Small wins

I did couple of things last and this month that I would have never considered doing before.  These are small things and perhaps not very significant to anyone else.  But for me doing these opened my eyes to the possibility of change in my physical and emotional life.

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The first was climbing this hill in Edinburgh.  The guidebook said that it would take 20 minutes but it took me over one hour, that too after resting many times.  There were people climbing- some women even wore heels!  For me, getting up Arthur’s seat (250 metres high) was a major challenge.  I was so tired after that that I have taken three weeks to recover. Probably I won’t ever do something like that again but I have done it once. That was so empowering!

The second thing was I cut my own hair. I watched endless videos of hair cutting and steeled myself for how I could end up looking as the result was right there for everyone to see!  I realised I had to have this courage and belief in myself- the same as climbing that hill in Edinburgh.  Both are different things and yet are very similar in their emotion.  Both felt very empowering.  Everyone is different- and for everyone, there are new things to try out.  Now every month, I have decided to do one new thing.

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.

We are all Quasimodos

There is a Buddhist story about a simple man called ‘Never disparaging’ who seeks the good in all but people chase him away, throwing rocks and sticks at him.  However, he continues and in the end, becomes the Buddha, an enlightened soul.  In the novel ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ by Victor Hugo is Quasimodo, a deformed ugly man with a heart of gold, who is reviled by all yet comes out as the best of all.  Quasimodo is also a simple soul but his generosity and bravery make him worthy of praise.  Both Never disparaging and Quasimodo are not clever but good.  What they teach us is goodness is better than cleverness.  Also, they are not good looking on the outside but from the inside, they are good.  So they teach us that it is better to be good inside than outside.  Nature makes sure that no one is perfect, even the most beautiful person has some physical defect, one side of our body is slightly different from the other.  Quasimodo’s hunch signifies the baggage we all carry- whether inside or outside.  So we are all Quasimodos in that respect but just like him, we also have that goodness.  To recognise that quality in ourselves and others all the time is the most difficult part.  And that is the struggle of everyday- to be kind, compassionate and good, not matter what.

taking on fear

Flame of the forest Spirit 2014

This week, my first ever art show opened and it will be on for three months.  It may have been something vaguely I wanted to do and I really hadn’t thought much about it.  Then I heard an inspiring talk given by a blind artist and realised how I ‘understood’ her art and her techniques for painting.  I got talking to the person who organised this show and suddenly she turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you exhibit your work? We have a three month vacant slot here.’  I was deeply reluctant at first.  My reaction was- ‘what if people don’t like it? what if people laugh at the work?  what if people don’t get it?’ etc etc.

I was full of fear.  But having thought about how much I was going to regret not taking this opportunity, I said yes eventually.  Then I also decided to paint new work and re-worked some of the originals. I realised I had changed- I had taken on fear and won.  Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

You can always learn from mistakes, but what if you’ve actually never made a mistake (as if that is possible!)? Life is all about making mistakes, learning from them.

Having now done, I am in a daze- people have written many kind words about my work. One said, “I have just been to have a look and the art looks amazing. You are very talented!”

Many people helped out, working on Saturday at 8-00 am working solidly for four hours to hang the pictures- none of them got paid to do this.  Someone who helped out with the hanging commented,”Just to let you all know that the pictures are all hung safely and, personally, think the corridor looks great…..several people have already admired them…..”

What can I say, I am speechless with gratitude!  If my art moves and inspires people, even though technically it might not be amazing- it is perfect for me and them. It is my gift to the world.  By taking on fear and leaving aside regrets, we can only become more creative and live true to our hearts. It doesn’t matter if I get any more compliments or not, or even if I get some nasty comments- I have won!  As Marianne Williamson says in her book, A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Amazing Grace

Since the few days, I have been thinking about ‘grace’, being ‘gracious’ and being ‘graceful’.  It is quality which is not talked about much, except in reference to movement or dancing.  I am talking about grace as a way of life.  Grace is about being polite, about being accepting of others and of being kind.  I have been thinking about how to bring grace into my life and these are the things I thought of-

1. Time and space– one needs to have time and space, gaps in schedule, peace and reflection to have grace.  People who are always rushing, bustling off or are abrupt are not graceful.  Therefore always keep a little space in your life in order to be graceful.

2. Be expansive– Think big, even magnanimously of others, even if they have done you wrong.  Do not go into their level, forgive and let go.  Imagine yourself as a big hearted person, not grasping, not wanting approval from anyone but yourself.

3. Be generous– Take time to listen to someone without telling them all about yourself at the same time.  Give generously, even if that person may have been mean to you.  Imagine the universe as a benevolent entity, always kind, always giving.  Even if you  give and do not receive back from that person, you will get a gift from someone else.  If you can’t give or buy presents, give your precious gift of time or your creativity, draw or write something for someone.

4. Do not boast– Your qualities and achievements will come to light without your needing to shout about it.  It is much more effective and powerful when another person comes to know of them through other means than you- it is very powerful! No one likes boasters.

5. Finally, always be polite, even if you are provoked- I find this quite difficult sometimes.  Just the other day, someone wrote a very rude email to me and my first reaction was to answer them back rudely. I am glad I didn’t and I continued to be expansive and generous in my thoughts about them. I have just received very good news about a piece of writing I did some years ago.  This news was totally unexpected.  I have risen above this person’s demeaning email through the good recommendation I have had about my work.

book and the cover

Have you sometimes looked at a couple and thought, “I wonder how that person could be with that person?”  You might have thought one of the partners ugly/unfunny/morose/stupid etc.  Well, I have realised that such superficial comparisons and judgments based on first impressions are never correct.  First of all, one never knows what is going on in their homes.  The unfunny/morose person could be the life and soul of the home.  Second, it is never the superficial things that attract people to each other- it is their hearts.  A kind but a ugly man might attract a beautiful woman. I have realised that sometimes despite the attractive packaging, what is inside someone’s heart is what matters.  While looks and other external things like fame and fortune might fade, one has to live with that person day in and day out.  Only a deep attachment of the heart can enable that.  Never judge a book by the cover, as they say!

three secrets of a successful micro-business

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As a self employed creative, I have been reading business books on creativity and business for many years.  Through these years I became aware that I did not wish to create a business empire but do what I do efficiently and productively; that I did not mean to mass produce but only produce something that was well designed and beautifully made; and not be a mad bad crazy person that creatives are thought to be but live a balanced, joyful and creative life.  I am sure that many of you also wish to live like that- we are not all Warren Buffet, Richard Branson or Bill Gates or even Steve Jobs (notice all are men which I am not!)

Most of the advice I read or listened to was not about small or micro- businesses- but about how to mass produce, how to make huge profits and how to influence widely.  There was not much advice if you just want to live a simple, creative, healthy and joyful life- following your heart- and making enough money to achieve all this.  I wanted to distill all the stuff I had read and listened to, in to some essential aspects which could apply equally to any scale of business.  What could I distill out of all that I had read and give back to you?  I found that essentially it boils down to three lives we lead- the contributive life,  the balanced life and the joyful life.

1. The contributive life:  This term was coined by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and philosopher.  He said that our life should be about contributing to the whole of which we are en essential and creative part.  So if you are doing work that contributes to society, that work will be naturally meaningful and productive.  As part of cause and effect, you will find that your needs are satisfied in the most amazing ways- I have had people helping me out on things without asking for money because I helped them before.

The contributive life is an anti-dote to the monetary life.

2. The balanced life:  Contrary to what many people think, Yoga is not a series of stretching exercises or a type of mediation.  Yoga is about the balanced life- where you r health matters as much as anybody else’s, where you eat and sleep in moderation and where your work and personal lives balance.  This is the middle way- not extremes and our task is to find a middle way every day.  Sometimes, it may mean we do more work, sometimes it means we take more rest- everyday is a day of finding a balance for our physical needs and creativity.

The balanced life is our everyday practice of living.

3. The joyful life: Finally, if your work or business does not give joy to you, is not contributive or balanced, then let go of it.  Find something that tugs at your heart strings, pulls you towards it and asks you play the music of life.  If you are not smiling and forgetting the time, than it is not a work that you love.  For seven years, I was doing teaching that I thought was a contributive work but it was not a balanced life I was leading nor was it making me happy.  I finally left it and now I find myself doing similar work but on my own terms.  I have set up a charity for this and use my lectures, teaching and work to improve the lives of others.  The joy I feel out of this, is immeasurable and priceless.

Find your joy, follow your heart!

Reading tea

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Everyday my tea offers something on the piece of paper at the end of the string. I look forward to it- sometimes as advice, sometimes as encouragement and sometimes as a friendly warning. I have been going through a difficult time- following my heart has been made almost impossible. Long standing friends have accused me of being afraid, of giving in and of ‘not being in solidarity’ with them on an important campaign. However many times, I have considered this, I have felt unable to support them. I have often wondered why these friends cannot be comfortable with different opinions about the same thing or consider different solutions to the same problem.

Last night as I sat sipping my tea before bed, I finally saw that my friends’ opposition to my views have actually made me more creative. I began to understand why I felt uncomfortable with their views and uncover my own reasons for not going along with them. Previously there was just this uncomfortable feeling and now it is rationalised. It may be that I am proved wrong in the future but for now, I have to go with what I feel. It is important to give this space to those thoughts we hold dear. My problem has become my opportunity for personal growth, only by deeply considering it for a long time and staying true to my heart. When I looked for my ‘tea advice’ last night, it was- “if you can’t see God in all, then you can’t see God at all.” This is very good, I thought, and can apply to anyone. I can substitute the word ‘God’ with Buddha, Allah, creativity, problem….and it still reads well. It was perfect for me. I slept well last night. My tea brought me comfort and showed me that life’s problems can be turned into opportunities and I can learn to see the good in all that it offers. I wonder what tonight’s tea will bring.

Have a great week!

The eight winds

In today’s world of selfies and instant fame, it is easy to be swayed into doing and saying things that might bring us into the lime light.  It may be easy not to listen our ‘gut feelings’.  Women have a stronger sense of intuition than men but only because women use it more and are in touch with their emotions.  Doe Zantamata says, “We ALL have intuition. Some of us have better hearing than others, some can see better, some can smell a hotdog a mile away. Some people have a naturally very strong sense of intuition, and some do not. But even the ones who do not but who train themselves to improve their sense of intuition will be better off than the natural ones who do no training at all.”

We always have the barometer of our sixth sense, our intuition, to help us make our judgements- this is the most powerful thing that we have.  However, we may forget to use it.  And like any other thing, ‘use it or lose it’ holds for intuition too.  We need to remind ourselves to use it when confronted by big things, even when everyone else is doing it.  I always remember the ‘Crazy ones’ video from Steve Jobs when I face decisions about what I need to do.  Watch it here (You will have to do cut and paste if the link does not work)-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rwsuXHA7RA

Recently I was asked to support something quite controversial.  Although the reasons behind this action were good and correct, I did not agree with the action suggested- I had another way of achieving the same goal, via peace and engagement and not through confrontation that this action wanted.  Now although I find myself heavily criticised for not supporting this action, I know that I have done the right thing.  Time may prove me right or wrong but for now, I am happy and proud that I followed my own voice, not of others.  I feel peaceful.  Peace comes from following our inner voice which tells us the right action to take for our humanity and our sense of natural connectivity to others.  If we followed our inner voice, I am sure there would be less violence and more good. We have inner strength and it is more important than ever to use it in order not to do things that don’t feel right to us.

This piece of advice given to a hot-headed samurai warrior by Nichiren in the 13th century is still relevant for us today- “Worthy persons deserve to be called so because they are not carried away by the eight winds: prosperity, decline, disgrace, honour, praise, censure, suffering and pleasure. They are neither elated by prosperity nor grieved by decline. The heavenly gods will surely protect one who is unbending before the eight winds.”