The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 1

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Overthinking is a mental battle I have fought for as long as I can remember and no matter the decision arrived upon after this long drawn out struggle, there are always casualties. These casualties are usually ourselves and many a time people that are close to us. And by casualties I don’t mean being rushed through heavy traffic in an ambulance or even getting stuck in a critical care bed and having to deal with stories about family problems of all our visitors, but about the mental setback that this inexorable activity causes. A loss of peace of mind, lack of focus, loss of interest, irritability, inexplicable sadness, disturbed sleep patterns, extreme binging modes (or loss of appetite), and a general feeling of loss overpower us.

Whether it’s tough experiences from the past or a generally pessimistic attitude we may have developed, allowing our mind to constantly visit an occurrence, situation, or behavior, and analyze it over and over, grips our life with a sense of incompleteness and severe lack of clarity. We strive for answers, come up with many without any confidence in any, which leads us to favor the negative outcomes. And from experience, I can say that the turmoil that this causes in the mind is as unnerving as anything can be (Except when the Wi-Fi goes down because that has to be the epitome of deprivation and depression).

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Why did he behave in a peculiar manner the other day? Why does she always act aloof in every situation? Why was my research thesis rejected without an explanation? Why did Eddard Stark have to die in season 1 of Game of Thrones? Why do the Mumbai Indians make our blood pressure shoot through the roof during their consistently erratic seasons? What are companies looking for in job applicants? Why am I made to feel like an outcast? Why do the people I care about take me for granted and instead chase people that don’t really care about them? Why doesn’t she tell me what she thinks and feels openly and honestly? Why can’t people care more? Why do my plans always go bust? The ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ ‘Which’ and a gazillion other questions that plague our minds. Our mind is not built to handle unclear messages, unexpected circumstances, unanswered questions, and the mysteries surrounding relationships that we deem important. Sometimes my mind is so loud with uncertainties clanging away nightmarishly that I wish I could remove my mind from my head when needed, unlike an iPhone battery. If we think jail is a scary place, being trapped inside our own minds is hellish at best.

We can seek help from others, and the ones that truly care for us will certainly offer solutions with all earnestness, and good ones at that (Unless you ask your dog because then the solutions for everything would be to scratch your ear with your leg and rollover, which is a good way to lead life if you think about it). However, just like the relationship between any coach and student, the responsibility to believe and execute lies with the student. While most of us have external help, the real battle lies within, which we must face ourselves.

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While some mysteries in our lives may unravel quickly, some may plague us for a long time, and still, some others may never reveal themselves during the course of our lifetime. Here are some areas we need to think about, accept, and address to help understand some of these uncertainties.

Mirror mirror on the wall

We are an echo of our upbringing and the values that we grow up with are the values we look for in others. Now only if choosing friends and significant others was such a well thought out and transparent process. We form associations based on looks, a sense of humor, dancing skills, popularity, the ability to win hot dog eating contests and several other parameters that meet the eye in quick time. Even for those of us that take our time to get to know people better and are strictly selective in forging bonds, differences in one’s outlook towards life is likely to crop up in certain areas. We expect people to be who we perceive them as, which in many ways is a reflection of who we are. For instance, if we grew up in an environment where control was exerted and things were expected of us, then we tend to repeat this in other relationships as adults, expect from others and want to be in control. If we were accepted conditionally, then we will lay down conditions in accepting others. We seek relationships to fulfill and complete us because we have an unhealed child inside us and are often disappointed if others cannot meet our needs. Just because people are different from us does not make them wrong. We need to understand who we are inside and heal ourselves first. Only then will we stop to seek relationships to fill gaps in our lives and seek them instead for the true value they add to us.

Relationships can fail

This follows from the previous point. As much as we’d like to put the blame of failed relationships on circumstances or our counterparts, we must realize that relationships are also a reflection of who we are as much as the other person. We need to form a perspective in relationships because if we feel dejected by others, there is an equal chance that others feel dejected in us. Sometimes we misread people at the onset and feel betrayed when we see them change. Sometimes people change as they grow, while we are still stuck at the very same spot and may feel abandoned. As the cliché goes ‘change is the only constant’, and is also applicable to people. Parents experience this as well. They may feel that their children are not what they were while growing up. As much as their love is unconditional, their expectations from their children are not. Any deviation from the well-set our patterns as they grow hurts parents and leaves them with unexplained changes in behavior. However, we are all on our unique paths of finding our truth and the likelihood of us having the same vision as our parents and being on the exact same path at the same time is slim. Paths can be similar but not exactly the same. Without perspective, understanding, and empathy, it is difficult to see this difference. Once we do, our mind will be able to grasp this concept better.

 The need for reciprocation

The need for attention, to be wanted, loved, appreciated, and cared for are common human expectations. If we bestow this upon others, then we consider them not returning the favor to be absolute sacrilege. This puzzles us and we fail to understand why someone won’t respect our feelings by reciprocating. What exactly are we looking for? Do we have a set of parameters that this reciprocation must fit? People do love but in their own way. Yes, it would be nice for people to express what they feel openly and transparently in a globally recognizable manner. Love as they say is a global language and yet it’s expression can be very complex. Open communication is a challenge all around the world and only a few have the courage and willingness to participate in this exercise. Sometimes two people find a common ground to be understood and at times it’s a never-ending mystery due to the natural shortcomings in expression of one or both individuals.

Life is not our debtor

We make plans and more often than not they go awry. We can’t for the life of us understand why things always have to go wrong. Life doesn’t owe us anything and is meant to carry on its business as it deems fit. We need to adapt to situations and circumstances. To make plans and be prepared is very important, but to prepare our minds to the fact that our plans can and will fail many a time is of utmost significance.

Neither are people

Just because we feel people owe us due to our own concoctions in our minds does not make it a reality. Sometimes it’s a feeling of entitlement and at times we genuinely expect it because we do a lot for them. If people owe us money, sure we can find ways of extracting it should they resist. However, no matter how much good we do for someone, he or she does not owe us anything in return. Sometimes people don’t love back, just like the answer to some of our prayers is a resounding ‘no’. Someone may mean the world to us but for them, we may barely exist. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes and we need to accept that. Let’s understand that some things are beyond our control and not let our delusions create havoc in our minds because of them.

 Every man for himself

The thought that the human race is rapidly losing any semblance of brotherhood, chivalry, unity, and generally doing good in the world drives me nuts. Small acts frustrate me on a regular basis. Why can’t that cab driver observe the traffic rules? Why can’t that person respect the queue? If businesses keep other businesses alive, why does he think about only his profits? Why do they kill over a 20-rupee ticket at a toll booth? Why do they cheat and then shamelessly stare the law in the eye, knowing they cannot be touched? Why does she take advantage of his grave financial condition? My mind knows that the world has always been like this, but I expect better because we live under this veil of a civilized society. As bad as the middle ages were, people’s word counted for something (Except that of Cersei Lannister of course). Not today. If people find any unscrupulous means of getting ahead, they will resort to it. So I shouldn’t expect from others but only from myself to have an impact large enough to turn the tide.

What people think about me

This is amongst my favorites. I have had long conversations with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers about their insecurities of being perceived in a bad light by others. Trying to please a bunch of people is exactly what that will cause a major deviation from our pristine personality and relegates us to confused, inconsistent, moody, and erratic individuals. Just when we think we have done everything right in everyone’s eyes, someone will express their displeasure. And if that does not happen, over time we will feel hollow from within. We will rack our brains and spend sleepless nights wondering what went wrong. The answer is we strayed away from who we really are. People that accept us for who we are, are the ones that should really matter. Everything else is just an illusion of an association.

These are some broad areas that I have spent years worrying about and I can fit most worrisome and frustrating thoughts into one of these categories. While I haven’t attained nirvana (not even close), I have recognized these problem areas and am now making a valiant attempt to stem the tide. Some of us prefer professional help, while others may want to start small with their own backing.

Stay tuned for some backyard practices to halt the wondering wanderer.

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The Nomadic Life

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“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller

I’m certain almost all of you will agree that traveling is a lot of fun (unless you’re visiting Disneyland with your 18-month old quintuplets, in which case you’re really on course for one hell of a ride). In fact, a majority of the people I’ve met have said that they love traveling, even though some of them haven’t gone beyond their front yard. And then there are several Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and a closet full of resumes that I have come across, which state that traveling is second nature to them. So whether people travel for real or are in the planning phase (sometimes for several months, years even, like me), it seems well established that traveling is on everyone’s bucket list.

I was on a 4-day trip to Khajuraho and Panna (in Madhya Pradesh, India) with my wife, daughter, my cousin and his wife just this past month. Coming from Mumbai, the experience was a complete breath of fresh air (literally, considering we were in the countryside). Khajuraho houses a group of Hindu temples, known for their spectacular architecture, apart from open green pastures. Panna about twenty-five kilometers away is home to a picturesque tiger reserve, that boasts of 40 tigers within its premises (which is way more than Africa can stake claim to). I had the pleasure of visiting both these sites and was fortunate to see not one, but three tigers. This is a fantastic result on a first attempt, considering there were others in different vehicles that were on their fifth outing. In fact, our guide told us about a foreigner who was doing the rounds for close to forty days before he saw a tiger and then broke into complete pandemonium (Which could have scared all the wildlife out of the forest and into the neighboring towns).

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Anyway, my aim isn’t to turn this into a travel commentary, but in fact, is to emphasize the positive effects that a simple and short trip can have. I don’t go on trips as frequently as I would like to. In fact, I rarely do and this is one statistic I’d like to change rapidly. I seem to get entangled in life’s expectations of me pertaining to my work, responsibilities toward my family, improving the quality of life for me and those around me, and prioritizing my finances for various things (like extended warranties on electronic products, unused gym memberships, Netflix, and even online shopping to fill up all the open wall faces in the apartment) that hasn’t included travel until now. However, the few vacations that I have taken in recent years has really had a profound effect on my mind and body.

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While I have loved all my trips to various cities around the world, I have always felt more alive when I have been in nature.

I sense the following positive changes in me when traveling, especially during nature travels.

Mental and physical health: I feel an increased level of wellbeing and also reduced stress, anxiety, anger, and tiredness. I feel happier, calm, and feel like I have no worry in the world. My body is ready to support what my mind and heart seek (while it lags behind when at home, grinding out each day).

Sleep and recovery: This is probably the most loved but also the most underrated activity in our lives. However, learning, creativity, muscle building, recovery, and other useful foundations take place during sleep. I have a degenerating lower spine and there is a rarely a day in my life when I don’t feel sore and sense lowered energy levels due to the discomfort. This does impact my sleep in some ways. I went for this trip only a few weeks after an episode of a back spasm and while I had recovered, I wasn’t a hundred percent there. I felt my body recover rapidly in the four days that I spent in Khajuraho and Panna (it takes a lot longer in Mumbai) and despite the day-long activities, I went to bed with negligible soreness and slept as soundly as I ever have.

Creativity: I feel more ideas pop into my head as compared to a concerted team effort in a boardroom. My mind is rejuvenated and I see more solutions than problems. Simplicity is the name of the game (While we sit with all sorts of data and infographics to solve basic problems).

Perspective: People in Khajuraho and Panna seemed to go about their lives with ease and didn’t feel the need to rush or be concerned about meeting deadlines or getting to places in time. They looked content despite their modest possessions and were living life on their own terms. And I feel like an idiot when I realize that I probably have access to more resources than them and can’t feel half as content. It’s important to be open to the different and the unknown because it’s not scary like our mind has always told us.

Living in the moment: While I barely have time to catch my breath during my regular life, time away in nature allows me to sense every single breath.

Soulfulness: The feeling of unbridled joy is amazing and in this technological age, it’s remarkable how we can feel complete without our gadgets and other fancy belongings (Not being connected via social media is considered as blasphemy these days). When I look back at our pictures from the trip, I realize that our souls are smiling as much as our mouths.

Adventurous streak: While I may have excuses to not do things in Mumbai, I am willing and raring to do anything when on a trip. And I believe this really might be my innate personality that I curb during my normal course of life (I need to fix this permanently). And I realize I can have so much fun than I actually do, and bring smiles on the faces around me.

Going back to the story about the ecstatic ‘tiger spotting’ foreigner, while I didn’t react the same way, I did feel immense joy when spotting these beautiful animals, myself. And when I think back, I can barely come up with moments where I may have felt such ecstasy (Including moments with loved ones, personal achievements, hanging out with my favorite collectibles, and even while watching the Halle Berry starring ‘Catwoman’). My maternal grandparents lived in the outskirts of a small town and I spent most vacations until my mid-teens at their place. I have very fond, healthy and happy memories from those days, playing and trekking around farmlands and forests. Over time I have lost touch with nature and in a way myself, just like many of you may have. It’s time to revive the nomad. What do you think?

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Inanimate Companions

How many people around us actually listen to us when we speak to them? How many are actively engaged in a conversation with us when we are divulging secrets, talking of our pain, reminiscing a moment of brilliance, or even just rambling on about life and its unpredictability? More, importantly, how often do we truly listen when our family, friends, colleagues, associates, clients, and Rahul Gandhi seek our undivided attention? We are all guilty of listening for the ‘sake’ of listening with little interest in understanding what is being said and empathising with the speaker (Unless of course they are talking about how cool we are and all the incredible things we’ve done in life, including driving at high speeds like a maniac, posting a selfie every three minutes, crossing the railway tracks with the train just meters away, partying fourteen days a week, and ridiculing the next door boy for his interest in sewing).

And there are people, whose presence just seems to offer comfort without the need for any interaction (Unless they change the TV channel against your will). Just knowing that they are there in our room, and our lives provide assurance and enhance our confidence to stand up and face life. While I’m blessed to have a few such people in my life, not everyone is lucky enough to have this sort of mental and emotional backing. However, there are phases in life where even our pillars of support have a breakdown or move away for various reasons (Hopefully, not because you changed the TV channel back to the one you were watching originally). While it is imperative that we offer our support in their times of trials and tribulations (except when they are frustrated over Bigg Boss results), we too need to be in the right mental space to do so.

I was the first child in my generation, across my extended family, and by a few years at that. I grew up in a joint family and while I had my parents, uncles, aunts, a grandmother, and a lot of house help (no Indian family is complete without a battalion of helpers) around all the time, I spent a fair amount of time on my own. Despite their constant support and affection, I always sensed an emotional gap, leading to insecurity, loneliness, and a feeling of detachment. This is when I invested a lot of my emotions into my toys, which comprised of toy vehicles at a very young age, and progressed onto action figures over time. Today, I am a diehard pop culture and action figure aficionado, with hundreds in my collection (And for the mockers, these aren’t just toys, but a revolution for past, present, and future generations. Look around you, there are only billions of you, but millions of us). A large number of my emotions were invested in sports, my other passion.

Cricket

He-Man was my first superhero, followed by the G.I. Joes, Sachin Tendulkar, a host of other athletes (including the finger-exercising Vishwanathan Anand), the Punisher (the anti-hero married to guns, my version of ‘Gun-pati’) the X-Men, and the list continues to grow even today. As a young boy, I used to sleep with my ‘Masters of the Universe’ figures to ward off any evil lurking around the room (Which, invariably turned out to be the shadows of my other action figures on the wall). As an adolescent, I used to pick up my cricket bat and shadow practice my batting in order to lower my anxiety before an examination (I ended up scoring more imaginary runs than marks the next day). As a teenager, I spent time reposing my action figures, which added cheer to my day after a squabble with my girlfriend (I couldn’t take a flight from the USA to India to patch things up every few days unless she was willing to fly me, first class). After college, as a young twenty-three-year-old, I spent time frequenting comic book and pop culture stores in New York City to help me fight desolation caused by joblessness (And also tell myself that I had no time to apply for jobs, when I could be busy walking the streets, having fun). During my days at an investment bank, I always had sports scores refreshing in the browser in the background, telling me that if the Indian cricket team and the Yankees could win, I could too, in my race against time to meet challenging deadlines (While mocking my Pakistani colleague, even if India had just defeated England). Finding my way back into India (this was extremely hard in many aspects) in my late twenties, after almost a decade abroad, was made easier by the various 6 and 12 inch characters staring back at me from their glass houses in my bedroom, offering daily encouragement (With their swords and guns trained on me, threatening to attack if I decided to call it quits). Even today, a frustrating and demoralising day at work, or in a personal setting can be tempered by watching short video reviews of the latest Hot Toys releases and sports highlights for a few minutes (Watching any more than a few minutes of these at work would likely take me back to my days of job applications).

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Today, I’m fortunate to have the presence of my parents and extended family. I’ve been married for nine years to a very supportive, loving and caring woman. I’m a father to a beautiful three-year-old brat. I have fantastic friends who have been along the ride with me for over two and three decades (How many people can claim to still be friends with people that they shared diapers with? Mind you I always had first use, before there was poop in them). And it’s these people that make life worth living and form our support system. However, we all have our bad phases, and the best efforts of our parents, family, and friends fall short at times. They care and always mean well, but if results always followed intentions, the world would have far lesser problems (Assuming the intent isn’t to cheat, hurt, damage, or just simply blow the world up).

This is when we need to help ourselves. And we can always use a little extra succor to keep us moving forward. We may have a great mindset, strong will, commitment to our cause, a positive attitude, and high resilience, but we need reinforcement every now and again. For me, a few moments of playing or watching sport, or spending time around my action figure collection can prepare me for days of rough weather. For you, music may work wonders, or confiding in your pet dog could make the blues go away (If your neighbors saw this, it will make them go away as well). You may feel better by playing ‘who blinks first’ with your cat, or ‘drown’ your sorrows away while watering your plants (Unless you own Attenborough’s pitcher plant, in which case it may alleviate all your problems by having you for lunch). Testing the contents of your wardrobe could put a smile on your face (unless you suddenly realize that most of them have shrunk because you invade McDonald’s frequently), or your library could give you one reason to rejoice amongst the gloom surrounding you.

Sports gear, toys, pets, plants, books, music, stationery, furniture, movies, shoes, underwear, and a million other things; we all have something (or non-human beings) that we have an attachment towards and ones that we hold dear to our heart. And while we seek solace amongst our family and friends, we must realize that there are some paths that we need to walk alone. But there is a cheat code to this ‘alone’ business, and it is all the things that we have always cherished subconsciously, for most, if not all of our lives. The key is to recognize them and feed them into our conscious mind, to help us through all those rainy days (Or just use an umbrella)

When I wake up, my gaze falls on my wife and daughter first, and then I spend a moment acknowledging all my little warriors that have stood the test of time with me, always present, steadfast in their commitment towards me.

‘By the power of Grayskull,’ you can get through anything.

He Man

Keep Your Inner Child Alive And Kicking

“Why?” “Because this is the way it’s done” “Why?” “Because this is how it’s meant to be” “Why?” “Because it makes perfect sense” “Why?” And then you lose your shirt and say “Because I said so, and if you ask any more questions I will put you up for sale on eBay” And how does your child respond to that? Yes, you got it, “Why?” (They never seem to sense real danger when it’s staring them in the face).

That’s the beauty of being a child. They are as curious as the human genes allow them to be and will get their questions answered under any circumstances, without the slightest apprehension (I think it’s their lack of wisdom really. I mean they have no idea what it feels like to have their head bashed in with a sledgehammer, or being locked in with the rest of your collectible action figures in the display case, or when you come home after a tiring day at work and your sister-in-law is there to surprise you (even the toughest navy seals will go into cardiac arrest upon meeting mine), or to go sari shopping where the average purchase rate is zero saris for every twenty-three stores visited, and even when your wife asks “Who’s that?”).

I have been involved in more verbal jousting with my three-year-old daughter compared to anyone else in my life (Jousting is meant to be a fair competition and therefore debates with the wife don’t count). She asks what comes to mind, as soon as it pops into her head. She doesn’t care about what I or anyone else will think. She has no semblance of self-image to an extent that will prevent her from addressing her insatiable hunger to learn and grow, every minute of her life (They are not completely devoid of self-image. She most certainly expects a reaction from us after she has managed to embellish her face with the prohibited ‘mama’s lipstick’, that she has somehow managed to lay her hands on. And even when she manages to operate 5 applications at once, again on the prohibited mobile phone, while at age three, I was still trying to tell my right hand from my left). And this is the pattern I have seen with every child of her age that I have had the privilege (this association also deflates my ego, considering these children grasp things with precision, at the speed of light, while I’m still trying to tell the front of my daughter’s diapers from the back) of spending time with during playdates, which are specifically designed to allow parents to gossip and crib.

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Somehow, when we get past single digits, we seem to become hypersensitive towards anything, anyone might think about us. And these need not be just our relatives, friends, or acquaintances, but also, strangers, we commute with while using public transportation, passers-by while we walk about our town or city (evidently some of us do not experience this dilemma when we decide to litter the streets), street dogs going about their business as usual, and even our mobile phone camera. We’re our innate bumbling and boisterous selves during childhood, and at some stage in early adolescence we lose our ability to speak openly, and instead choose to hide in the crowd. As many questions as we ask in our kindergarten years, the numbers dwindle towards negligible as we approach high school, before disappearing completely. Our fear of potentially making a fool of ourselves completely overpowers our instinctive curiosity. We rarely ask questions as students (I have had a couple of experiences where I was mocked for asking certain questions as a student and it did put me in my shell for some time. However, I figured that it may not have been a case of stupid questions as much a case of the teacher not knowing the answers, based on their reactions at the time), we refuse to put forth our thoughts at the workplace that might be contrary to what our seniors believe, we shy away from giving our opinion on fashion to the so-called ‘fashionista’ in our friend circle (fearing an open backlash and humiliation), and we even conceal our true feelings from the people that really matter.

The more we worry about what people might think, the more opportunities to learn, pass us by. We curb our inner child in the fear that we might be labeled as childish (Now I’m not saying that we throw a fit when a bar of chocolate is taken away from us, or that we walk around wearing diapers, or even pinch the neighbor lady to see how she reacts). However, what would you think of yourself if you spent years of your life worrying about others’ opinions about you? What if this obsession prevented you from doing the things that really mattered to you and you never allowed yourself to reach your potential?

No matter what we do, or don’t do, some people will always think well of us and some won’t. We can’t keep everyone happy and it is this quest that puts us on a downward spiral towards misery. Only when we question, learn, and grow, do we realize our true passions and our true potential. And upon obtaining both, we will be able to serve ourselves and the world to the best of our abilities. This is the mindset that has created word leaders (Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t worried about people commenting on his less than impressive physique as he walked around bare-chested with steel in his eyes and a fiery resolve. Steve Jobs didn’t care about public opinion on his dressing, as he wore a black sweatshirt and blue denims, tirelessly, day in and day out. Donald J. Duck cares a hoot about people’s opinions on his speeches, as long as he gets to open his mouth often and provide the world plenty of fodder for mockery).

I too have fallen victim to this ridiculous, self-created mind game of public opinion several times in my life. In my late thirties now, I’m playing catch up on a lot of things I could have, and should have done during the earlier stages of my life. However, I feel at peace that I have empowered myself to get out of this rigmarole. So for those of you in your teens and twenties, it’s a good time to reflect upon the choices you make (or don’t make) because of your concern about the public eye. And for my fellow oldies, it’s never too late to start.

Honor yourself by being true to your curiosity and growth. Else you’ll have to face tough situations like I do from some of my aunts who never cease to say “Oh my God, you’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you”. And I respond with “Only in the middle aunty, only in the middle”.

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