival. Garba is the dance form). It was announced that the dancer who dances continuously the entire night (excluding official breaks) will win.

I was nine, passionate and a fairly good Garba dancer. I held a wish in my heart. I wanted to win. Working up the will, I danced tirelessly. I did not stop when there was barely space enough to dance.  I did not stop when the crowd lessened. I did not stop when my body started aching. I danced the entire night.

It was time for the prize ceremony. I was feeling elated. I had danced more than ever before. I had had more fun dancing than ever before even though I was tired. I was proud of myself. I had achieved something that I hadn’t thought myself capable of.

I did not get the prize. It went to the organizer’s daughter. At the risk of sounding, well, childish, I should mention that she did not dance for even one complete hour. I don’t have an accurate or objective memory of her dancing skills.

It was the first time I learnt that the world isn’t fair. You may not always sow what you reap. You may not always get the fruits of your hard work. You may not get any acknowledgement or appreciation for giving your whole, undivided devotion to something. I was too idealistic. The realization broke my heart.

Over the years, I’ve mainly had good experiences in this matter; most of my efforts have been rewarded. But then, there have also been a few experiences where I’ve felt wronged, resentful, betrayed. Experiences, where the child in me wants to cry out, Unfair! and fold her arms in indignation, frowning, and going all Calvin.

I identify myself with the work that I do. I gain satisfaction from a job well done. Anything less than perfect eats at me, though I’ve been working on not letting it affect me. The point is, I pride myself on working wholeheartedly. When that work is not appreciated, it hurts me. And there is not a lot that really hurts me. I suppose it is not healthy to depend on rewards for satisfaction. And don’t get me wrong; it is not the materialistic rewards that I seek; merely recognition for my efforts.

It is an age-old adage that one shouldn’t work for the fruits, just the satisfaction. And that Karma takes care of everything. Eventually everything works out for the best. I would be lying if I said that I do not believe in it. There is some part of me that is still idealistic, that still believes that rewards will come, albeit not in the form that I expected. But then, there’s this other part of me, a somewhat pessimistic part. A part that has been asking these questions lately:

Is it enough to get returns in another form?

The balance may turn out to be all right at the end of the balance sheet but is life mathematics, with each wish, each reward having an equal value? Aren’t some dreams and efforts worth more?

And at the end, when we feel satisfied at least with ourselves, is that satisfaction real or merely a consolation that we fool our hearts with?

These are some questions that I’ve been grappling with, especially the last one.

This is my answer to it:

I shall continue to put in my best efforts in whatever I do. I do not know any other way to work. The satisfaction of it, consolation or not, is very real to me. But at the same time, it is important to be worldly wise too. It is important to know where to draw the line between working tirelessly and getting taken advantage of.

I still do not know all answers. I still want to learn.

What has been your experience?

Authority, Obedience and Creativity

In second grade, my teacher was the ultimate authority, the one who decided what was right and what was wrong, the one that we complained to in case somebody took our big red-coloured Kit-Kat eraser. I was in awe of her, though I found her a bit strict.

Outside our school there were a few laaris (carts), where a whole lot of low-quality eatables were sold. It was stuff like tamarind, etc. One such taste-bud-tantalizer was some sort of tamarind powder. I never bought these things because my parents said they were bad for health. Our teachers also discouraged it.

Once, Miss B as I’ll call her, caught a boy in my class eating the said powder. She scolded him in front of the entire class, but that wasn’t all. She proceeded to read the ingredients on the packet too. One of them was citrus acid.

Now, mind you, we were in second grade, and didn’t really know the difference between edible acids and cleaning stuff. For us, any acid was ACID, THAT THING WHICH WILL BURN YOU, as was taught to us. Miss B, taking advantage  of the fact, lectured  us on the terrors of eating the thing.

I went home horrified at the foolishness of the boy. Over lunch, I told my parents all about it. My parents very gently informed me how fruits like oranges actually contain citrus acid and that it is completely harmless and edible.

My first reaction was disbelief. How could a teacher lie to us? How could she take advantage of our ignorance?

But soon, I realised why she did so. It was easier for her to say that the powder contained acid rather than explain the details of why exactly it was bad for health. Considering the fact that I was seven and idealistic, I think I forgave her quite easily.

How easy it is, to not explain and merely order. Explaining would take more time, more efforts and probably lead to further questions. Scolding, ordering and even scorning, would take only a few minutes and have a more immediate impact. And of course, a deeper impact, though that part is neglected: Children stop asking “Why?”

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Don’t ask silly questions!

When I was growing up, keeping quiet was a virtue. All students of my generation have heard this from their teachers at least once: Finger on your lips! Don’t talk! Don’t disturb the class! Don’t ask silly questions! I’ve even heard of some teachers completely discouraging any questions when they are in the middle of their teaching, lest they lose their track!

I was a good student. I was, in fact, a model pupil. I even got an award for it: Best Conduct and Discipline. What does it mean really? Good conduct and being disciplined? In my day, it meant being silent in class, accepting the teacher’s authority, not talking back. It meant that I would never question the teacher. I was fed these “virtues” as food everyday. Distinguishing between proper questions and silly questions came easily to me; I knew instinctively which questions shouldn’t be asked. The teachers adored me!

But it also meant that a lot of those silly questions were never asked even though I was curious. I stopped daring to be creative with answers because I was afraid that the teachers would expect me to follow the right and taught methods. For each question asked, I had two answers in my mind; one that I wanted to give, and one which I knew the teacher wanted to listen. I always gave the latter one.

Times have changed now. Questions are encouraged. Creativity is rewarded. The definition of a good student has been changing. Now, we are told that one who asks the most questions learns the most. One who accepts the things as they are told is obedient, but not bright. “Out of the Box thinking” (a much abused expression) is encouraged. For some, the transition has been smooth. For others, it comes with effort.

I was systematically taught to be obedient. And now, it has taken a good amount of conscious effort to revamp the way my mind works, to stop the instinct to give a “desirable” answer and try giving one which may sound silly.

It takes courage to wonder, to be in any way, out of the ordinary. Thank goodness, those questions and those answers were only silenced and not completely removed. Thank goodness, that “creative” wondering was encouraged at home. I realise that school played a very major role in shaping the way I think, but I’m glad, that the very basis of my thought process was formed at home. Beneath those layers of obedience, the inquisitiveness remained, though a little rusty.

Children are curious by nature. Organised learning often kills that curiosity, one question at a time. Every time a teacher gives an order and refuses to answer “Why?”, the child learns to never question authority, to be a doormat.

Is it that difficult to tell a child Why she should/should not do something? How can one expect a child to choose between obedience and inquisitiveness?

How was your experience in school? Were all questions encouraged?

Virtuosity and Lies: What Does It Mean To Be Good?

I remember exactly the first time I lied to be thought virtuous. It was a school test. It had general questions. One question was this: Do you help your mother around the house regularly? I’ll ignore the assumption that only “mothers” are supposed to work around the house for now. I wrote “Yes” as the answer.

Now I did help around the house. Sometimes. When I felt like it. It wasn’t a compulsion or a duty or anything. If I was asked to do something, I did it sometimes, sometimes I refused saying I was doing important things like playing. It wasn’t a big deal. So the true answer would have been “Sometimes”. But we were asked to answer in just Yes or No.

I wrote Yes because of two reasons. One was to account for the “Sometimes”; I didn’t think it was fair to ignore all of the work that I did in the face of the times that I didn’t. The second reason brings us to today’s topic: I wanted the teacher to think that I was good.

What does being good mean exactly?

A simple definition would be to be kind, generous, helpful to the people around you. But these words themselves are pretty vague as far as their own definitions are concerned. What does being kind mean? What is the line between being generous and being taken advantage of? What constitutes help and where do we stop it?

Being selfless combines all of the above if we look at it simplistically. And selflessness?

Altruism: the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

To be unselfish?

A selfish person is one “lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”

I refuse to believe that anybody is completely selfless. All of us are selfish in varying degrees. And all of us know it deep down. And it’s not such a bad thing. Why then, this need to be considered “selfless” by others?

I think I’m considerate enough towards people as a general rule. I think I help them reasonably; not doing their entire work, of course, but as much as is genuinely needed. If had to choose a path that benefits everyone, I would choose it over the one that benefits just me. I would try and avoid the path that hinders others. But if there was a choice between a path benefits somebody else but harms me in any way, I don’t think I’m selfless enough or virtuous enough to choose it. I don’t think I can let anyone matter more than me.

It sounds harsh when I say this perhaps. But I don’t think I’m wrong. There’s a difference between being good and being taken for granted. I have no qualms in doing something for another being; I can take a little bit of trouble for it. Because it makes me feel good. I have to admit that it is about me even then. It is always about me.

And yet, we have this inherent need to be considered good by others, especially when we are young and in school. Hence, I have to tell my teacher that I’m “helpful” and “obedient” in my house. I have to share that last bit of cake with my classmates even though it is my favourite and I don’t want anybody else to eat it. But I have to share because I’m good and “generous”. I have to help people with their homework because I’m a “kind” person, and it doesn’t matter that they gave some superficial excuse not to do it. Otherwise, I shall be considered “selfish”. It’s okay if I’m not actually good inside my head, with my thoughts, as long as I’m being considered good by the world.

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It has become easier to think for myself first and then others as I’ve grown older. But as a society, we continue to expect people to confirm to these behaviours. Don’t get me wrong. The children have to be taught these things, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them at first. But what about teaching them about that fine line of difference? What about when they grow older? Do we still expect them to be just as “virtuous”?

All of this does not mean that one should always keep oneself above others at all times. But real kindness, generosity or helpfulness is, in fact, completely selfish.

To be selfless is completely selfish.

It is in our own selfish interest of feeling good that we help somebody. And that, right there, is goodness.

What do you consider to be good? How do you learn what is the right sort of kindness/helpfulness/generosity? Is it easy to teach children about being good rather than just being considered good?

Get Me Another Sandwich, Woman!

“If you love a guy, let him go. If he comes back, the other woman made lousy sandwiches.”

This is what was printed as the “joke” of the day in a supplement of a leading newspaper recently. Here is what it implies:

1. Guys are with you only because of your cooking skills.

2. Guys are incapable of making good sandwiches by themselves.

I don’t like cooking. I’ve been avoiding learning it for five summer vacations now. I don’t enjoy it, and it doesn’t come easily to me. The reason is that it involves winging it. “Just a hint of the flavour” type of instructions are not my cup of tea. I’m a major believer of exact proportions.

My parents worry about how I’ll manage once I live alone. I tell them I’ll figure it out like everybody else does. And I will, I guess. It can’t be that difficult to cook edible meals for one person, can it? I agree though, that I’ve got to learn it some time.

Here’s my point: Cooking is a life skill. A life skill, I say. Not a woman-specific skill. Which is why the above joke is highly offensive to me.

Feminine stereotype

This is a “feminine” woman in her rightful place; the kitchen

I remember, in primary school, we had a picture in one of our textbooks. It showed a family in their home. The husband was sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. The children were playing around. The wife was in the kitchen, cooking. I remember looking at it and getting irritated. Even though I wasn’t old enough to know fancy terms like “stereotypes” and “gender-based roles”, it still made me mad. Because of one simple reason: I felt like an outsider. Someone whose family didn’t fit into this established norm. I felt that the picture wasn’t showing everybody’s reality.

My mother likes getting up early in the mornings and reading the newspaper over her cup of tea. My father is fond of eating as well as cooking, and he’s an excellent cook, “hints”, “flavours”, and all.

But I agree that this doesn’t happen in most households. When my mid-day snack was appreciated by my classmates, they said, “Be sure to complement your Mom. This is great!”. My response, that the said snack was actually made by my father was met with awkward silence, and sometimes outright amazement. Rarely did people say just “Oh” and left it at that. Really? Do no men cook in this country? I refuse to believe so. I’ve got proof. Most famous chefs are male.

Sanjeev Kapoor

Sanjeev Kapoor

Talk about a male-oriented world! But that’s for another post.

My problem is this:

What was government-approved textbook doing, re-emphasising these stereotypes?

What is a national newspaper doing, normalizing the utterly ridiculous idea of dumping all responsibility of household chores like cooking or cleaning?

What happened to social responsibility?

I know that the role division is as above for the majority of the population. I know that most children, if not all, saw the depiction as a familiar setting. But for once, I would like to see a depiction in a textbook where the husband is helping the wife around the house. I would like to see a depiction where the wife is being handed a briefcase by the husband. For a lot of children that I studied with, most of these ideas were foreign. But isn’t that what education is all about? Introducing new worlds and ideas to children when they have an impressionable mind.

I don’t say that division of work should happen in a certain way. There is no right way. Every family figures out there own rhythm. But there’s no wrong way either. People, especially children, should be made aware of this fact.

We have grown accustomed to reading about such notions. Or listening about them in songs. And at some subconscious level, it does have an impact. We grow used to the idea. And that’s where the problem lies.