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The Day We Die

6 May

The day we die
the wind comes down
to take away
our footprints.

The wind makes dust
to cover up
the marks we left
while walking.

For otherwise
the thing would seem
as if we were
still living.

Therefore the wind
is he who comes
to blow away
our footprints.

—- Anonymous poem from the San people of Kalahari in Southern Africa


21 Days- In Reflection

1 Feb

Feb 1st, a full 37 days since my first blog and starting this adventure of enhancing my compassion and gratitude. I wanted to take a bit of time to reflect on how it all went, what I thought of this grand plan to rewire my brain into a more positive outlook.

The short version: The 21 Days of Compassion made me a more positive person.

I still maintain a list (less official) on my phone when I come across a new thought or experience that I’m grateful for. I’m more motivated at work (after the initial back to office slump). I take pictures now! I used to not take pictures, like the John Mayor song 3X5: “didn’t have a camera by my side this time hopping I would see the world with both my eyes.” In reality I think I was missing out by not capturing those happy memories and moments of awe. My disposition, I’ve come to admit, is such that while I have good experiences they get lost in the negative waves of hindsight.

The long version: The 21 Days of Compassion made me a more positive person. And I will continue to have to find ways to maintain this positivity.

There have also been a few lessons along the way about myself:

  • Hard work is mistaken for innate talent: In the past couple months various TED Talks about grit, leadership and happiness have illuminated that I emphasize the need for natural abilities over hard word. And I use this as a crutch and excuse. In the process of celebrating success we turn the story into a myth of the innate. And I do this! Research, for example shows that it’s not charismatic people who become leaders but taking on roles of leadership leads to charisma. I’m not sure why this example resonated so well (maybe because I had so squarely fallen in the former camp) but it did. We all have what it takes.
  • Argue in the Now: I have some not so bueno habits. For example, I’m not good about brushing my teeth at night– my parents never instilled it as a child and now as a grown woman I get lazy. Through my 21 days I realized in the moments when I was dragging my feet, my best argument was one that was bout the now. Not “I’ll regret this tomorrow” or “This will make me happy in the morning” but “I will feel satisfied now, as soon as I finish brushing my teeth.” Translating my long-term desires into short-term gains has been very powerful. And my lessons in gratitude show there is often something nice in the now to focus on. Look at those dots connecting!
  • My Life, Myself, and Others: I’ve decided to expand this project, not so much in the formal blog but in day to day. I’m going to create a board to list things I’m grateful for in my life, in myself and in others (especially my relationship). AND I want to keep writing. These are two things I need to mash together. Writing brings me clarity and keeps me thinking more positive. Lists are the short little versions of my other way long and drawn out thoughts. I

On that note- I’m spending a wonderful weekend in a cabin with some old friends and soon to be new friends! Resolution #2 and #9 (talk to strangers & focus on the moment).

Day 21: The End

17 Jan

Day 21! The last day of the challenge. I’m going to do one more post, reflecting on the experience. But here is the last day 🙂

Three Sources of Gratitude:

  • Surprises: I LOVE surprises. Not just the big ones– like a surprise birthday party (though hint hint fwends, nobody has ever thrown me a surprise b-day party!)– but the little ones. An e-mail from someone unexpected, a sunny day during a week of rain, and mail. Well today I got a package from my mom. Now I know I should have seen it coming (she asked me and my sis for our mailing address two days ago) but I didn’t. So too my delight I came home to priority mail box full of on of my most favorite Indian sweet snacks EVER! It’s so yummy that I’m not even going to say what it is lest you come banging on my door wanting some. My roomie got a piece each because for some weird reason I was feeling generous. I shan’t make that mistake twice. Surprises are the best.
  • Other People’s Patience: I’ve been working on my own patience and while I am grateful when it kicks in, the reality is that part of the reason I can be patience at times is because I remember a moment were the roles were reversed and someone was kind to me.  Like when you’re driving in a new part of town and going super slow because you have no clue if the next street is the one you’re supposed to turn on and the buddy behind you doesn’t get ruffled by it. In the past year especially both strangers and loved ones have put up with my blumbering fool of self. So thank you all for your kind patience (at least to my face!). FYI
  • Votes of Confidence: I am extremely, extremely extremely, extremely grateful to every single person who read even one of my blogs kind of, half-way through. Some of you, for unknown reasons, chose to read multiple blogs AND THEN even message me saying how much you enjoyed it! I’m honored enough to tuck my mild skepticism deep into the closet and just smile in gratitude. I was very shocked and pleased when I started to receive kind words and even inspire a few people to do their own 21 Days of Compassion. The messages really helped keep me going on those sleepy days when I just wanted to be lazy! So thanks for the votes of confidence peeps.

Meditation AND Exercise: I tried something different today– Kundalini Yoga. It was part exercise and part meditation, with a focus on awareness and healing. And i have to say I did feel very calm and present almost the entire time were were there. The “instructor” was more of a guru-like figure and was so very joyful. And what point he told us to shake out our hips and then proceeded to tell us a story about watching a YouTube video on meditation by shaking. That’s it, just shake your body. So he encouraged us all to be silly and just shake. It works; you can’t be upset or thinking about anything but the moment when you’re shaking like a little weirdo.  I want to keep going, maybe once a week, as a way to recenter myself and also continuing to work myself into more structured, focused forms of meditation.

One Positive Experience: Today a co-worker sent me the nicest message! I’m going to relay it for you, Mad Libs style.

Super nice co-workers says: Me and [insert your best friend’s name] told [insert very important alive human’s name] how awesome you were to work with this [insert word or phrase for the end of the word]. [insert capitalized gendered pronoun of very important alive human’s name] said  [repeat gendered pronoun of very important alive human’s name]  knows you’re awesome.

For revised rendition of the complement: “Me and Irene told President Obama how awesome you were to work with this Zombie Apocolypse. He said he knows you’re awesome.”

Conscious Act of Kindness: Mrs. B was my elementary school Librarian. From 2nd through 5th grade, my sis and I would volunteer at the school library once a week. It was the best. I still remember learning the Dewey Decimal to file books away, climbing up into the reading loft to striaghten out the pillows, and my favorite was when I’d graduated enough to be able to use the letter presses and make signs and wall decor for upcomming library events. As a kid I remember the library was this giant vast land of aisles and aisles of books. There were tables to read at, a stage for story time, and even a rocking chair. I have some of the most vivid memories in that library. I loved Tuesdays and hanging with Mrs. B. She was so kind, every Christmas giving us the most wonderful goody bags full of treats. I have yet to track down her contact info, but once I do there is a lovely letter waiting.

Day 16: Splinter Moments

9 Jan

 Three Sources of Gratitude:

  • Birthdays! Today is my Pop’s birthday. Don’t tell anyone but the old foggy is 60 year’s old! Apparently his co-workers think he’s in his late 40s. Considering that my sister is a doctor, they must think he got married straight out of high school or something. But I digress…birthdays are awesome. Birthdays are awesome because they are completely arbitrary reasons for you and everyone in your life to explicity love yourself. On my birthday I feel like a King! I can do no wrong. Actually I listened to this fabulous Ted Talk by Alain de Botton entitled Atheism 2.0, where he highlights some of the best parts of religion, one of which is a calendar. Sometimes, we need reminders to appreciate the small things, to look at the moon, to cherish our family, to simply celebrate. Birthdays are that reminder (just in case we’ve forgotten) that our life is a precious and remarkable gift, worth celebrating. Our story thus far is worth celebrating. Hence in my book a birthday is always something worth rallying, whether the birthday friend is new or old.
  • Friends You Can Learn From: I love learning something new from friends. Especially old friends, whom you assume you’ve already tapped out; they always surprise you! For example, my friend E has been on the job hunt and has started blogging a mini Job Search Guide to share her learnings and advice. I found it so accessible and full of little tricks that could probably help anyone whose just trying to network better . I highly recommend the read. I also am reminded of my friend J who shared with me this community project he’s working on, stemming from his interest in the Suzuki Physical Theater, which I believe has been created by Japanese theater director Tadashi Suziki. J showed me the below video which I found very interesting. I still don’t know a lot about this form of physical theater but at least I know it exists and maybe one day will get the chance to try it out myself! So many fun things in the world.
  • Access to Transportation: Most days I bus to work. On nice days I bike. And on days when I’m running late I drive. I’ve got options. All of these options enable to get from Point A to Point B in an efficient manner. But this isn’t true for everyone. In fact, even after adding this to my list of gratitude I still made an ignorant comment forgetting this simple fact. It was a splinter moment. A splinter moment is what I call those tiny little actions you take, small decisions, that bring on sharp pains of shame. Last year I was biking and there was an overly aggressive driver being very rude and I flicked him off as I turned on my street. A small burst of anger just swelled up inside me and I made a poor decision. I immediately regretted it. I felt like I represented bikers poorly, I represented my charity organization, whose jersey I was wearing, poorly. I mean what if there was a child in the car and they saw? I still recall this moment and the pangs of shame keep me in line. No matter how far I’ve come, and how hard I’ve worked, there is still further to go. Today’s splinter moment was me laughing over a co-worker’s choice to live in the burbs (he truly does live in the burbs- that’s not the splinter moment!). When I found out where he was moving, I recounted how I’d been chatting with a girl at the checkout counter in Target when I’d first moved here. It was quite apparent I had moved (nobody buys that much kitchen gear in one go) and I mentioned which neighborhood I was living in. She seemed confused and so I used some key landmarks to describe where it’s located. Realizing that I lived in the city, she responded that she’d never been to the city before. I was shocked! I retold that story today to describe how people in the burbs stay in the burbs but almost immediately afterwards I realized I was looking at the world from my perspective of privilege. In my bubble if you don’t go somewhere it’s because you don’t want to. But in the reality many people don’t have access. That 16 year old girl may come from a family that doesn’t have a lot of time or extra income to be taking their car (if they have one) in and out of the city. In jokingly accusing her of living in a bubble, I actually pointed out my own bubble. In this bubble I have easy access to transportation, which I must do a better job appreciating. I’m curious what other people’s splinter moments might be. If you’d like to share please do!

Meditation/Reflection: My friend sent me this post on 3 Minute Meditations. I’d like to test them over the next five days. So for today I chose “The Full Body Scan.” It wasn’t what I expected. I actually got a little claustrophobic feeling when I did it. I think being congested and tired didn’t help. Or perhaps it’s like when you go to a new yoga class for the first time and you feel awful at first. So maybe I just need practice?

One Positive Experience: Up until now most of my positive experiences have involved sometime of interaction with a person. But one of the best things I did today, for myself, was to spend time cleaning up my room. I did my laundry, washed my sheets, vacuumed and tidied. It felt great! I don’t always prioritize keeping a clean space but I do love that sensation of coming home to just a war, clutter free room. I’m glad I knocked it out today.

Random Act of Kindness: I have a relatively new friend J (actually a friend of a friend) who I had some wonderful conversation with last weekend. And I’m going to tell him so. That’s all 🙂

Exercise: My roommate’s friend finished yoga teacher training last month and sent her a really nice pre-bed yoga series. In her words they’ll help relax your muscles, lower your heartbeat and stimulate your digestive system. I think it’s exactly what the doctor ordered!

Day 15: An Unexpected Turn of Events

9 Jan

Day 15 already- what?? I can’t believe there are less than 6 days left! Okay that’s enough patting myself on the back…

 Three Sources of Gratitude AND Meditation/Reflection:

  • This Blog: I don’t mean my blog! I mean For Sarah, For All of Us by Kelsey from the blog Happyyolks. My friend sent this to me and I fell in love! I think my most favorite quote is: “You must. Remember too, though, that you don’t need to fling yourself across the globe to shift your perspective. A new place doesn’t change your life. You change your life. You will, at every moment of the next year, have the extraordinary gift of choice to redirect your sails.” I love when Kelsey describes how she came to the decision of “taking the responsibility, FINALLY holding herself accountable, and deciding that she wanted things to be different in her life.” And it she who gave herself that. It came from inside. This definition of adulthood– taking responsibility, holding ourselves accountable for our own future is not a way of dismissing the impacts of our environment and what we’ve been given. Rather it means that on top of what life has given you there is hard work and responsibility. It’s bearably heavy. These 21 Days of Compassion are my way of acknowledging and committing to my duty.
  • Turning Ideas on Their Head: My Unc and I were talking about life stuff when he gave me a piece of advice, “Figure out what makes you angry.” I interpreted his words to mean that I needed anger-management therapy. So I asked,  “Why?” His response totally caught me off-guard: “Because anger is what’s going to fuel you to work harder and give more than you ever expected.” It’s not very Zen advice, but there is a funny logic to it. Rather than viewing all forms of anger as bad, take those issues that most anger you (human slavery, recidivism rates , illiteracy, wealth inequity) and channel that anger into your career, your life’s purpose. Anger and fear are not bad things (as I’ve been treating them to be), I just need to let them make me strong.
  • Fear & Anger: On that note I think I should take the time to acknowledge and be grateful for my fear and anger. I often demonize these qualities in me as being signs of immaturity and impulse. Instead I should think of them as an opportunity. Brother David Steindl-Rast did a wonderful Ted Talk entitled “Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful.” I first listened to it last week and then re-watched it a few days ago. After I started this 21 Days of Compassion project, I found myself wondering, what in fact is gratitude? I feared that my list of gratitudes was indistinguishable from a list “awesome things” or “things I appreciate.” And my gut tells me there is a difference. Steindl-Rast says that gratitude is when (1) something is given to us freely (not bought, earned but a real gift) and (2) it’s valuable to us. He further suggests that there are both grateful experiences, which we all have, but the truly happy are those who practice grateful living. Grateful living is when live as if each moment is a gift, and the way to practice this is by viewing each moment as an opportunity. Some experiences are terrible full of pain and suffering. We don’t have to be grateful for those experiences but we can be grateful for the opportunity encompassed in it. At least this is how I’ve interpreted the Steindl-Rast’s words. And it’s worked! When getting upsetting at others or berating my own self for not working hard enough, I think “OPPORTUNITY! What is the opportunity in this moment?” and my mind shifts from the pain or the feeling of misery to problem-solving mode. All this is to say that my anger and fear encompass some wild opportunities, for which I’m grateful.

One Positive Experience: I made a new friend today! I went to a coffee shop to wait for my friend and the gentleman next to me asked if I’d watch his computer while he went to the restroom. I said of course and proceeded to eagerly read Half The Sky. He got back and struck up a conversation, and I, remembering my new year’s resolution to talk to strangers more, struck back! My new friend is getting his masters in South Asian Studies and was on his way to teach a class at a local church. I’m very excited to attend his next class but couldn’t at the time because I was heading to yoga. I’m super glad he said hello. Yay for making new friends! Yay for expanding bubbles! That’s already two new friends since I started my 21 Days of Compassion! Okay enough exclamation marks.

Exercise: Yoga Class followed by a meal of Rava Dosa all with my friend E. Best combination ever. But man was the yoga class hard. It’s been over a month since my last class. I thought to myself “I’ve been exercising regularly for the past two weeks, why is this so hard?” But then I caught myself, “Not all forms of activity are equal. You can be an overall active person and still find certain workouts or exercises difficult.” Phew, for a moment I was thinking that I was a major failure and the past 14 days had all been for naught! Self-beratement avoided!

Intentional Act of Kindness: I’ve decided I need to start calling my e-mails what they really are, intentional (not random) acts of kindness. And my e-mail goes, for the first time, to an unknown entity: Kelsey the author of the wonderful blog.

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Day 13: Back to Basics

7 Jan

Oh soooo tired. I can’t any frills to tonight’s post. But the essentials are there.

Note: I actually typed the above sentence like that and didn’t even catch! I’m going to leave it as a testament to just how tired I was when I wrote this blog and to remind myself if I want to sound articulate I can’t write when I’m semi-conscious.

Three Sources of Gratitude:

  • Good Health: I read recently in my book that health is one of those things that we only appreciate when we don’t have it or things are going badly. As I’ve been working on this challenge, some of my objectives have more clearly formulated. One is to appreciate the day more; live more in the moment and use this gratitude to feel more light, positive, and joyful. Another goal is to not have regrets. If I were to pass early, I want to make sure that my friends and family know how much I loved them. I want to feel that I’ve put the effort to mend and grow those relationships which are weaker or have suffered. And as part of not having regrets, I want to express my appreciation for life. Having good health, being able to go for a jog or play racquetball or do a dance class, is at its core a respect for life. Life might not have innate value, but it does hold possibility– for joy, laughter, wonder, achievement, love, and even sorrow and sadness.  These possibilities are all the more plentiful when coupled with good health. So today I am going to try and remind myself of that when I walk and move and sit and stand, how mobility itself is a gift.
  • Warmth: It’s cold! I woke up today in the dark and didn’t want to get out of bed because of how cold it was. But when I did eventually scurry out, I turned the heater on in my room and then jumped into the shower where I took a hot shower. By the time I was done, my room was nice and toasty for me to change clothes and get ready. I surveyed my jacket collection and layered up, and then got into my car, where again, I put the heater on. And now I’m sitting at a friends house on an electric blanket typing this blog. In Chicago if you stay out for more than 5 minutes you risk getting frost bite right now. Throughout the country it is cold. And I’m fortunate to have shelter and warmth to shield me from the elements. Not everyone is, but I hope they’ve found at least some way to stay safe and warm this winter season.
  • Sunrises: It was early when I left the house this morning, but on the bright side there was a beautiful, red sunrise peeping up over the mountains. I wish I’d snapped a picture but I didn’t so you’ll just have to take my word for it– it was one hell of a sunrise.

Exercise: I not only managed to get 45 minutes of cycling in but also get 6% through my newest book– Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is good, really good. Poignant and emotionally compelling. I can’t wait to keep reading.

One Positive Experience: Today I grabbed lunch with a couple of my friends and it was lovely. We walked to our favorite food truck and then decided to NOT eat our desks! It was a good way to start the week.

Meditation/Reflection: Today was Monday Night Magic– we’re back in 2014! We caught up and talked about careers and how to stay positive. Something I have realized about myself, for example, is that personally I’m very glass half empty even though I’m quite optimistic and confident in other people: The classic great at the pep talk to others but not so great at giving them to myself. Voicing this tendency has helped me catch it in myself. I think, when interpreting other people’s words, I’m especially negative. I’ve practice saying them in my own voice as if I was saying the same words to someone I cared about. BAM! The difference is magnificent. I assume the worst when people are trying to comfort me (judgmental, nagging or false) but if I were comforting others, it’s soothing and encouraging. The common denominator is the value of the recipient of the news. My glass half empty internal perspective assumes that everything coming my way is also negative (along the lines that I don’t deserve it or good things someone say about me can’t possibly be true). This mini exercise is definitely helping me catch myself when I do it because I’m repeating the same exact words as if I were speaking to someone who I think did deserve the encouragement.

Random Act of Kindness: Today I give a shout out to my high school debate coaches. Debate defined my high school experience and shaped who I was as a person. I loved the learning, competition, and the way I pushed myself and grew because of it. And I loved the community. I still talk to so many of those guys and gals– we were a little family that had so much fun. None of it would have been possible without my coaches guidance, spirit and commitment to this wonderful event.

Day 8: Emotional Correctness & The Merits of Being Liked

1 Jan

I should have posted this yesterday, but then I fell asleep at 9pm like a Boss. Instead I’m posting today! On the bright side, before I fell asleep yesterday I did get the chance to listen to a couple of TED Talks that have given me some inspiration for my next few posts.

Sally Kohn (whom I actually had never heard of before) did a simple but poignant talk on emotional correctness– the context, tone, and feelings behind what you say. When Kohn asserts that as liberals and people, “Our challenge is to find the compassion for others that we want them to have for us” it really stuck and got my thoughts snowballing.

Something that I started up with a few friends earlier in 2013 is “Monday Night Fever”– a Google Hangout where four powerful ladies come together and talk about politically potent, personally relevant, and intellectually stimulating topics. We started off making it an “article club” (book club was a bit too ambitious) and the group and discussions morphed from there (check out our blog here). Months ago we discussed the “like factor”– women’s tendency to care more about being liked and how that gets in the way of professional and even personal growth. It’s possible at the time I wasn’t equipped to connect the dots, but the conversation felt a little bit like tossing the baby with the bath water. Kohn’s talk helped me see that part of my desire for being liked is to calibrate if I’m acting emotionally correct. This is not the only way, maybe not even the best way, but that goal I believe is embedded into my concerns for whether I’m liked. But there are also other motivations– such as vanity and fear, which can result in a chameleon affect.

In an interaction I think there are three parts:

  1. My Identity: My standalone ideology, beliefs, and values– who I am as a person.
  2. My Intentions: What attitude am I bringing to the table? What do I think about the people involved? What are my goals for the interaction– to persuade someone, to listen or learn from someone, to just have fun?
  3. The Execution: How the above elements align and what we actually say, do, or don’t say and don’t do. 

The Chameleon Affect I think is when we adapt our Execution to appeal to an audience– the classic saying what you think someone wants to hear. The coating is a different color but our Identity and Intentions stay static. I think what Kohn is asking is for us to question our Intentions or Who We Are to ensure the compassion is woven in as a key objective. This realization helps me feel more equipped to monitor my own behavior and when I feel particularly attached to someone’s perception of me: Am I seeking stamp of approval OR am I calibrating if my delivery and intentions for that specific interaction are aligned to my value of compassion.

Okay now to the challenge!

Three Sources of Gratitude:

Journaling One Positive Experience: I think this one is cheating because it happened this morning but I like it and my days are leaking over anyway….this morning around 7am I hear feet running upstairs and banging on my door (I had locked it last night because I heard this thud thud sound and got scared. Turned out it was our refrigerator freaking out…). I roll over and unlock it. My sisters comes in and boisterously shakes me awake to say goodbye. She then gives me this weird half hug since I’m still lying down and then runs off.

Exercising: I actually didn’t manage to exercise on Monday. I slipped up primarily because I didn’t think about it in the morning. I have to visualize what I’m going to do, when and whom with in the morning when I start my day. New lesson! Also knocking it out in the morning does feel good- I had a nagging feeling all day because I knew I hadn’t done it yet and then, what do you know, I was asleep! Now I know why morning joggers become morning joggers…they make a habit and then they’re addicted.

Meditation/Reflection: Sally Kohn’s words, “Our challenge is to find the compassion for others that we want them to have for us.”

Random Acts of Kindness: Today I’d like to tag team and hit up the two remaining gals from Monday Night Fever whom I haven’t sent a letter to yet. E and J are amazing women. E is a new friend and J is very old friend. Collectively their insights, joy, and friendship have been a big part of my 2013 community. I’m really proud of what we’ve created and how we’ve each committed to improving ourselves in the process. In our last discussion before the holidays we reviewed the goal we had set for ourselves way back in April, we’ve come aways since then. Week to week it’s hard to see the progress but over the span of months, the growth is quite striking. I don’t feel at liberty to share everyone else’s goals but one of my own was to address the feeling that I had been getting dumber. I’m an academic person, I like school. Working therefore didn’t fulfill me entirely. I can say, confidently, that the feeling is gone and E and J absolutely helped me get there. Thanks gals. I’ll be sending you each a note shortly.