20 December 2011

teaching and learning

mel has written another beautiful post, about parenting. i am sure all my young-parent friends will relate, and so will not-young-parent friends. i was discussing with H just two days ago how difficult it is/must be to raise a child and inculcate the values you want them to grow with. how ultimately, you just never know how they will turn out, what path they will choose. i know of several families where siblings turned out completely different to each other, choosing opposing value sets, despite growing up together, in the same environment, with the same ethics and principles.

i love mel’s Y, such an awesome idea:
It is shorthand for the idea that every single person on this earth has two possible lives — the one she leads and the unfulfilled life that isn’t accessed because of choices she makes. Each decision takes us to a fork, and I want them to take the path that is going to bring them what they desire in life: friends, success in school, a thriving computer company. I make them sit and think about that other fork; that road not taken. The one that takes them far away from everything they think they want, like some secular version of A Christmas Carol.
one comment to the above post said this,
“It just feels so hard again at each stage because I have to learn. To play catch-up and figure out this new phase. Every time I get a grasp on something, she changes it up. Life changes it up.”

which totally resonated with me. i’ve been feeling like every time i get something figured out, life throws yet another curveball at me. i miss those days when i felt on top of everything, when i GOT IT; the last two years of high school, or the last two years as an undergrad. or even the first few years of work (not the very first year, but two, three, four!). the last few years, and especially this past year, has been a see-saw ride on the learning graph. i would really like to just cruise on the top there..

and this brings to mind one of my favorite ben okri quotes (from astonishing the gods): “The law is simple. Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully the first time.”

i'm okay with life being one huge lesson; i just want to be a good student though, i want to get it! i'm tired of feeling out of the loop..

14 December 2011

contentment, imperfection and self improvement

i read a thought provoking post today regarding quashing the urge for self improvement, and instead learning to be content with who you are and what you have. i find this idea contradictory though, and almost a paradox. i agree with the first half of the premise:
You could say it’s great that people are constantly trying to improve themselves, but where does it end? When is anyone ever content with who they are? We are taught that we are not good enough yet, that we must improve, and so … we always feel a little inadequate.

This is true no matter how much you’ve accomplished. You might have achieved a thousand goals, but do you have defined abs? Are your boobs big and bouncy? Do you have perfect skin? Have you read every classic in literature?...Do you have the perfect home, and can you cook gourmet meals? Are you the perfect parent, or have perfect work-life balance? Can you do yoga, meditate, juggle and do magic? Do you brew the perfect cup of coffee, or tea, or beer? Can you recite Shelly, Shakespeare, Homer? Are you good at picking up women, are you the perfect friend, the perfect lover, a romantic husband, a wife who meets her husband’s needs, a master craftsman, a hacker and a programmer, a knitter or sewer, a home-repair expert...

We are never adequate, never perfect, never self-confident, never good enough, never comfortable with ourselves, never satisfied, never there, never content.
all true. all bad.
but. the second half?
What if instead, we learned to be happy with ourselves?

What would happen?

Would we stop striving to improve? Would that be horrible, if we were just content and didn’t need to better ourselves every minute of every week? Would we be lazy slobs, or would we instead be happy, and in being happy do things that make us happy rather than make us better?

Realize that you are already perfect. You are there. You can breathe a sigh of relief.
really? i don’t feel perfect. far from it in fact. and that’s okay, because i’m not really looking for perfection. i want to be able to do certain things better, things that make me happy. and that requires improvement, which is fine. i’m not looking for a bigger house or trendy clothes or better skin. i think the line between content and improvement is fine, and you have to be aware, all the time, of which side you’re on. being content is not a bad thing, but neither is striving to be better. it’s all about the degree i guess. and the context: being content in a job you hate or a relationship gone sour is just copping out. striving for all kinds of material gain or trying to be perfect at everything meanwhile, is not about being happy.

focus on the things that do make you happy, and strive to do those better. because, you know, the chances are, you’re not innately destined to be good at what makes you happy. and being great at something, almost always requires work and practice (malcolm gladwell’s infamous ‘10 000 hour' rule for instance).

striving to be a better human, a better person, is never a bad thing.

ask yourself why you want to improve whatever it is you want to improve. if the answer is internal, related to you, great. if it’s external, then you need to stop and rethink.

a woman’s search for god in the city discusses the trend in western self help literature to advise ‘quitting your job and following your dreams’, and compares this to her own job and life situation. her conclusion:
As an Indian woman who was destined to be a housewife, being able to work itself is a dream. That I am in a job I love, is nothing short of nirvana.

I don’t think it is the job that is to blame for stifled dreams. After all, people choose those jobs willingly for whatever reason. They follow their priorities. Our jobs are actually a reflection of our own life condition. They mirror our own truths and inner realities. If we don’t like what we see outside, we need to look inside for what needs fixing. Joy can be found anywhere — even in dusty old law books or crooked text boxes on computer screens.

step. by. step.

familiarity, recognition, belonging, acknowledgment, stature; the curtain lifted slightly and i glimpsed a world of possibilities. one smile, one nod, can make such a big difference. it was the difference between belonging and not.

it is a far cry from the innate sense of rightfulness and connection i experienced for the last decade, but it is one step towards it. more importantly, it is one step away from nothingness, nonbeing, oblivion.

it has been a slowww step in coming, but one i am oh so thankful for. that world of possibilities? it more than makes up for the past. i would like to think that from now, i’ll be on a fast train to somewhere, whereas the reality is probably more slow, plodding steps. oh well. i’ll just keep my eye on the view behind the curtain!

07 December 2011

choosing what is

i came across the following poem, which is summed up by the line, 'i vow to choose what is'. and this is something i have considerable difficulty with!

In this passing moment
by Shodo Harada Roshi

“In the presence of Sangha, in the light of Dharma,
in oneness with Buddha — may my path
to complete enlightenment benefit everyone!”

In this passing moment karma ripens
and all things come to be.
I vow to choose what is:
If there is cost, I choose to pay.
If there is need, I choose to give.
If there is pain, I choose to feel.
If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve.
When burning — I choose heat.
When calm — I choose peace.
When starving — I choose hunger.
When happy — I choose joy.
Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.
What I shoulder, I choose to bear.
When it is my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go.
Being with what is — I respond to what is.

This life is as real as a dream;
the one who knows it can not be found;
and, truth is not a thing — Therefore I vow
to choose THIS dharma entrance gate!
May all Buddhas and Wise Ones
help me live this vow.

in discussing the poem, ivan notes, "You would think the unavoidable nature of “what is” would make a vow like this meaningless, but the human mind and heart are not entirely sane. ;) They often choose fantasy, imaginings, shoulds and coulds, possibilities, even impossibilties, over what is. Very few of us truly dwell in reality. Very few of us sincerely experience the moments of our lives."

so true. the lines regarding choosing to grieve, choosing hunger, choosing to bear remind me of rumi's the guest house. lofty sentiments, but so hard to follow. when i am feeling lost, hurt or abandoned, i want to unexperience that as soon as possible, not dwell in it. moreover, when i am feeling wronged or upset, i have no smiles or sympathy to offer someone else.

and then, i am reminded by buddha, “Pay no attention to the faults of others, things done or left undone by others. Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone.” perhaps the key really is to focus more on myself, rather than others. perhaps i would be much happier if i only worked on myself, and just ignored all the (perceived) slights and faults of others. this is also not easy, but at least it is something concrete i can work towards. whereas if i were concentrating on how mean x was to me, i wouldn't know how to change x's behaviour.. as thoreau said, 'it is not what you look at, but what you see'.