Monday, November 28, 2016
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!
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
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
The start of the blessed monsoons
The fragrance of wet Earth
The relief from heat and grime
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?
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!
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
As a therapist, a healer, and a spiritual seeker, equanimity is quality that I have always tried to cultivate. People who come for therapy, come, literally, from every emotional walk of life. Every possible shade of negative emotion is manifested in therapy, and as such, one learns to take it in one’s stride. Or so I deluded myself! Until one fine day, not so long ago, in walked Mr. Y, a parent of a teen I was working with, an angry soul, whose anger and negativity was so palpable, so impacting, that it pervaded his aura, the physical space around him, and everyone who came in contact with him. Including me.
Once in a while, we all come across such people. People who are so full of angst and anger, that they leave us completely shaken, uncentered and disturbed. As a healer-therapist, I make it a point to ground myself before my sessions, and cleanse myself after my day is over, to ensure that I do not carry any unwanted emotions, thoughts or energies with me into my personal life. But with Mr. Y., I could not do so for a long time – a couple of weeks, in fact. He affected me, made me angry and upset with his accusations, and the general way in which he was treating his kids. It took me considerable time and effort to re-center myself and continue to interact with him without getting affected.
This incident got me thinking. It made me wonder how I, or anyone for that matter, can go about clearing one’s own space of such extremely strong and negative emotions that others may unknowingly dump on one. Based on what worked for me, I would suggest some or all of the following steps if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
· Recognise & Acknowledge Your Reactions: Accept that you are reacting to the behaviour, words, body language, or simply the emotional charge of the other person. Take ownership for your own emotions. Instead of saying, “He made me feel depressed”, say to yourself, “I am feeling depressed because of what he said.” Acknowledge that you have unwittingly allowed yourself to be dragged into a game that you do not want to play.
· Breathe! Practice deep breathing and allow the emotions or feelings to just flow through your body. If you are familiar with any kind of formal breathwork, like Yoga, meditation, Vipassana, Mindfulness practice, prioritise that. If not, then simply close your eyes, and breathe in deeply. As you inhale, feel yourself breathing in peace and calm, and when you exhale, blow out with your mouth, breathing out all the negative emotion that you are experiencing. Do this for at least 7 times, and then check how you feel. Keep doing this breathing work in cycles of 7 until you feel the discharge of the emotion.
· Practice Forgiveness: Forgive the other person for behaving the way he or she does. You don’t know the battles he is fighting, and what viewpoint he is operating from. Also forgive yourself for all the negative feelings you have developed toward him or her. Accept your human-ness, accept that you are reacting with negativity. Again, there are many beautiful ways to actively practice forgiveness. Hoʻoponopono is one such simple and beautiful practice. It is an ancient Hawaiian technique of practicing forgiveness. Vipassana meditation also teaches you the practice of giving Metta, or waves of friendship, warmth and goodwill to people. If nothing else, simply taking a few moments to express gratitude to the Universe for all the good things in your life will also go a long way in making it easier for you to forgive the person who has impacted you so much.
· Actively Move On: Lastly, make a concerted effort to move yourself out of that emotional zone, and into something that is constructive and positive. Get started on some task that has been long pending, even if it is something as trivial as cleaning your room, sorting your closet, or calculating your accounts. Engage your mind into tasks that truly require your energy; this makes it difficult for your energy to be available for unhealthy emotions and thoughts.
My experience with Mr. Y. has taught me many things. First and foremost, it has taught me that I do not need to be part of anyone else’s dramas or stories. It is up to me entirely, I can disconnect, cut-off, refuse to be part of his or her life issues by choosing to not respond to any mind-games the other person may knowingly or unknowingly engage in. But more importantly, it taught me that it is up to me to maintain my inner balance, my equanimity and my sense of being centered and grounded. People, situations and experiences may pose challenges in different ways; but ultimately, my peace of mind is my priority, and unless I take active control of it, equanimity will always remain elusive. Last of all, I realised, all over again, that the quest for equanimity is an on-going one. It is not a destination…… but a journey full of important lessons along the way!