21 June 2015

Waking Up

A short story

Though he initiated the breakup, he never thought that was the end of their relationship. She asked him for two months of time with some simple help. Now it has been more than three months and there is no contact from her so far. He has been wondering about this awful silence and he is somewhat concerned about her. He does not realize that sometimes silence can be deceiving. Though he feels and acts like a king, he is still a boy in his heart. As he passes close by her neighborhood, he just decides to drop by at her place quickly without much of thinking. As he parks his car and walks towards her place, he prepares himself to be as gentle and caring as possible for her. Finally he sees her. There is no surprise or anger or any questions from her. She just carefully and stealthily shoots him with many hurtful arrows one after another. He is very well capable of handling them gracefully. But it is a total shock to him and he does not see them coming until they hit him. Some of those arrows penetrate deep into his heart – for the first time in his life!

He realizes his bad judgments. He placed himself in a totally vulnerable position with his ignorance and by trusting her without any doubt. He also realizes his insensitiveness towards her feelings after their breakup. With all his intention to be helpful to her, somehow he should have hurt her deeply. Perhaps he can learn to accept what she has done, but he finds it difficult to accept how she has done it. After all, betrayal is a powerful poison. He is hurt, angry and sad. He is shocked and confused. He still cannot believe what has actually happened. He thinks there must be some other big misunderstanding. Later he reaches out to her with the hope that he can make things just little better. He does not want to carry any bad feelings. After all, hatred is as poisonous as betrayal. But she is not ready to give any moment of thought. Perhaps she does not understand his motivation. Perhaps she is still angry. Perhaps she is not ready to take even a slightest possibility of discomfort. She is scared and she wants to protect herself at any cost. As he reaches out to her, to his utter shock, she shoots him with even more hurtful arrows again and again! This time he sees them coming, but he does not have any more energy. He just painfully witnesses as everything falls apart.

It will take him months and years to get some sense of what happened – though many things will forever continue to evade him. It will open his eyes how there were so many signs, some of them were so obvious, yet he was so blind to see them before. He will desperately try to find any meaning left in their relationship, and eventually he will throw up everything. But it will continue to run in the background of his brain dragging him down day and night weeks after weeks and months after months.

He knows he has to be patient and given enough time the grass will grow again. He knows he is fundamentally rich deep within and he will recover back. But he has no idea how long or how much this will drag him down. He also wonders about what kind of recovery it will be. Will it be based on fear and mistrust, or courage and trust? Will his heart be hardened and closed, or gentle and open? Will he be bitter and sad, or joyful and happy? Will he be nervous and weak, or confident and strong? He searches everywhere. He realizes there are no straightforward answers or solutions. One day he randomly comes across a book by Pema Chodron. He reads it all night, and falls asleep holding it on his heart.

He finds himself in a strange land. The hot Sun is right above his head. He can feel the heat wave. He is thirsty and exhausted. He looks around. As far as he can see, there is nothing but dry cracked land in every direction. He walks towards what it seems like water, later he realizes that it is just a mirage. Then he notices a tree far away. He reaches there after a long walk. There is an old lady sitting under the tree peacefully. He recognizes her immediately as he just read her book. She offers him a bowl of water to drink. To his surprise, she seems to understand his pain and struggles.

She gently asks him, "What was your reaction when you got hurt?"

He replies, "I desperately wanted to fix it. I tried every possible ways to make the situation just little better. Not only all my attempts were failed, it made the situation even worse"

She rephrases, "When we are hurt, we try to manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it just won't work. Life just nailed you."

He is shocked by her response, "What is a solution then?"

"There is no solution. It is a transformative experience to understand... there is no solution... there is no ground... there is nothing to hold on to... We are running around in circles pretending, there is a ground – when actually there is no ground"

He is shocked even more, "What to do with our pain and struggles?"

"Now the question is: why are you struggling? What is there to struggle when there is no solution? Can you have compassion with yourself (and others), and see how much you are hurting yourself (and others) with your own struggles? Can you learn to relax and stop struggling? Pain, insecurity, impermanence, change... they are realities of life... there is no escape. This is what it means to be a human. If you learn to accept it, then you can sit down and enjoy the ride."

"Then why do we struggle automatically?"

She asserts him, "We don't have anything to lose, but being programmed in our guts to feel that we have a lot to lose. That is why we struggle. If we learn not to be afraid of our pain, groundlessness, insecurity, uncertainty, ambiguity, paradoxes – that would allow us to be open, free and compassionate in any situation"

He interrupts her, "But we are afraid"

"Yes, fear is just part of being alive. We have to skillfully learn to work with our fears. The more we familiarize with our own fear, the less powerful it will be. Without knowing fear, there is no fearlessness, there is no courageousness. Now the question is: can you meet your fear face to face?"

He realizes its challenges, "When we panic… when we go through painful, heart-breaking situations… it is not going to be easy to face our fears"

She nods, "That's why we automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victim-hood. Instead of trying to find all sorts of escape routes, we can develop a curiosity and get to know our pain and fear courageously. We could develop a warrior attitude and learn to face our own fears and aggressions... learn to fearlessly acknowledge and accept impermanence, change, insecurity and pain, and begin to get the knack of our groundlessness... learn to have room for all things to happen – grief, relief; misery, joy; hurt, healing... learn to be open and vulnerable by recognizing our fundamental richness... learn to recognize that disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger and jealousy are our teaching moments, where we reach our limits, where a new beginning is possible."

"How can we develop such a warrior attitude?"

"One baby step at a time. We could start it by waking up to life by recognizing the preciousness of the present moment. Instead of habitually reacting the same old ways, we could develop mindfulness -  conscious awareness to our thoughts, emotions and actions. Once we started to notice our thoughts and emotions, and their patterns in new a light, we'll naturally develop a skill to handle them gracefully. As we cultivate compassion and courage, we'll naturally develop a confidence and wisdom, and open up to the world fully"

Suddenly the whole scene disappears and he finds himself trapped inside a very deep dark cave. He finds a narrow opening at the top of the cave. He realizes that it is going to be a long strenuous climb. Her voice echoes through the cave, "Don't be afraid. You can do it."

He wakes up from his dream.

I wrote it on May 2014, as an assignment for a short writing course that I took. Thanks to my instructor and all my classmates who reviewed it. Special thanks to my friend Boomi.

17 June 2015

Our Needs

One day we were all chatting in the main hall. One of my 10 year old niece was studying for her school homework.

My brother casually asked her, "Why are you studying so hard?"
She replied, "So I can get good marks"
He playfully continued, "Why do you need good marks?"
"So I can get to a good college"
"Why do you need to go to college?"
"To get a job"
"Why do you need a job?"
"To earn money"
"Why do you need money?"
"I'll buy lot of jewelries"
"Why do you need jewelries?"
"I'll wear and show them off to my friends and all"

Though we all laughed by her answer, later I thought about how much we live for the opinions of others and how much we care about our reputation. Apart from our basic needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), how much we struggle for our status, fame and power.

Maslow's 'Our hierarchy of Needs' describes humans needs and how it evolves hierarchically. There is also a simpler commonsense model with three elements: Health, Wealth and Love. I designed the following diagram using this simple model for my nieces to give them some idea about 'Our Needs' and the purpose of studying.

(Click the image to see it in a bigger view)

I described it to my nieces in the following order:
  • Three basic needs of our life: Health, Wealth, and Love [shown in the middle row]. And each one has two sides to it: External and Internal [shown in one row above is External and below is Internal]
    1. Health => External -> Physical Health. Internal -> Mental health.
    2. Wealth => External -> Hard and Soft wealth. Internal -> Skills, expertise, mental capabilities.
    3. Love => External -> Family, friends and relationships. Internal -> Self compassion and spirituality.
  • How each elements and sides are connected together and depended on each other...
  • How we are often focused on the External sides, forgetting the importance of the Internal sides (as the External sides are easily visible)...
  • How we face many challenges to meet our needs ["Our Challenges" section]... How our challenges can be our powerful inspiration and motivation...
  • How we have our own individual biases and preferences ["Our Biases" section]... 
To me, this is about planting seeds in their young minds and it doesn't matter how much they can understand it now. This is nothing to do with how much we have or we have achieved or we will achieve. This is simply about having some awareness so we set our priorities mindfully.

Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived. -- Dalai Lama

14 June 2015

Fortune Cookie

A short story

It was early November, snowing heavily. I was driving from Ohio to New Jersey. Except few monstrous trucks, the road was almost empty. It was my first long road trip. As a new driver and still new to America, I was a bit nervous. I had just completed my first consulting assignment in Ohio, and my company had asked me to come over to New Jersey for a new assignment.

As it was getting late in the evening, I took an exit to eat. It was a small town in Pennsylvania. Most of the restaurants were already closed perhaps due to heavy snow. I found one small Asian restaurant open. I quickly had small chicken fried-rice. The waiter brought the bill along with a fortune cookie. I paid the bill and left the restaurant taking my fortune cookie.

During my past six months stay in Ohio, I met many interesting people. John was my close neighbor, we often played tennis together. Sometimes another neighbor Nancy would join our game. She did a medical training there for few months away from her home. On her last day, John and I gave her a small send-off party in a fancy Thai restaurant. As we were finishing our dinner, a beautiful Asian girl came to our table to give our bill. I said to John and Nancy, "Oh my god, I'm totally attracted to her". I do not think they understood how much I meant it. As we were looking at the bill, we opened our fortune cookies. I opened mine and it said, "You will find your love today". I showed it to John and Nancy. As we were laughing about it, she came back again to collect the bill. Without any thinking, I just took my fortune cookie and gave it to her. She read it, looked at me and shyly went away. Nancy told me that I was so courageous to do it.

John and I went to that restaurant many times after that. With all the busyness in the restaurant, I made few eye contacts with her and she seemed to be interested, but perhaps shy. She often seemed to be close around me but not close enough. I wanted to approach and talk to her but I was shy. It is so ironic that once we like someone, suddenly saying even a simple 'hi' becomes so difficult! Every time, I left the place frustrated. Over the time, I had a feeling that everyone worked in the restaurant knew about me and my interest in her. They even seemed to treat me better.

On one such occasion, as John and I were leaving the restaurant, she was standing at the reception area along with couple of other girls. She looked deeply into me as though to communicate something important. I felt sadness in her look. Still I did not have enough courage to approach her. I said to John, "I have a bad feeling. Perhaps she is going to leave this place soon or something".

When we went to the restaurant next time, she was not there. I casually asked the bartender about her. He replied that as she had finished her school, she went back to her country couple of days back. John looked deeply at me for the first time, as though he just understood what I had been sharing with him all these days. After all, I never spoke a single word with her, and all I really knew was just my intuitions and feelings. Whenever her image comes to my mind, a sharp pain hits my heart.

As I was leaving the small Pennsylvania town, it was still snowing heavily. I was holding my new fortune cookie in my hand that said "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer".

I wrote it on 16th April 2014, as an assignment for a short writing course that I took (This is my first story I ever wrote). Thanks to my instructor (Matt) and all my classmates who reviewed it. Special thanks to my friend Boomi.