Do you do the right thing but say the wrong thing? Or…err…vice versa?

porcupineOne of my favorite writers Gretchen Rubin comes up with distinctions that help us understand ourselves, as well as understand others. For instance, she says people can be divided into over-buyers and under-buyers, tiggers and eeyores, and marathoners and sprinters to name a few. While human beings are too complex to be neatly bundled into a category, seeing the world through the lens of distinctions can certainly help us navigate ourselves, and those around us, more successfully.

Inspired by this way of viewing the world, I feel a thrill when I identify what seems like a promising distinction. Recently, a distinction struck me that relates to the “Say-Do gap.” The “say-do” gap essentially means that there is a gap between what people say, and what people do. We all know that. What struck me though is people can be divided into two categories based on which way their their say-do gap swings.

  • Say the right thing and do the wrong thing; this reminds me of “all that glitters is not gold.”
  • Do the right thing but say the wrong thing; this reminds me of Adam Grant’s concept of a “porcupine giver;” people who may look gruff on the outside but are generous at heart.

I’ve just stumbled upon this distinction and I want to spend some time understanding this more deeply.

  • What can be the drivers behind “say the right thing, do the wrong thing?” One obvious one seems malintent. Can there be any other driver? Are there any positive drivers that lead people to say one thing and do another.
  • Similarly, why do some people do all the right things, but say all the wrong things? Is fear one of the reasons that cause people to say the wrong thing? Is it that they don’t understand the importance of saying the right thing? Is it that they don’t know how to say the right thing?
  • Does this distinction  at all relate to the other distinction that I came up with – around being harder on yourself, or harder on others? Or not?

What do you think of this distinction? Where would you type yourself? And how would you answer my questions above? Would love to learn more. Drop in your comments.

Did you enjoy this? Follow the blog as I make sense of myself, others around me, and my life in general. Based on whom I’ve been hanging out with, what I’ve been reading, and how I’m feeling, you may get very different blog posts landing in your inbox. Like you, I’m more than just one thing.

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I am a Kangaroo. Who are You?


One year, many years ago, I felt behind. And so, I printed a black and white picture of an “eye of the tiger” and pinned it where I could see it every day to remind me of my goal, which when I achieved it, would make me feel good. I worked, absorbed. I worked till I was done, not till I was tired. I’d look up sometimes and see the eye of the tiger. And I was so engrossed in the doing and the striving that I was too numb to recognize a personal priority when it came up, too numb to know that I wanted to be there, at the hospital. My heart was frozen and I couldn’t hear what it wanted to say.

That winter, I lost someone very close to me. The tears wouldn’t stop. The winter passed, spring came. I achieved my goal. But the heaviness in my heart told me that the cost had been too high. It began dawning on me that I wasn’t living in a way that was congruent to who I was, and more importantly, I wasn’t very sure about who I was. I promised to myself, that it wouldn’t be like this again. And yet, I found myself a few years later, feeling empty, looking for approval outside to make me happy.

Brene Brown talks about a moment in her research when she realized that she was living all wrong: she wasn’t living authentically, she wasn’t embracing her imperfections, she wasn’t living the way she found wholehearted people do. I’ve had the same Brene Brown epiphany.

What does it mean to live authentically? What is real happiness and faux happiness? What real success and faux success? Is success about “coming first,” in anything I’m part of, irrespective of whether I want to be part of that or not? Shouldn’t my definition be more choiceful?  Do I even know what “the eye of the tiger” is for me? And is “the eye of the tiger” even really the right metaphor, given that it carries within it aggressiveness and ferocity, instead of love and compassion and growth?

Our insides are complex. They’re a mix of flowers and stars and shards of glass and knives that remain in us, long after they were stabbed. It’s hard sometimes to know who we are and to know what we want. It’s by chance that we learn about ourselves: by the Jason Mraz songs that we love; the William Wordsworth poetry that calls to us; our love of yellow sunflowers, the Merlot-Malbecs, woody-scented candles, snug blankets, and soft cover notebooks; for hugs and for being “along together”. And sometimes we learn more about ourselves by the tears we shed, the mistakes we make, our losses, our missed opportunities for being at the hospital the whole time, instead of a few days in between. To be in harmony with ourselves, we need to remember our true nature, the one that existed before we were told “who we needed to be.” We need to be willing to shed some of our titles and degrees and badges we’ve accumulated that serve as testament to our success and our worth.

I looked for some of these answers when I visited my sister in California. I looked for the answers inside as we did some art work together, talked about books, chatted over pumpkin spiced lattes, and explored bookshops.

I’d stumbled on Pinterest as a tool for exploring my many curiosities, and one day, as I lay on the black couch by the window, I came across a cool infographic that categorized each MBTI personality type as an animal. Personality theory can be complex and a little overwhelming, even for the aficionados, and heuristics are always helpful. As an INFJ, I was typed as a kangaroo. It was cute. I liked the thought, and then I forgot all about it.

As my sister and I continued our explorations into metaphysics and coloring mandalas and shopping for art supplies at Michael’s, I said on a whim: let’s go to the zoo.

I wanted to see giraffes, never having seen them before. And so we went, pretty much the only two adults in the zoo on a weekday, without any toddlers in tow. We looked at the giraffes, enamored. One came over close and looked me in the eye, her long beautiful eyelashes curled beautifully. Having contemplated each other peacefully for some time, the giraffe glided away like a beauty queen, and went to meditate in the trees. We walked, gazed at the flamingoes; posed with the beautiful peacocks that sauntered freely on the road, basking in the sun; looked at monkeys, chimpanzees, and something that looked like a rat-monkey. And then I saw them: the kangaroos.

A bunch of them huddled together nibbling food, peacefully. Gentle creatures, they didn’t make a sound. A few others explored the grassland enclosure, examining the little treasures they ran into, closely. None had a little one to carry around, so I couldn’t see them in their role of mom or dad. They seemed happy that day in the San Francisco zoo: peaceful, in the company of their friends and family; curious about the treasures of nature around them; co-existing peacefully when peacocks came in to visit; enjoying the food that was their spread that day; basking in the beautiful day that it was, a chill in the air, the sun out; and accepting of the human beings and human children who had come to visit them.

I stood there, gazing at them, living their life. I remember thinking as I watched them:

I am a kangaroo.

The world sometimes makes me want to forget that and be a tiger or a horse  or a rhinoceros. But I’m none of that. I am a kangaroo.

Who are you?

Time for your own self-discovery experiment:

Here’s one of the places where you can take the MBTI test. Once you’ve taken it, here’s where you can see what the corresponding animal for your type. Full disclosure: some latest studies are questioning the reliability and the validity of MBTI as an instrument, but I’ve personally found it a very useful tool in self-discovery. The mapping of MBTI types to the corresponding animal is also subjective: for instance, when I was digging up the link to the animal categorization, I came across some with slightly different categorizations too – e.g., in another categorization, INFJ’s are pandas. Would love to hear whether you agree with your MBTI / animal assessment or not.

If you enjoyed reading this, I’d love you to join me on this road of discovering who we are and crafting a life that feels right.

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What I’m learning from an astronaut and my hula hoop


My husband is a big fan of all things space and has recently been digging into Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” and when something particularly catches his fancy, he reads it to me, as we sit reading for a bit before turning in. He recently read this passage out to me:


When we got back to Earth, a lot of people asked whether everything had gone the way we’d planned. The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we prepared for. That was one of the fundamental lessons of STS-74; don’t assume you know everything and try to be ready for anything. 

                                                                                                                 Chris Hadfield

The “planners” among us like to plan ahead and have a plan B for good measure. The danger is that we can be disappointed, or even broken, if our plans don’t work out. While it’s important to plan, its equally important to be flexible about our plans. The problem is that while we get it, we don’t know what to do about it.

How do I become more flexible in my approach to life? Telling my brain to plan less or worry less won’t work. I’ve learned in recent years, that I need to get out of my head, and into my body and my intuition to live like I want to live. I can be more flexible in the way I live my life, flexible about goals, flexible about paths, if I can be more flexible in my body.

And so I hoop, on the weekends, with my hula hoop teacher, little kids, newly weds, older women with empty nests. In the Delhi winter afternoons, we get together for an hour and we hoop. And as I learn to hoop, I move from my head, into my body; hooping sometimes clumsily, sometimes in flow; with the hoop around my waist, or my hips; walking in with the hoop, in front, sideways, and back. Sometimes the hoop falls and I pick it up and start right over. I stand on the green grass in the afternoon sun of a waning winter. Inside me is the little girl who thought she always needed to plan, the teenager who lived by the plan, the woman who’s examining this all and trying to fuse planning and flexibility, and the hint of a wiser woman with a plan, but more importantly, with faith, flexibility, and resilience.

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Do you have the courage to go looking for the magic in you?

breatheMany of us have been taught to be safe. The world is scary, unpredictable. Do the safe thing, for who knows, what might happen. And so we are safe. We don’t take risks. We don’t speak our truth. We skim life, instead of diving deep and getting engrossed in the juicy, messy business of living our life. We do the best in the situation we find ourselves in, instead of choosing to put ourselves in worlds where we want to be. Sooner, or later, we find that we  can’t hear ourselves anymore. There’s a deafening quiet where there should be an inner radar. And then, because we don’t want to feel like hiding our gifts and our voice and our  idiosyncrasies in the treasure chest that stays locked in our hearts anymore, we start…opening up. We begin, in the search for ourselves, and in search of the magic hidden inside of us.

I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us as human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels-that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Enjoyed reading this? Do follow the blog for more thoughts on becoming more of who you are.

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Feeling alone? Remember our shared humanity

Sometimes when we’re in new situations, it can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, we feel alone, esMApecially if we’re not used to talking about our concerns, or there is no one around we trust to share our difficulties or sorrows. At times like these, it is useful to remember our shared humanity. This is not the first time this has happened. This is not the last time this will happen. And to remember, as alone as we feel in this, people ahead of us have walked this road. They understand. Reach out, to those you trust. But only to those who are worthy of your trust.

Constantly reflect that all the things which happen now have happened before: reflect too that they will happen again in the future. Have in your mind’s eye whole dramas with similar settings, all that you know of from your own experience or earlier history – for example, the whole court of Hadrien, the whole court of Antoninus, the whole court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All the same as now: just a different cast.

Marcus Aurelius

Relaxing into creativity with my crayola pipsqueaks, mini-Mandala coloring book, and old Hindi movie songs

As my friend and I walk in the dusk in Madrid after a day of sight-seeing, we pass a shop with funky t-shirts on display. One in particular catches my eye. It is grey with the message “Less is more,” only the L is disfigured as if graffiti and now reads “Mess is more.” I stop and stare. Let’s go in, I say.

We look around at the T-shirts, all fun and funky and kitsch-y, but I keep going back to “Mess is more.”

This is my learning from last year: the importance of mess for creative thinking and living, a healthy acceptance of mistakes, the need to follow roundabout, circuitous paths, and being ok about not being in control always. I buy the T-shirt – it is a small, yet landmark moment for me in my journey toward relaxing, instead of striving; of going with the flow, instead of controlling; of consenting to the unknown and recognizing that sometimes what I can’t orchestrate and control might be richer and juicier than the “plan” I create. It is a nudge to myself to not skim the surface of life, but to dive deep.

A few days later, we are in Figueres, Spain, the birthplace of creative extraordinaire, Salvador Dali. The museum that houses his paintings reflects the journey of a multi-faceted, complex, creative man. He is a painter, a sculptor, a dreamer, a scientist. His chosen tools are canvas and mixed media and gems and jewelry. Walking in the museum, I can feel that creativity burst out of this man’s veins. He was not a man afraid of making mistakes or experimenting; he was a man that marched to the beat of his own drum.

A few days later I am in San Francisco to meet my sister. She is an artist extraordinaire; a writer, a dancer, a photographer, and an appreciator of beauty. Around her, I have the permission to be creative. She is not judging my creative work, but letting me be. Her deep sense of artistry soaks into me and helps me get in touch with my creative self, the one buried by books and striving and external definitions of success.

We sit together on the dining table with our own little Mandala coloring books and Crayola Pipsqueak felt pens and we color the mandalas as we listen to old Hindi songs. I have decided not to color the mandalas in the order they are presented in the book, but instead pick ones that call to me. The perfect way of coloring the mandalas would be to decide what color scheme to use and which colors go where so that my mandala looks pretty. But that’s not what I feel like doing. I just relax to the music of Kishore Kumar singing and color away unplanned. I let my fingers choose which felt pen to pick, instead of my brain. They instinctively pick the next color. Sometimes they pause, undecided between two colors. I wait and see which ones my fingers will pick. Within a few seconds, there is a tug, and the right color calls to me. I mix yellows and teals and purples and grays, not something I would pick “rationally.”

yellow mandala.jpg

The beauty of the colors surprises me sometimes. The colors come together, bright and exciting and ALIVE. They have come through me, not from me. In my coloring of the mandalas, I make some mistakes. I color an extra blue in a cell that belongs to the row above. That’s ok. I color the rest of the mandala. The extra blue reminds me of a tooth that grows imperfectly, in between two teeth, to create a smile that you see in a children before their crooked, endearing smiles are perfected my dentists. My little drop of misplaced blue is now my favorite part of the mandala. It is my little drop of imperfection. It pops in the Mandala and reminds me, I am human. My mandala is not pretty and proper – it is beautiful.

pretty mandala

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The red dress, a baby elephant, a secret love letter, and some nothings

Origami. A voice that popped up in my head a few months back. I tore some paper out from a register and tried my hand at attempting to create something (what exactly, I now forget) out of nothing. But the paper was rectangular, thick, and lined – not right for origami. I forgot all about it till I chanced upon a set of colored origami sheets on Amazon as I explored stationary and craft supplies to fill the hole in me that only creating something seems to fill.

They arrived soon, perfect little squares in all colors of the rainbow.

I went on youtube and my first attempt was a red dress. It caught my eye, and I fancied wearing it, and so I made it with my little square of red paper. It was beautiful. Emboldened by my success, I moved on to create a little pink heart that held within it a secret compartment for scribbling messages of love.

Creating something is a wonderful feeling. In those moments that I was folding paper, I was in the present; my attention focused on understanding and executing the instructions of the folds just right. I happily showed off my creations to the husband who remarked that whatever else I did, or did not do, I was always up to doing something, which I took as a compliment.

A few days later I thought of making something else. As I combed through the list of youtube videos, I came across one on making the sun. The sun has always had a special place in my heart. Yellow cheers me like no other color. The warmth of the sun as I lie on the grass in the park near my house bakes me till I feel like I’m happy and content, fresh out of the oven, sleepy but happy to be alive in this world. And so I set out to fold, one at a time. It was a complicated origami, or maybe I lost attention, or maybe both, but I was stuck, and after many minutes of folding I had to give up and call it a day.

My showing off the red dress and the little heart to my family on whatsapp meant my sister knew my latest fancy. She sent me a video on how to fold a lotus, a thing of beauty that grows even with muck around. I tried creating a lotus, one fold at a time. I didn’t have the level of mastery required, and so once again, I gave up.

Try something else, I thought to myself, and found myself trying to fold a blue square  into a baby elephant at one o’clock at night. I followed through till the end, and this time, I had something. I asked my husband in the morning what it was, and he surprised me by calling it an elephant. That’s probably the reason I married him – he surprises me in wonderful ways.

They are all my creative babies: my perfect red dress, my shy pink heart, my sun that was not to be, my lotus that couldn’t grow that day, and crumpled little baby elephant. I love them all.

I learned something from all of them, about success, failure, love, striving, and play. I learned that I should play, and pay attention. I learned that all my attempts will not be successful (and that’s ok). I learned that I love my baby elephant even (or maybe, especially?) because it is confused sometimes for a rhinoceros, and sometimes, simply for a ball of crumpled paper. I learned that if I pay attention and focus, I can create beautiful things. And my corollary, if I choose not to gainfully use my creative energies, I can create worries and fears by watering them till they grow beyond my power of control. I learn that the whole day passed, but it is this midnight hour when I am alone, and building, and creating that my heart starts to unwind and starts to sing, ever so softly.

red dress

pink heart


blue elephant

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Too much in your head?

Listen_to_your_body_it_s_smarter_than_you_-_LoveSurfIf you’re living too much in your head, and not enough in your body, you’re likely an unlived life. Here’s some advice from Tara Brach from her book True Refuge on how to plant ourselves firmly in the universe, instead of living uprooted, with our roots up in the air.

In the early part of the last century, D.H.Lawrence found himself in a society devastated by war, a landscape despoiled by industrialism, and a culture suffering from a radical disconnect between the mind and body. Published in 1931, Lawrence’s words from “A Propos if Lady Chatterly’s Lover have lost none of their urgency.

“It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe…For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally, the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.”

When we disconnect from the body, we are pulling away from the energetic expression of out being that connects us with all of life. By imagining a great tree uprooted from the earth, we can sense the unnaturalness, violence, and suffering, of this severed belonging. The experience of being uprooted is a kind of dying. Jane felt it as an “inner deadness” and described herself as mechanically trying to keep herself going day after day. Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have a perpetual sense of threat lurking the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. No false refuge can compensate for that loss.


Like the Buddha touching the ground, we reclaim our life and spirit by planting ourselves again in the universe. This begins when we connect with the truth of what is happening in our body. The mysterious field of aliveness we call the universe can only be experienced if we are in the contact with the felt sense of that aliveness in our own being. For Jane, the simple practice of feeling the life of her hands expanded to include the wounds of unlived life, and then opened her to the pure aliveness of her heart and body. By connecting with her inner life, by bringing presence to the truth of her immediate experience, she had begun to replant herself in the universe.

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Dancing with Creativity

brainSome artists and creatives fear losing their pain, believing that their pain fuels their creativity. Others on the path to rediscovering their creativity approach creativity as a suspicious object, with caution and with fear, afraid that their creativity will suck them into a whirlpool of unexamined packets of pain.

Both camps implicitly believe in the relationship between pain and creation.

I belong to the second camp. I hold my creativity at arm’s length. I want to bring it closer but I fear losing control. The left brain is a safe haven. Life is a maze that I have often navigated using instructions from the rational part of me. Living like this is safe and contained but it doesn’t always light up my soul. My right brain is moody and not in my control. It is playful and impulsive like a child. Whereas my left brain is black and white and grey, my right brain is Technicolor. To be honest, being creative and living creatively scares me a little bit. And so I wet my feet in the word of feelings and intuition before running to the safety of facts and logic.

But what if creativity doesn’t deserve the bad rep it has acquired? What if we are creative despite our pain, and not because of it?  What if we can be happy, healthy, and functional – and creative? This is what the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert proposes in her ode to creative living called Big Magic.

I believe that our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies—not from the pathologies themselves. But so many people think it’s the other way round. For this reason, you will often meet artists who deliberately cling to their suffering, their addictions, their fears, their demons. They worry that it they ever let go of all that anguish, their very identities would vanish. Think of Rilke, who famously said, “If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight as well.”

Rilke was a glorious poet, and that line is elegantly rendered, but it’s also severely emotionally warped. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that line quoted countless times by creative people who were offering up an excuse as to why they don’t quit drinking, or why they won’t go see a therapist, or why they won’t consider treatment for their depression or anxiety, or why they won’t address their sexual misconduct or intimacy problems, or why they basically refuse to seek personal healing and growth in any manner whatsoever—because they don’t want to lose their suffering, which they have somehow conflated and confused with their creativity.

People have a strange trust in their devils, indeed.

It is easy to get this intellectually, but hard to let go of the mythology of the wounded artist. But we should at least try, as we pick up the pen or the paintbrush for a date with creativity, maybe at a café that plays some wonderful jazz with a dark hot chocolate, no sugar, before we put on our work clothes and game face for a day of creative problem-solving at work.

I may feel a little afraid of my creativity, but I know it heals me. It doesn’t pay the bills but it thaws my frozen heart as I axe some of the ice to pick a wisp of a memory from the years past to capture on the page, or just examine for a few moments before letting it go.

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