Safe Places

“Daddy it’s too hard, I can’t do it”, said my daughter to me.

I followed up the cliched response -“It’s ok baby, you can do it”

Then it hit me…..

I can’t teach my daughter what I don’t know.

We were at her gymnastics class. She just moved on to next level. New teacher and a harder routine. Balance bars, flips and non-stop activity for 1 hour.

From outside it looked great to me as a parent that my daughter moved on to next level. No change in my schedule, I still keep taking her to the class at the same time. But something has fundamentally changed for my daughter and I wasn’t paying attention to notice it.

This happened last month. Since then I have been taking her to the same class every Saturday and trying to convince her to fight it. To be honest, it hasn’t been going well. She comes back crying half way through – some times I spend 30 mins talking to her just to get her to attend 10 mins of class. Those are hard moments for me and I am completely split during those moments.

I spent a lot of time since then thinking about what is it about failure, that freaks me out and avoid it. I mean the reason why I didn’t have a great supporting response to my daughter was – I don’t know how to respond to new conditions that freak me out and fail me immediately. I have been cocooned myself past several years in safe places where I am welcomed and there is nothing at risk. It’s a great place to be, but on the other hand – it had made me complacent and abhorrent of taking any kind of risk.

So to be able to honestly answer my daughter – I looked back in my life and found 1 thing that I have been scared of all my life. Swimming. Growing up in India, I never got any opportunity to learn swimming and I never made any attempt. But after coming to this country I felt like I can learn it easily, but never attempted it as I felt like I never need for it.

So after a lot of internal chatter – I joined a swim class. Boy it kicked my ass! I realized I am scared of getting my head under water. I feel completely scared to get all the way in water and I panic a lot. So far I have attended 2 classes and I fucking hate it – but I have decided to not to quit and keep facing my fear of risk.

I still don’t have any answers to my daughter. But at least I am in a place where I can sympathize with her. I may suck at swimming and can’t take it anymore but I have decided to face it no matter what – so that I can learn how to face my fears and be able to talk to my daughter about it when she actually needs my help.

I realized that the safe place I call home is limiting me in my personal growth.

4 people

I feel like there are 4 people who live in me.

  1. The wild child – This is the core part, but predominantly hidden. This is the most fun part of me incidentally – but the downside of this guy is – he is so deeply hidden it takes copious amount of alcohol to bring him out. But once he is out, he is fun. Like to think up wild things and will cross every frigging line there is in humanity. Unfortunately a lot of my friends love this guy – so being sober is hard when there is such a demand for him! Oh I also love the beer!!
  2. The Mundane Normative Guy – This is the guy who predominantly lives most of my life. He is the one, who takes care of the family. Who shuttles his daughter and her friends around parks. Who shows up for her kids activities. Who pays the bills, takes the garbage out, recycles, pays taxes, follows the speed limit, automates his life around with widgets and gadgets. The good guy who loves his family and friends.
  3. The Analytical/Intellectual guy – This is the guy who keeps tracks of societal change, reads up about stuff happening around the globe. Parses what’s being reported in media. Doesn’t believe everything he hears. This guy judges, analyzes, summarizes. Nothing is sacred for this guy. If there is a holy cow of anything, this guy will put it on a grill and eat it. Very divisive thinking, but also has the capacity of breaking stuff down to basics and being creative to draw conclusions.
  4. The night time Shaman guy – This is a very secretive part of my psyche. Deeply embedded as the wild child. This guy doesn’t respond to alcohol, but lone time. As I sit alone with my thoughts and think about bigger stuff, when I look up at the vast sky and feel the sensation of Universe staring back at me – I know it’s this guy.

The imbalance I have realized is – the mundane guy has millions of people he can relate to. The wild child – has enough drinking buddies to hangout with. But the analytical guy has very few options. It’s been such a long time this guy engaged in an intellectual banter with anyone. He misses it. He feels like the world is getting dumber and dumber – iconized and minimized to an app based culture of chasing virtual stuff around. The analytical guy can’t stand the stupidity that keeps pouring around him. The spiritual guy – is totally alone. Just sitting there – in awe of the immenseness of this beautiful world around him, but none to share it with.

Emotional Wrenching

I avoid reading fiction. The main reason being when I read – I associate a lot of my life with the book, characters and then feel the pain, pleasure and trauma of the characters. The only kind of personal stories I like are mostly biographies. Other than that, it’s mostly non-fiction.

Recently I have taken  a leap of faith and took a deep dive into a book – which I knew would make me sad from the beginning. It’s a posthumous biography of a neuro-surgeon named Paul Kalanithi. It’s an amazing book. I think so far it has made me cry every 10 pages! I feel so much of what he is talking about. Not in a way I relate to what he did or what has happened to him, but more at a core level of his Soul. He has a beautiful soul and I can at some level feel and understand what he is talking about.

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The writing is just amazing. I have read everything about him online and tracked all his writings. He was a great soul. It’s heart wrenching that he died so early.

This book has really been a test for me. I never thought I would be able to handle so much pain slowly delivered page by page. But in a weird way, the book makes me more reflective on my mortality and makes me feel more appreciative of things in my life. It also makes me feel strong about my life.

It made me become very polarized to appreciate every moment with my daughter. IMG_0014

Next I do plan to read – Oliver Sacks’s biography! I think that would round up the mortality of our lives and fleeting nature of our moments!

My Dad, a big fish

Like most people I have my share of childhood “stuff” or trauma to blame it on my parents. I do however have come a long way to accept most of it as my very own karmic debt. Last month was my dad’s 9th year death anniversary. I have been thinking about him for quite some time and I think I have coherent enough thoughts now to put them on here.

Growing up me and my sisters watched my dad make a lot of proclamations. Huge and big ideas which at that time sounded like he was bragging. Some of it, he probably was but what I realize now – now that I am a parent and how I sub-consciously imitate my dad’s style to my daughter sometimes! he was actually a big fish in a small pond.

My dad saw some of the toughest situations in life. He was part of family of 8 siblings and my grand dad (whose name my dad gave me) was an extremely poor man who tried his hands at anything to keep his family going. Having not much of education, my dad literally ran away from his hometown at the age of 15 to make and build his own things. What he endured for the next 10 years is – all this magic stuff he was made of. I believe he endured a lot of pain. On streets and no food and doing some odd jobs. Through that process he developed a story. Basically an amazing response to his reality around him – a story he told himself to keep him alive and survive. He believed in some higher force guiding him and helping him and him doing amazing things while going through that period.

So, when he had kids – he would relay parts of that story to us and I never understood most of them. I know he believed that a strong will is a choice and can be built through practice. He also believed miracles would happen out of thin air and told us a lot of stories. Some of them may not be true through scientific lens but what I realized is that – that was “his” story. That story was hand painted colorful because the paleness of reality was too much to bear.

These thoughts reminded me of the movie Big Fish – whose story line kinda fits with what I had seen in my dad.

Now that I reflect back – I think he passed on a lot more than just the name to me. I believe in the same force guiding my life. Every moment. I am spiritually inclined in stuff which he showed me in my early life. I tend to read books about these amazing fakirs, babas and Gods – who my dad claimed to meet and has been blessed and transformed.

On a day like this – where the candles are lit around me and I can still smell that incense and all this peaceful ambiance around me – the one thing I miss most is – I wish he is here relating me one of those stories to me. Today, I would give anything to sit and listen to his stories without judgement. I miss you dad.

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Food is Memory, Music is Emotion

I have been thinking about this for some time. A long drive today kinda tied up all the loose ends in my head. I strongly believe food is all about re-creating memories. When I cook, every time I cook – I am basically trying to recreate the great memory I had eating that food in the past. Even when I go out to eat at some special place it’s all about recreating memories or reinforcing them. Similarly, music is about invoking emotion. I believe we associate our emotions to music. Re-living them through various strums and hums – beyond time and space. Basically tell me your Spotify playlists and I can pretty much guess the kind of feelings and emotions you like to experience.

sadness

Speaking of emotions – Inside Out movie is one the smartest and well done representation of our emotions. I loved it and I think every adult should watch it. The biggest surprise was (now on hindsight it makes it kinda dumb) Sadness is a key emotion for us to feel. Because happiness does not exist on it own. It needs a standing ground to sprout. Sadness provides that and this daily trauma of life has ample opportunities for us to experience sadness. And if we don’t resist it or ignore it or deny it and accept it we might actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And so speaking of accepting things that make us sad. There are 2 songs that I feel that strongly make me sad. I have never figured out why they make me sad so far, I don’t honestly know. One reminds me of Home – far far away. One reminds me of my teen years.

On Being Accepted Unconditionally

Growing up in India, I grew up in a middle class family where the only way you can get upward mobility is through *education*. I spent most of my teens (like 10 years in extreme educational competitive environment), and years after that mired in studying and working hard towards something which I never clearly understood what it will be like. Now looking back on my life I realize there was some meaning to it. I mean it’s kinda assigned meaning but yeah I will take it.

So what does it mean to get out of a middle class in India and to make to to this land of opportunity? It means no one around you accepts you as you are! Yep. My father was never, never happy with the grades I got. I mean c’mon I was like breaking bank with Physics! My professor met with my dad and told him that I had a great future in Astrophysics. But he didn’t accept it just because I wasn’t top of my class in Math! I did my best with computer science, but my dad wasn’t happy with any of it. He had some other plans for me. I would say some other expectations of me.

My extended family was surprised I wasn’t going to US of A when I made it to Singapore. They were like kinda unhappy about it. I mean I frigging took a risk and made it in Singapore, but none of my family acks that!

So the sad story of my life is – even though I excelled in a lot of things – people around me thought I wasn’t doing good enough job and wasn’t good enough. Which kinda left me with a feeling of lack and insecurity in my life that still to this day haunts me.

But not my daughter – the other day she asked me to tie her hair up and put it in a *bun* as she calls it. I tried. I mean I really tried. More than I would try to fix the nastiest bug at work. I couldn’t make it work. All I got was a lame bun and a half assed pony tail up her hair. Finally, I told her – “You know your mom actually knows well how to fix up your hair, I don’t know how to – you should ask your mom” – It was a very vulnerable moment for me. I am like admitting that I suck at this. All my insecurities flying all around. My daughter, looks at me – I swear to god there was a pause for like 2 seconds but it felt like eternity – she says “It’s ok daddy, I actually like it the way you did it”.  For the record, she is 4! She just scooped up my heard with this unconditional love.

Later I tried to get her hair fixed by asking my wife but my daughter refused it. She just wanted it that way. I think I have rarely felt unconditional love, but it was one of those moments. I know my daughter isn’t aware of all this stuff, but whatever she did – no one did that to me for a very, very long time. That acceptance of who I am – I haven’t seen it or experienced it in for a long long time. It really made my day. I think I will remember that forever.

How I increased my attention span

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I know this might come off as boasting or trite. But the most valuable thing we as individuals have is our attention span. Our ability to give our full attention to one and only thing in front of us. Amidst the tumultuous waters of multi-tasking and constant binge tapping of alerts, social conversations – our attention span is dying. Dying by million distractions.

A few weeks ago – I started doing couple of simple things. No big plan, I just thought I would do some simple things to make myself less distracted. Here is the list of things:

0. I meditated for 15 mins every evening.

1. I stopped using my laptop or phone at least 30 mins before I went to bed.

2. I read an actual dead tree book for those 30 mins and then simply went to sleep without worrying about what happened on FB.

3. When I wake up, I didn’t jump into my phone – which usually starts of as, what’s the weather going to be like and then like 30 mins later I know everyone’s status on FB.

4. I didn’t check my personal email till noon.

5. I didn’t check FB when I was bored. I read something interesting about my field of work.

6. I jumped straight into work as soon I got to office.

This was all new to me and somedays really hard. But I kept at it. Not sure what’s going to come off of it.

After like 7 days, I realized few things.

1. My concentration while reading a book or writing code, spiked up. I was able to focus on one thing in front of me for more than 30 mins, without being physically interrupted.

2. To my fascination, whenever I read long articles – like from longform etc, I was *actually* able to finish the article in one sitting.

3. When I interacted with my daughter, I was not hiding behind my iPhone, I was able to pay full attention to what she was saying. Oh what a fascinating mind is of a 4 year old!!

That’s it. Nothing major. I wasn’t aiming for this level of focus and concentration but I think what I did actually helped me build it.