Tuesday, May 30, 2017

On Conscious Conversations

I was invited to deliver a couple of lectures at a well known foundation for senior citizens in Mumbai recently. The lectures were on transformational dialoging with self and others and among the modalities I worked with in the sessions were non-violent communication and emotional intelligence.
One point of emphasis during the sessions was the idea of conscious communication and the power of transformation that it holds. For example, we discussed how parents often tend to compare children with their peers and inadvertently damage the child emotionally. When a child is told "Look at XYZ's child... how good he is at math" or "You must learn from Pia, she is so disciplined", the child unconsciously picks up the message "I am not ok as I am." A lot of these children carry this message as a belief well into adulthood and continue to believe they are never good enough. It does not help that social messages continue to reinforce this belief all around us: slimming pills ads tell us we are not thin enough, performance feedback in a lot of organisations says we are not as competent as our colleagues, 'motivational' speakers say we do not dream big enough.
After my last lecture, there was a social gathering with the participants and typical of Indian fashion, the conversation steered to how old I am and if I am married. In the spirit of the light hearted conversation I chose to respond and told them I am 36 and single. And then followed a barrage of advice about how it is important to find a companion to 'complete' me. They even went on to ask if I need help in finding a partner. At that point I put a firm stop to the conversation and made it clear they are crossing a boundary.
The reason I am writing this post is two-fold:
- One, I am reminding myself to stay more present in conversations and not allow my boundaries to be breached even to the extent it was breached. I must learn to be openly unapologetic of a life choice that I have made consciously.
- Two, I am putting out a call to you who are reading to reflect upon this: Are you aware of the possibility that you may be engaging in disempowering conversation?  In asking seemingly innocuous questions such as "Why aren't you married" or "why do you choose not to have a child" or "why don't you go back to employment" or "why don't you try dieting", we are reinforcing the message that "you are not ok as you are". Some of those who receive this message may be conscious enough to not get impacted. But a lot of them will get affected, even if they continue to engage in the conversation to be social and polite. And how do you respond when you are at the receiving end of such questions and comments?
As a student of psychology, one of the early lessons we were taught was that the idea of 'normal' is a fallacy. Even if a huge proportion of people in the world make certain life choices, that does not make it normal. It is just what it is: a choice. We are living in times where we can clearly see the impact of unconscious conversations: terrorists are created because the world tells a section of the community that they are not ok. Depression is rampant because people are told they are not good enough.
I am all for continuous self growth and learning. I do believe it is important to contribute meaningfully to the world. But learning and contribution happen best when we hold space for each other: not by giving advice, not by indicating what is 'normal', not by setting arbitrary standards of success. Holding space is simply celebrating another as they are. By all means, intervene if they are causing themselves or others physical or emotional harm. Apart from that, most other life choices are simply a way of learning and growing.
I do believe most of us intend well when we have a conversation. But is there a gap between our intent and impact?  Stay conscious.

Friday, March 24, 2017


They say we are all so different
Different species
Different colours
Different sizes and shapes
Different life spans.

We say we are all so similar
The same rain to bathe us
The same earth to nourish us
The same air to sustain us
The same sun to feed us.

They wonder at our coexistence
We wonder at their separation.

They fight for identity
To celebrate their existence.
We blend our identities
To celebrate ours.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The 'locker room' speaks...

The US presidential election has been stirring something in me for a long while now. I was struggling to put a finger on it, till it distilled, with Trump's so-called 'locker room' talk. I wondered, earlier, if the election stands for what seems rather obvious: Democrat versus Republican ideologies, man versus woman and so on, till the 'locker room' stuff laid it bare. In his own obnoxious way, Trump served to haul out of the closet, for the world at large, what was deemed unspeakable. Under the guise of equality, education, social and political correctness, we have feared to name some inner wars that have raged in our minds and therefore on our planet. 
There is the ubiquitous rage of girls and women - and boys and men - against their molesters and rapists. But there is also the silent simmering of those that allow sex willingly, for the sake of money, convenience or simply because they believe they do not have a choice.
There is the overt anger of the poor against the rich, protesting the inequity of things. But there is also the imploding frustration of having lived with one's poverty (of money, love or anything else) and having spent a lifetime fighting against those that have, instead of fighting for what one could create.
There is the stress and breakdown and burnout after living a professional corporate life that does not permit emotion and softness. But there is also the wrecking guilt of not having challenged that reality and not questioning what is deemed to be professionally acceptable.
There is the numbing fear and anger about the destruction caused by terrorism. But there is also the deep shame of the weaponless terrorist in us that manipulates the world around us, unless they give in to our demands.
There is the sorrow and depression and fear connected with being a failure in the eyes of the world. But there is also the overpowering sense of truth in knowing that success is different for everyone, and yet, not standing up for oneself and voicing it.
Trump has brought out for the world, the primal nature of our universe in all its glorious nakedness: wearing only its polarities. In trying to be 'good', 'moderate', 'politically correct', 'diplomatic'... and all the other things we try to be, to be socially acceptable, we collectively pushed into the shadows the overarching truth, that the universe as we experience it in the human form has a dual nature. There is positive and negative, minus and plus, male and female, bad and good. In the name of tolerance, shame and social correctness we pretended to walk the middle ground for a long time, trying to transcend the polarities, 'fitting in'.
And now, it is laid bare. And we are asked to vote. Good or bad? Right or wrong? Judgmental or non-judgmental? 
It is not just about the President of the US. It is about what will preside in us. And it is not a one-time vote. It is a vote we need to cast every moment of our existence. Are we ready to engage our polarities, and not transcend them? Are we willing to acknowledge all that we are - a fascinating mess of possibilities - and consciously choose a stance for every moment of our lives? Sometimes it serves to be good and sometimes the bad helps too. To some I am an angel, others learn from the devil in me.
This is way beyond the elections. Are we, as humanity, ready to vote for conscious living, over and over again?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Light and Dark - In Union

When the candle dwindled
And began to merge
With where it began
The floor lit up in union.
The darkest place
Was no longer under the candle.
In oneness
There is only rejoicing light.
And then
The satiated dark
That no longer fights
The light it was born out of.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Intent for Freedom and Oneness

Taking off from Rabindranath Tagore, on India's 70th Independence Day on 15 Aug 2016... The beauty in the verse is his, the blemishes are mine...
Where the mind needs no borders and the planet is free
Where passports are no longer in existence
Because we belong everywhere
Where families come about through the depths of our hearts
And not because there are institutions that tie us together
Where the clear voice of oneness guides our way
As we labour, in love of our world
To create beauty, simply to celebrate who we are
Into that home of freedom,
Let my being awake.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Happy Women's Day, Man!

In the last few months, I have heard men communicate through media their expectations about us Indian women, including:

- The number of children we must produce
- What we ought to wear
- When must we return home in the evening
- The technology we should not use
- The gender we could be friends with
- The ideal response in case we are in the process of being raped

Once I overcome my initial judgment of disdain and disgust towards the men who make these statements (and the women who support them), I am aware of the huge sense of powerlessness in these men. This lack of power is so overwhelming that it makes them beg, borrow and steal it from the women around them, who in their eyes, is supremely powerful. And why not: she can give life, nurture it, be beautiful, be professional, celebrate her myriad roles and her sexuality and rule the world. The power of her womb fuels humanity.

Yes, man, I understand your powerlessness. You have no womb. However, you were formed in one. You will always have the womb energy of your mother available to you, should you choose to access your power. 

If you want to feel powerful, have the courage to nurture those around you, knowing that one day they will force their way out of this nurturing womb, tearing you in the process; but you will have co-created life.

If you want to experience power, accept the cycle of the womb and be brave enough to welcome pleasant emotions and unpleasant feelings. The womb is wise, it flows with the rhythm of the universe and knows that destruction is the first step of creation.

If you want to know your power, learn to respect choices. The womb does not grudge the choice of an unfertilised egg; it purges it and relentlessly moves on to release another egg in the next cycle. When a woman says no to you, man, learn to respect it. Rejection of your overtures does not make you small. What makes you small is your inability to accept the response.

No matter how much you try to control and force us, man, you will not be powerful. We women are powerful because we celebrate the woman in us by claiming our power, as much as we express the man in us through love. You, man, need to claim yourself first. Be man enough to love. And then, access the woman in you and dare to nurture, trust and respect. You will then know power.

Here’s to the woman in you, man… Happy women’s day! You need this day more than we do.