Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Limits to Goodness

Goodness is the only investment that never fails
-        Henry David Thoreau

Goodness is a virtue that is highly valued in our society. ‘Be good’ tells every mother to her child as he sets off for school, ‘do good’ is what we always hear great people say. It is no surprise then that we all aspire to become ‘good’ human beings. And we all like to believe that we are good human beings.

In a book I recently read, the protagonist was faced with a tricky situation in her life. Mulling over this, she realised that ‘there are limits to her goodness. She could have gone through her entire life without knowing these limits.’

Limits to goodness? This phrase made me sit up straight and start thinking …… what does that mean? The more I thought, the more it slowly started making sense to me, and made me wonder: what are the limits to my goodness? Do I know them? I believe myself to be a morally upright, ethically sound, and essentially good person. But just how far does my goodness go? Do I know it? If I am faced with a very real dilemma between what is the right and good thing to do, would I do that right and good thing even if it meant doing irremediable damage to a loved one?

We all think we know ourselves, but every once in a while, Life throws up situations that stop us dead in our tracks, that make us question everything we have ever believed in. Situations that show us a side of ourselves that stuns, and at times, even shocks us. Is this me thinking like this, we ask ourselves.

By the time we are out of our teens, most of us have a fairly stable value system in place. There are things that are key priorities for us, goals that we wish to achieve, and the various means that we are willing to explore or use in order to achieve these goals. We go through most of our lives more or less using this value system implicitly or explicitly. Of course, there will be times when temptation will come our way, and there will be times when we will give in to temptation, abandon momentarily our values, and then do course correction. After all, most of us are mortals with mortal minds and mortal resolves, and we don’t always pass Life’s exams with flying colours. As long as we remain aware and open, we can assimilate these experiences without too much difficulty and keep moving forward in Life.

Consider Reena’s situation.

Reena has been a conscientious teacher for over 14 years. She prides herself on her integrity and uncompromising honesty, and has always instilled this in all the children she has taught over the years. One fine day, going through her husband’s computer looking for an important file, she finds irrefutable evidence that her husband has been embezzling funds from the organisation he works for, stealing away hard earned money of the company’s clients. Reena, who has never tolerated any student cheating in exams at school, is now wondering what to do? Her entire moral code recoils at what she has found out and were it anyone else, she knows she would have had no second thoughts turning in the person to the authorities. But this is her husband of 12 years, whom she loves with all her heart. What to do?

Her values and morals would tell her the right thing to do is to report him to the authorities.
But then, what about her responsibility toward her 6 year old child? Is it fair to deprive him of a father?
And what about her marriage? She has loved her husband and they share a good, strong marriage? Is it right to sacrifice everything for the sake of some abstract values?

What seems to me is that, most of us would like to be good. Some of us are almost always good The very notion of ‘goodness’ assumes being good to others. However, when being good to others comes in direct conflict with being good to someone very close to us, that is when our limits get tested. If Reena has to be true to her values and be good to her husband’s clients, then she has to turn her husband in, and then she is not being good to him. Is she? Isn’t she?

There clearly is no one right answer to such moral dilemmas. If you catch your loved one (a parent, a child, a spouse, a close friend) doing something wrong, immoral or bad, what happens to you? What would you do in such a situation? It is a good idea to ask this question to ourselves every once in a while. More than that; it is important not to judge the actions of any other person, for we have no idea what inner battles he or she has fought before doing or not doing certain things. And ….. never know when the tables will turn, and we will find ourselves face to face with the limits to our goodness.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beat the Exam Blues

Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
'Till you find your dream!

With just about a month left for the Boards to commence, it is now time to pull up your socks and give your everything to studies. Whether you have been studying sincerely all through the year, or you have just woken up in panic, if you manage this one month well, you will still come within reach of that goal that you have set for yourself. So let us look at how you can make the most of the time remaining with you.

  • ·     Revisit Your Goal: What is the target that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? How close to it are you as of now? By now, you are well aware of the true state of your preparation. Is that goal (your desired percentage in the boards) still achievable? Do you need to lower it? Increase it? You need to push yourself just right in order to do your best. Under stretching or over stretching won’t help. So once again, revisit that goal and finalise it in your mind. Go by your own capabilities, and your current state of preparation. Don’t get influenced by friends and media.

  • ·     Aim to Surpass Yourself: This is the time to beat all your own past records and achievement, and do the best you possibly can. Stop comparing and competing with peers and competitors. It’s your future and your life you are working toward, so focus your thoughts and efforts on how best you can better your own past performance. Be your own benchmark. This will not only reduce your stress significantly, it will also free up mental space to focus on your studies. 

  •   Become More Efficient: From this moment on, it’s all about time management! Prioritise, schedule, organize, plan, detail out – the better you are able to schedule your day and the time available to you, the more you will achieve. I know, I know, ‘time management’ sounds easy, but how do you actually do it? Well, take one step at a time, and you will soon be there! Here are a few tips on how and where you can start working on Mission Time Management.

o   Plan! If you can create a comprehensive time table for the month you have with you, nothing like it! But if you are not someone who works as per time table, then try to plan at least week-wise, and have a sort of mini plan of what you want to achieve every day. This will help you remain abreast with how much you need to cover and at what pace.
o   Make Sure to Budget in Your Sleep. Don’t compromise on your sleep in this vital period. We all know that about 8 hours of sleep is what you need, and that is what I always recommend.
o   Create a Routine. Have fixed study time, depending on your own body clock and your most alert time periods. So if you are an early bird, plan to get up at a certain time every day. If you are a night owl, plan up to what time you will sit up every night. Having a fixed routine and schedule makes the process automatic and the brain then does not need to engage in when, how, at what time. Once these mundane things are taken care of, the brain can focus entirely on studies.
o   Pace Your Studying. All said and done, you have limited time available with you, so you can’t possibly spend forever on one topic. Before beginning on a topic or a chapter, decide how much time you will dedicate to it, and then pace yourself accordingly.
These are just some ways to manage time better. You can of course start with what works best for you.
  •  Focused Action: Studying randomly will not take you toward your goal. You now need to work in a focused manner. How much time to work on each subject / topic, what do you need to practice every day, how to revise, all this needs to be organised and planned. Concentrate on your weak areas. Is Math the devil for you? Are languages your downfall? Now is the time to tame these demons. Use your best or most alert time period to work on subjects that you find difficult. When tired or bored, yet when you know you need to still study more, take up your favourite subject. You can’t ignore your strengths. Many students focus entirely on their weaker subjects after the prelims, and as a result end up scoring lower than expected on their strong subjects. Don’t let that happen to you.

  • Use Positive Affirmations: Visualise yourself doing well and achieving your goal. Write down your goal statement in a simple, short, positively worded sentence and put it up in such a way that it is the first thing you see when you wake up and the last thing you see before going to bed. Remember to keep it simple and in the present tense. For example, ‘I put in my best efforts every day to reach my target’ instead of ‘I will put in ….’ Frame the sentence in a way that resonates best with you, that sounds perfect for you. Every time you find yourself getting distracted, repeat the affirmation to yourself.

  • ·        Practice Digital Detox: Detach yourself from all gadgets and technology – be it your mobiles, your I Pads, your laptops, or your Play Stations. Bid a temporary adieu to them from now till the time you finish your last paper. This is not to say that you should not enjoy any breaks. But let your breaks be non-digital. By all means, when tired and exhausted, listen to music, fool around with your siblings, exercise, go cycle or play a few minutes of ball. But avoid watching TV, going on that favourite YouTuber’s channel, or chatting on WhatsApp or SnapChat. A screen break is not a mental break. It continues to strain your eyes and your brain, and also opens up numerous mental hyperlinks.

  • ·    Take Care of Your Health: Or rather, allow your parents to! Make sure you are eating those veggies and downing that glass of milk without cribbing. A healthy, wholesome diet, a good night’s sleep, and some fresh air are what are going to keep your body healthy and vital. And we have all learnt that a sound body houses a sound mind.

Apart from these critical aspects, there are some other standard tips which you would have already heard ample number of times from teachers, parents, and relatives, but they are worth repeating:
  • ·         Put in at least 8 hours every day.
  • ·         Stop those coaching classes and now focus on self-study.
  • ·         Solve past papers to assess yourself and know where you need to work.
  • ·         Know your textbooks thoroughly.
  • ·         Practice Math and Grammar on a regular basis.

Most important of all, have believe in yourself! If you have confidence, and you put in your best, even sky is not the limit for you. So what are you waiting for? Get going, and climb this mountain, ford this stream and just beyond it, you will find your dream coming true!

Good Luck!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dear Zindagi ……. A Therapist's Perspective

Dear Zindagi …….
          A Therapist's Perspective

Indian Cinema has matured over the years, and certain topics which were taboo, are openly and sensitively addressed through movies. Mental health has been one such topic which has always been shrouded in stigma, shame and embarrassment. Add to that, the depiction of mental illness in our mainstream cinema, has been less than sensitive, to put it mildly. Along came Tare Zameen Par, a few years back, a movie which boldly addressed the issue of Learning Disabilities. Other movies that addressed mental illness followed – My Name is Khan, Barfi, and so on.
Dear Zindagi is yet another bold and beautiful step forward in this direction. Bold, because it does not address mental illness. Rather, it takes a look at deep seated issues that each of us seemingly ‘normal’ people carry around us, how we allow these past patterns and issues to influence our behavior and decisions, and most importantly, how therapy is not just ‘for the crazy’! Beautiful, because of the sensitivity and poignancy with which it is written, directed, and executed by the lead actors.
The movie makers have done their research well. We see Kaira’s (Alia Bhatt) character emerging right from the outset – her restlessness, her constant search for something, her relationship issues, her problems with parents. Slowly how she moves toward therapy, her building trust on her therapist Dr. Jehangir Khan (SRK), the catharsis of her emotional trauma, and its resolution – all of this is depicted in a flowing manner.
The movie has many poignant moments, that, from a therapist’s point of view, do immense good for erasing the stigma associated with counseling and psychotherapy:
·      Kaira’s friend, openly stating that he has to leave for an appointment with his DD (Dimaag ka Doctor). On being asked, is he crazy, he counters, isn’t everyone a little crazy? Bravo!
·      Kaira asking this friend whether he is going for therapy to be able to tell the world that he is gay. Her friend’s reply, “No, it’s to be able to tell myself that I am gay.” So many of us find it hard to accept parts of ourselves, and so important it is to accept yourself before expecting the same from the world.
·      Kaira overhearing discussions from a mental awareness conference, where pertinent questions such as, “how do I know whether I need to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist?”. So very pertinent, as many people are truly lost as to whom they need to see for their issues.
·      Kaira’s maid, expressing surprise that there are doctors that deal with your emotional issues and her statement, “then all of us need to visit such a doctor”, showing her wisdom and understanding.
·      Kaira’s initial awkwardness when she comes for her first session, she is almost about to bolt from there. How her guard is initially up, and how she presents her issue as that of her friend’s, and how eventually she lets her guard down and begins trusting the therapist.
·      The therapist’s use of stories and fables, in the initial stages of therapy, to get the client to see a difficult situation with sudden clarity. When he winds up his seemingly ridiculous story of Popatlal the mountaineer, with the conclusion, “sometimes we think we HAVE to choose a difficult path. But we very well have the choice to go for the easy one, especially when we don’t have the resources to deal with the difficult one”, it’s like an A-ha moment to Kaira. He doesn’t have to even relate it to her situation overtly, she does it all by herself. The very premise of therapy is clients can help themselves, all they need is a supportive environment. I felt this scene brought it out very beautifully. Armed with this knowledge, she takes the decision that she was struggling with at that point in time.
·      Often, we get bogged down by what we think people will think about us, and this stops us from leading our lives the way we want to. Dr. Jehangir’s innocuous question, “who are all these people who are watching you all the time” helps us see this angle as well. How he slowly guides Kaira to take steps toward self-love and self-acceptance is subtly but heart rendingly depicted.
·      Kaira’s final confrontation with her childhood trauma, and her resultant fears of abandonment. Years of practice have only gone on to show me that childhood traumas, whether real or perceived, remain frozen in our personalities, and guide and shape our decisions and behaviorus all the time. The way this happens with Kaira , how she finally faces it with an emotional showdown with her parents, and later, in the therapy session, is often, how things do happen in therapy. And when a client finally manages to break down the self-inflicted walls and shutters, and allows himself to fully experience those feelings, it is beautiful to watch the gradual dissolution of the client’s sorrow. Giving clients space at that time is all a therapist needs to do, and that is exactly what Dr. Jehangir does. He allows her to cry, vent, talk, without any intervention on his part.
·      It also brings out the issues of transference, when a client feels dependent on the therapist and may at times confuse this attachment for romantic feelings. The way he wards off this without compromising her dignity is a joy to watch.
·      And last, but not the least. Many times, when clients finish therapy, or a particularly difficult session, when the frozen emotions thaw and the real personality starts emerging, clients experience an immense sense of gratitude for the therapist. In that moment, many clients, regardless of gender, will want to give the therapist a hug. That is what Kaira spontaneously does at the end of her last session. For the way SRK has handled that hug, his expressions, his body language is so completely that of a therapist; for that alone, SRK, saat khoon maaf! I forgive you your Fan, your Happy New Year, your Ra One, just for that one scene!
Sure, the movie is not without its flaws. For instance, the way SRK analyses her trauma and concludes about how it has affected her, is not how a therapist would do. As I have said earlier, it is for the client to apply the learnings to his situation. Also, he does engage in a lot of advise giving, which again, a therapist would refrain from. Lastly, his unconventional means (taking sessions on a beach, on a bicycle) would probably not go down well with most therapists. But these flaws, I think, are forgivable under the name of cinematic license. On the whole, the movie does a fair amount of justice to the spirit of therapy, and for that alone, kudos to the entire team of Dear Zindagi!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Digital Detachment

These are paradoxical times we live in. As we continue to drift farther and farther apart from people who matter to us, we keep getting more and more ensnared in all the non-human entanglements of today’s world. While we have no time to catch up for a cup of coffee with our closest friends, our friend list on Facebook and Twitter keeps increasing! Indeed, we are well into the digital age, and while man has always wanted to be the master of his Universe, he increasingly finds himself a slave of his gadgets.
So how do we deal with this overload – of information, of e-mail notifications, or calendar reminders, of WhatsApp group messages, of smses …… the list is endless.  I am in no way against the digital revolution! On the contrary, I am quite a gadget and technology freak myself. I think all the tools that technology provides go a long way in helping us lead a fulfilling life, provided we know how to utilize them!
And therein lies the catch. It is so easy to get hooked to all our digital extensions, that without our realizing it, we become slaves to them, rather than remaining their masters. The challenge is in continuing to retain our power, our free will and now allow ourselves to be driven by technology. So every time your phone beeps to tell you that there is a WhatsApp message, or a new mail notification, you don’t need to drop whatever it is that you are doing and attend to it. Most of us, by now, have already become slaves of technology. So how do we reverse this pattern? How do we go about reclaiming our power from these innocent looking devices? Here are a few steps that will help you do so:
  1. Go for a Digital Detox: This is the latest buzz-word. In simple words, digital detox means taking a complete break from technology. How do we do it? There are many ways. Go for a holiday with your family, and leave all your gadgets behind, including your mobile phone. Especially your mobile phone! Go for a 10-day Vipassana meditation, or a naturopathy course, where the pre-requisite is no gadgets. Go for a trek in the Himalayas, where there is no network. Whatever you opt for, the idea is to practice self-discipline and stay away, physically and mentally, from your devices.
  2. Build a System of Responding to Messages: Set up a system that works best for you. So for instance, tell yourself that you will look at messages on your phone only every one hour, you will respond to mails every morning and evening, rather than every time a mail pops into your mailbox, or you will access Facebook only once every two days. Whatever works best for you. Don’t make drastic changes, go slow. The idea, again, to build in self-discipline and teach your mind the art of delaying gratification.
  3. Practice Breathwork: One of the best ways to to disconnect and reconnect to yourself is to engage in some kind of breathwork. You can choose whatever works best for you – yoga, meditation, brahma vidya, art of living kriya, vipassana, mindfulness – there are many breathwork techniques and practices, you can choose what suits you or appeals to you the most. While ideally, you should do this at a set time in the day, if your schedule does not permit that, no worries. Do it whenever and wherever you can – in the lift, in the car or train, while waiting for a meeting to commence, while standing in a queue. All those times which you use fingering your phone needlessly, practice breathwork in those times. It will give you a quick-fix of alertness and quietude.
  4. Get out of Virtual Life, and Get into Real Life! Connect to your friends in real time, not on Facebook. Spend more time with your family and less on your phone or computer. Instead of sending a happy birthday message to a relative, pick up that phone and actually talk to the person. See the difference it makes in your relationships, and in the amount of satisfaction you derive from your human interactions rather than focusing only on virtual interactions.
  5. Remember, Technology is to Help you Connect, not Disconnect from Others: At every opportunity, remind yourself, and others, that technology was created to help you connect better and more efficiently to other human beings. Whether it was the phone, the e-mail, or any of the social media platforms, they were to help you make connections and join the missing dots. NOT to distance yourself from people that matter the most to you.
  6. Slow Down! Relax. Every day does not, and I repeat, does not, have to be a race against time. It doesn’t matter what high profile job you are into, what responsibilities you have at home or at work, learn to set your own pace. Sure, there will be emergency situations that call for quick action. But for the most part, learn to stay in control. Stay in charge. Everything does not have to be solved right here, right now. There is a time and place for everything, and as long as you move along with the flow of life, things unfold beautifully. This one is the most difficult and the most challenging of all, yet, if you learn to do it, you will be amazed at how much it sets you free.
  7. Have a Screen-Free Weekend at Home: Plan a weekend at home with kids where all of you go screen-free. That means no phones, no computers, no I-pads or tablets, and no TV. Initially, you will feel stuck as you slowly realize how much of your entertainment is screen-dependent. But slowly, you will come to realize that there are so many fun things you can do together as a family – play board games, play carom or dumb charades, just talk to each other, rest and relax, go to the beach, or simply laze around.
The more you start doing these things, the more you will be able to handle the avalanche of digital data and information that keeps coming your way 24/7. Instead of getting overwhelmed by this digital overload, you will be able to allow yourself to focus on things that really matter. So go ahead, make a beginning, and get yourself out of this paradox of connecting virtually and disconnecting in reality.
 First published on www.psychometrica.ae/blog 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Balancing Act

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
-          Gautama Buddha

We have all heard and read a lot about living in the Now. Each of us, undoubtedly, interprets it in our own way. Yet, living in the present is not something one achieves and is done with! It is an on-going and everlasting exercise one engages in, and a rather challenging one at that. One of the reasons for this is the fact that at any given point in time, we are either busy doing something, or thinking something. Come to think of it, Human Life is all about swinging between either Thinking or Acting.
Needless to say, any task in life calls for some amount of thought and some amount of action. Finding the right balance between the two becomes a key determinant of your efficiency. At one end of the continuum are situations that require 100% action, thought comes later. This may be true when someone is getting a heart attack, and you simply need to call the ambulance NOW. There is no time for thought; you simply have to DO IT. Here, instant action is paramount. At the other end of the continuum are situations where 100% of thought may be applied, with no or negligible action. Take for instance the philosopher who spends years thinking about a theory and working it out in his mind. All his ‘action’ happens only on the fertile grounds of his mind; no ‘real’ measurable action takes place. Most situations, however, fall somewhere in-between these two extremes. There may be some tasks that call for more action and less thought, and vice versa. For a person to be efficient and effective in any task, he needs to be able to strike the right balance between the two.

Temperamentally though, we tend to have a preference for one over the other. Some of us are thought oriented, we prefer to mull and ponder, gaze and wonder, think and ruminate over the way things are. Thinkers are often seen as dreamers, star gazers, philosophers, or even as lazy good-for-nothings. It is the thinkers who make us see the world from a new light, who question age old customs, who ask Why? What? How? How come?

On the other hand, some of us are more action oriented, who believe in getting out there and taking charge. These are the actors, the ones who can move mountains, who can get things done, who compel the rest of us to move out of our comfort zones. These are the ones who lead by their example, who believe that actions speak the loudest.

Having a perfect balance between these two frequencies, arriving and remaining at the center of this spectrum, is probably what meditation is all about……

The Buddha is the one who mastered this to perfection. Think of the Buddha and what comes to your mind is his serene expression, his equanimity, his meditative posture.  The Buddha achieved the peak of the thinking frequency; he questioned established patterns, he came up with a whole new philosophy of Life. Yet, the Buddha is also the epitome of the actor, the do-er. While he practiced renunciation and detachment, he did so in the midst of people. He acted, every minute of the day, to communicate his thoughts, his views and his philosophy to people, he was seen constantly engaged in some service to humanity or other. He was a tireless worker, a do-er to the core. Thus, he mastered both these seemingly disparate frequencies to achieve perfect equanimity.

This, then, is what each of us needs to aspire for. No, not all of us can become a Buddha. Yet, it is equally true that the potential to be a Buddha lies between each of us. Life, then, needs to be a sincere attempt at always remaining in harmony with our thoughts and our actions, always ensuring that one feeds into the other, and, most of all, that they are both helping us reach the same destination. Knowing our natural temperamental inclination, and then working consciously toward also inculcating the other, is what will help us achieve this goal.

Article first published in the Inaugral Issue of 'Just Let Go' in September 2015.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

‘Back to School’ Blues

June ……
The start of the blessed monsoons
The fragrance of wet Earth
The relief from heat and grime

June …….
The start, also, of the new school year
The smell of brand new books
The end of lazy sleepy mornings

As a mother of school-going kids, June is a month pregnant with so many things, most of them to do with the resumption of the school routine after a relaxed summer break. While most of May is just whiled away enjoying the relaxed pace of life, the appearance of June is a reminder of sorts. With old raincoats to try on for size, covering of the text books and notebooks, ensuring the bottles and tiffin boxes are intact and in place, and uniforms and shoes to buy, the first week of June passes off in a flurry of activity, and before you  know it, the first day of school has arrived!

For many mothers, this can be an extremely stressful period. But it need not be. With a little bit of planning and creativity, you can not only make this a stress-free time, but also one where the family bonds together and has fun. Really? How?

Be Organised
Well, some of us are naturally more organised, while some of us are not. However, where school is concerned, it certainly pays to be more organised. So on that last day of school, make sure you put away all the things that won’t be needed for the next two months ready and in their regular place. This makes it easier to retrieve them. I remember a first day morning filled with panic when we could not locate my daughter’s shoes one of the years when she was younger. I learnt my lesson then. Taking that extra bit of effort saves many a nerve-wracking moments later.

Make Your Kids Responsible
No matter how old, or young, your child, communicate to her or him that it is his responsibility to ensure readiness for school. Empower your children to manage their stuff, be it ensuring all books are ready, all projects are done, the bag is packed, the uniform is ready and so forth. Of course, you are there to step in and help them wherever they require help, but making them responsible from an early age will go a long way in fostering lifelong self-reliance in them.

Have a ‘Getting-Ready-For-School’ Day
About a week before the school is about to re-open, get the family together, encourage all members to brainstorm and come up with a list of things that need to be in place for the first day of school. Encourage the children to come up with various aspects. Make this a fun brainstorming session, you can even have prizes for the one who comes up with the most valuable suggestion. Together, allot responsibilities for who does what. Put up the list in a place where everyone can easily access it, and tick off tasks as they get done. This makes the entire activity a fun and family thing, and also creates positivity in children about going back to school.

Avoid Leaving Things for the Last Minute
This one sounds pretty obvious, but let us be honest – how many of us have left buying the raincoat till the day it actually starts pouring? How many of us have sat late into the night on the last day of the vacation covering books? Trust me, doing a little bit every day is far better than getting into a crisis at the 11th hour.

The First Morning
Often, getting kids to wake up after late mornings becomes a task for most mothers. What has worked for me is preparing the kids from at least a week in advance, by talking about the school re-opening day, and slowly getting them to wake up earlier with every passing day. Most importantly, talking to them positively about school on the night before and getting them excited will result in them waking up with a positive frame of night the next morning.

Most importantly, learn to remain calm and centered. Waking up 15 minutes earlier than you normally do will give you that extra space to start your morning in a relaxed and calm manner. Remember, your kids pick up your moods and energies, so make sure you vibrate with peace, love and harmony as you send out your kids on their first day into the new school year!