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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Strange, weird problems

say wha

It seems like we all suffer from strange / weird problems. Today, I was speaking with someone who shared his problem with me: he remained calm and unperturbed in stressful situations. While the rest of the team scurried in the face of an impending audit at his office, he remained calm and unfrazzled. The problem? The head of the office found his behavior strange – it seemed he wasn’t as engaged as the others. This is not the first time I had heard of this – my husband suffers from the same cool cucumber syndrome.

Other strange problems I’ve spotted include:

  • finding it easy to yes, but hard to say no
  • being harder on yourself, but more understanding of others
  • easily advocating for others, but not being able to advocate for yourself
  • knowing how other feels, but being clueless about what you feel
  • being able to see a situation from so many perspectives, that your own is just one of them, instead of being the most important perspective

What are some strange problems that you grapple with? Would love to hear in the comments.

Did you enjoy this post? Follow the blog to come along my journey of learning to live better.

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The little day dreamers

bougainvilleaToday, I went for a walk to the beautiful park that I am lucky to have at walking distance. I saw a bunch children’s backpacks under the trees. The kids were there for some sort of nature appreciation project. A few were busy picking pink bougainvillea flowers that lay scattered on the grass, and dried twigs. Many ran around the park, laughing, playing games. A little day dreamer ran into me as I walked on the track, lost in his own world, clutching a twig. Another little one ran around, the branch in his hand held up as a sword, in a dreamworld of his, where maybe he was a knight.

Though it has been a long time since I was a kid, it’s not been so long since I pretended to be one. In my creative writing class last year,  we went through a workshop to help us get in touch with our free, playful, creative natural self before it was chained. One of the students who was also a dad had been tasked with bringing toys. He’d brought along little Hot Wheel cars, some bigger fancier cars, and teddy bears, and dolls.

Pretend you’re in kindergarten and play, Menon sir said. Do what you want. Don’t hold back.

It began soon. “Kids” ran across the room, shouting loudly. In another group, the kids smashed the cars into each other. One broke. A little girl hung on to her stuffed toy and wouldn’t let go, It’s mine! I sat, a little away from the group of mostly boys who were busy orchestrating accidents with the little cars, with my teddy bar in my arms. I held him close for comfort and whispered little secrets into his ear. I walked sometime with him, holding him close, and then went back to my perch, hugging him tightly, glad he was around in all the loudness and excitement of cars crashing into each other that the others seemed to enjoy so much.

Why don’t you play? Do something, Menon sir cajoled. Act like you’re in kindergarten. This is how I was in kindergarten, I told him.

This is how I still am. Easily stimulated by loudness, aggression, crowds. But also dreamy, imaginative, and kind. I had real empathy for myself during that workshop, when I realized how over-stimulated I probably was as a kid, with little control over my environment.

Today, when I saw the little ones who marched to the beat of their own drum,  sensed little kindred spirits.

Enjoyed this post? You might enjoy the wonderful Susan Cain’s treatise on introversion, Quiet.

If you know someone who’d relate, do share this with them. And for more posts on self-awareness and living better, do follow the blog. Thank you!

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Letting go of perfectionism and wrecking my journal

I don’t remember when I colored outside the lines. The lines were always severe, defined, binding. I colored safely within. The leaves of the coloring book were always limited; how could I “waste” them coloring with abandon?

I drew a vase brimming over with flowers one day in Art class in first grade. As the teacher took rounds of the class, she stopped to appreciate my drawing. That was it. Her approval meant I drew a dozen safe vases with flowers brimming over till the flowers didn’t have their exuberance and their wildness and abandon. They were staid replicas of the image that had come up from somewhere inside.

Safe is what I drew. Safe is what I did. My Camlin pastels preserved safely after their coloring was done, instead of being broken in half and rolled across the art sheet to create textures and messes.

I had flights of fancy sometimes when I was free. I remember taking my mother’s old pair of iron scissors, cutting through my white frock with soft pastel frills of pin, lemon, and blue, and sewed it up to create an off shoulder dress for my Barbie doll. But most of the times, I followed the directions to the T. Three quarters water, a quarter milk, a tea-spoon of sugar, half a spoon of tea leaves, and two cloves, was how I made tea for my mother when she was tired, or sick from her asthma from the humid Bombay air and her burdens.

There comes a time when following recipes and directions  does not cut it anymore. For me, the big 30 has been a marker of sorts, coming with the realization that this is it, this is my life. Maybe it’s ok not to follow directions. Maybe it’s ok to make mistakes. Maybe it’s ok to be free. Maybe it’s ok to fail. Maybe it’s ok to be. Maybe it’s ok to be me.

Perfectionism is a relational trait. It is an outcome, a badge of a time where I needed to be perfect. A remnant I would like to let go off, so I can color outside the lines. But how do I let go of something so deep-rooted?

Reading to understand why we are the way we are helps intellectually, but it is being present that heals us. Being in nature, walking on the wet earth barefoot. Looking at  mountains with the windows of the car rolled down, watching them turn from stony to sandy to red to purple, watching the snow sprinkled on top of the mountains like one might scatter powered sugar on a muffin. Feeling the cold wind and watching the blue skies and seeing the shapes the clouds make; a heart, I saw a heart!

mighty mountains

I look to renew my soul, little by little everyday, by coloring in my coloring book for “advanced colorists” (read adults), by writing in calligraphy the names of my favorite books as a child (The Wizard of Oz!), and most recently by following directions of writer Keri Smith who orders her readers in her wonderful book Wreck This Journal to destroy the journal to unclog the flow of creativity in us.

If I am afraid to destroy, I cannot create. I write one line, then delete it. I try to write a perfect line, instead of writing shitty first drafts as the wise Anne Lamott advises us. I pick up this journal and give myself permission to destroy it in the myriad ways Keri has cooked up.

After a tiring day at work where I have been productive, left-brained, and efficient, I want to breathe free, be creative. Put a pen in your mouth and write on this page, Keri commands, and I do, a 30-year-old lying on the bed, wrecking the journal at 11 at night. I smile. Infuse this journal with a scent of your own choosing. I hop over to the kitchen to slice a lemon and squeeze it on the page.

In the course of a few days, I have torn a page out of the journal and let it go, made a paper plane, squirted water from my mouth on to the journal, sewn some pages together, and written backwards from right to left, only to be reminded of my grandfather who wrote in Urdu, a luminous script that flowed delicately from right to left. Close the journal and write or scribble something on the edges. I write the words a close friend said to me recently: Khul Jao. That’s hindi for Open Up. Slowly but surely I am unfurling. Slowly but surely the ice is melting.

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Some Saturday inspiration for creatives

Source: deviantart.com
Source: deviantart.com

A beautiful poem by the wise Rumi to spark your creativity this Saturday:

To each is given

God never gave
His bigger beasts a sting
He gave it to the bee
With an invisible wing
 
And with the skill of storing
Sweetness in the hive
The silkworm spins its gossamer
In order to survive
 
However large, the elephant
Has no such subtle skill
God gives to each his powers
His wonders to fulfil.
 

–Rumi

Are you using your eye for beauty, your ear for melody, your feel for fabric, your love for nuance – YOUR subtle skill? To decorate your home, to stitch a quilt (or maybe someone’s broken heart), to fashion clay, to string a necklace, or to write a silly poem for your boo just to tell him “miss you one” so he can say “miss you too”?

Looking for some more creative inspiration? You may like:

Our inner artist is a child – A lesson by Julia Cameron
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Enjoyed the post? Do stay around to explore!

Thinking of becoming a writer? Some advice from the wonderful Gretchen Rubin

fork in the roadAs I’ve said before, I am a Gretchen Rubin SUPER FAN. I love Gretchen’s insights into human nature, which help her readers understand themselves better, and as a result, live better. This nugget comes from the Goodreads Q&A that Gretchen did some time ago (and needless to say, I was super excited that Gretchen answered my question!)

Question: When you quit law for writing, did you have any reservations or fears? How did you make it easy for yourself to take the big leap?

Here’s what she answered:

It took me a long time to make the switch from law to writing, but it was made easier because I had an idea for a book that I desperately wanted to write (and was already writing, in fact), my sister was a professional writer, so I had that model; and everyone in my family was very supportive of me taking a big risk. At one point, I thought, “I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer,” so I knew I had to give writing a shot.

Often, when we’re contemplating big life or career changes, we feel a sense of anxiety. This anxiety definitely serves a purpose – it makes us carefully examine our options so that we can choose one best suited for us – but sometimes it can cause us to abandon our dreams, without even trying. This is why I love Gretchen’s decision-making framing: “I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” Framing the decision this way helped Gretchen – and can help many of us – from preventing fear of change from clipping our wings, even before they sprout.

Is there something YOU’D rather fail at, than succeeding at what you’re currently doing? Would love to hear from you. Is there anyone you know who is contemplating a big career shift? Do share Gretchen’s advice with them!

P.S. Gretchen’s book “Better than Before” came out just a couple of weeks back. My sister who lives in the US is couriering me a SIGNED copy all the way to India. CANNOT WAIT. Till then, busy watching the videos of Gretchen Rubin on the book tour (such as this one at Google.)

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Can you tell when you’re anxious? It’s hard for me…

Crafting a life that feels right – A lesson by Danielle LaPorte

How do you want to feel? This is the question that the wise, lyrical, soulful Danielle LaPorte asks us in her wonderful book, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Why is understanding how you want to feel so important? Danielle says:

Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have. Generating those feelings is the most creative thing you can do with your life.

Yet, how many of us set goals based on how we want to “feel?” Aren’t feelings and emotions better left upon the shelf, as Savage Garden said all those years ago? Shouldn’t our goals be set “rationally?” Danielle explains:

We have the procedures of achievement upside down. We set our sights on the babe, the boat, the bucks. We get them. Sometimes. They make us happy. Sometimes. We set a goal, we reach it, we feel great. Unless, of course, we feel empty or flustered or anxious that what we’re doing isn’t working to fill the hole in our soul.

Let me say it another way: Typically, we come up with our to-do lists, our bucket lists, and our strategic plans – all the stuff we want to have, get, and experience outside of ourselves. All of those aspirations are being driven by an innate desire to feel a certain way. What if, first we got clear on how actually want to feel within ourselves, and then designed our to-do lists?

Getting clear about how you want to feel may unearth some surprises – you may find a big dissonance between the goals you’ve been gunning for and the way you want to feel. Danielle says:

Maybe you want to feel “energized” or “joyful.” For years, you’ve been thinking you want a three-thousand-square-foot house in the city and to be promoted to VP. You should want a bigger house and a bigger job, right? Bigger is growth, right?

But maybe those things aren’t energizing or joy-inducing at all. You could be mortgage poor and working sixty hours a week. Perhaps energizing and joyful would come from a stylin’ little condo, and you could use your extra money to see one European city a year and help your nephew through school.

Instead of going after the “the babe, the boat, the bucks,” Danielle advises us:

First, get clear on how you want to feel.
Then, do stuff that makes you feel that way.

As inspiring as this is, identifying how we want to feel – and then living like that – is anxiety producing. What if the way you’ve been living your life is at odds with the way you want to feel? What if you realize that your goals and the striving and the workaholism is not you, but a remnant from another time when you absorbed these messages? Do you listen to these messages which continue to run through your veins, or do you listen to your heart, which tugs and pulls and cajoles you in a different direction? Maybe you want to replace the striving with some play, some soul-itude, some creativity. Maybe a life in which there is time for strolls, for hearing the birds sing, for basking in the sun with the dog who’s calling you a friend. Some time to sit on the bench with a book, barefoot, feeling the wetnesss of the ground, feeling the solidity of the earth. What do you do then, when you feel it is time to make some changes to the way you live your life?

Danielle’s advice:

Be done with feeling guilty for wanting to feel the way you want to feel. Follow your desired emotion. Don’t analyze it too deeply. Just let it roll and rumble a bit. It may be there to humble you, to expand you, heal, surprise, or reinvent you. Anywhere it leads, it’s there for a divine reason.

So, how do YOU want to feel?

If you find this post helpful to someone you feel is trying to find their way,  struggling to get off a road that is not their own, or trying hard to break free from the rat race, do share this post with them. Sharing=Loving!

dogpurple

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