Embrace the Space

I have been offering gratitude for the time and space that COVID19 has created for me and my family. I recognize that this is not the norm; that for most people this is a very stressful time in their lives. I do feel very deep gratitude for this gift of time and I’m not taking it for granted for one second.

It took me a while to settle into doing less. I kept feeling the pressure of habitually needing to fill my days with things to do. Now that I’m no longer having chaotic-schedule-withdrawal-symptoms I feel more productive and less hamster-wheel-ish.

We’re used to allowing ourselves to do less productive work because we are always so busy hamster-wheeling in our regular lives.

COVID is now shining a light on how little is actually necessary to have a healthy and happy life. How did we keep up those lunatic schedules? If you’re a working parent of school aged kids – ya feel me! How’d we do it all and still manage to leave the house fully clothed and with color coordinated outfits – most days.

Why did I think my kids needed two extra curricular activities back to back on the same day? Why did they need to be in 7 different things?

Music, dance, Scouts, track, basketball, soccer…you know what I’m talking about?

Professionally too— why did I feel the need to go to so many meetings, trainings, conferences and committees?

At first I happily filled my days with digital meetings- feeling good that I was saving so much time since I didn’t have to spend time traveling to them. Zoom fatigue is a real thing! Back to back Zoom were making me cross eyed.

So I started being more intentional again about what I say yes to. Training webinars on how to pivot business practices due to COVID have sprung up like weeds. After attending nearly all of them for the first 6 weeks – I’m now being selective how i spend my time.

I’m back to asking my foundational questions before I say yes: am I doing this to for a purpose or for love? If the answer is no — I say no. And with practice I’m getting better at saying no.

I’m being project based instead of hour based in my work and I’m finding I can get more satisfyingly productive done that way— and in less time to boot!

So here’s my COVID inspired list of must do’s for self care.

  • Let go of the fear of missing out
  • Spend less time talking to a lot of people and more time talking to fewer people more meaningfully.
  • Embrace Space
  • Smile at Simple
  • Find Joy in doing nothing
  • Guilt doesn’t serve. Your heart will lead you to serve, not your head
  • Trust timing
  • Let the sun kiss you daily
  • Walk barefoot
  • Talk to birds
  • Hug a tree
  • Plant a garden
  • Bake cookies
  • Play board fames
  • Sit in bed and talk
  • Get lost in the fragrance of flowers
  • Talk to your plants
  • Nap
  • Rest
  • Sit still for a while
  • Read for pleasure

There’s something truly magical about self care. When you do it with no motive except to love yourself and be the best version of yourself; the ripple effect is felt exponentially to those who you care about. It’s as they say “happy wife, happy life.”

Try it— and let me know what you experience.

Try it with no other expectation except to give yourself the well deserved and much needed space.

Until we talk again; remember to be kind to yourself.

Unprecedented Times are Not Unprecedented

We’re in Day 5 of what started out as voluntary and is now a California State Mandate to Stay at Home except for grocery or other essential runs. No social activity and no gatherings of any kind. In Belgium, a friend reported that they are not even allowed to walk in groups larger than 2 people. We need to come to terms with what this means for us in the long haul. The honeymoon phase has not worn off yet, and some of us are still finding this novel (no pun intended). What if this is our new normal for the next many months? What if, as some scientists advise, we need to maintain social distance for half a year, or even a year?

This is an unprecedented time in our history. But, if you were to look at the history of mankind, there have been many such unprecedented times. Certainly in the history of USA alone, nearly every generation can claim to have had an unprecedented time. This is ours. How we respond to this crisis is what will define us in the history books when stories are written for posterity. This too shall pass; we will prevail. We will come out of this stronger and a more connected society.

As a society we had allowed ourselves to run rampant on our hamster wheels in the name of success. Our kids have never been busier, lives have never been more hectic, stress has never been higher than it is now. The silver lining in all of this is that we have been given an opportunity to do a hard reset. There are many articles being written about the economic impact of this virus on the world, and my love, thoughts, prayers and energy are with the families of those who have lost loved ones, and with those communities who do not have the means or the resources to shelter in place.

I, however would like to address what we can do to raise the collective vibration of the world and therefore channel more love, more light and more prayer toward those who need it most.

Now more than ever before, it is critical to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. There is a good reason airplanes instruct us to do this. If you don’t care for yourself, you are of no service to those you love and care for most. We often feel like we must care for our kids/elders FIRST and FOREMOST even at the cost of our own health. But, who will care for them when you drop from exhaustion or worse? Now’s the perfect time to start a self care routine for yourself. It usually takes 30 days to form a habit, and if the news is any indication we will definitely be hunkering in place for at least 30 days if not more.

Meditation: It’s not just about blanking your mind. It’s about making the space and bringing attention to your mind. There are endless apps out there now that offer free guided meditations. Insight Timer, Calm are just two that come to mind. However, if staring at a candle or chanting a mantra, or even listening to a guided meditation isn’t your jam, simply do my favorite meditation; box breathing. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts and repeat. The simple act of having to count to 4 for each of the anchors will keep your mind from wandering. You can’t count and think about something else at the same time. Go ahead, try it.

Mindfulness: Is simply the act of being more aware of your actions, whatever those might be…you can be mindful in your eating, your interactions with family, how you speak to your kids, how you do your laundry or even clean your toilets. It’s easy to zone out when we do mundane tasks that we’ve done a thousand times before. Bringing your attention to these tasks makes you a lot more single-mindedly focused (which is great for those of us with monkey-mind). As an experiment, instead of reading, watching TV or talking to anyone during your next meal, just focus quietly on each bite you take. Savor the flavors, appreciate the sources of your food, express gratitude that we are not experiencing food shortages and that people are being super civil and kind to each other in the grocery stores (albeit from a 6ft distance).

Movement: Social distancing means we can’t be with our friends, coworkers or really anyone except our immediate family and must maintain a 6ft distance with anyone else we encounter. Thank goodness for the great outdoors, and for those of us who have the privilege of living in small towns where this is feasible, or better yet, have access to miles of hiking trails as we do, this makes it that much more palatable. You don’t have to have cabin fever. You CAN get outside. Walk your dog, take an online yoga class or dance class in your backyard/front yard, walk on the beach, walk or run the of trails (All trails is a fabulous app that can show you what you have in your own neighborhood).

Nutrition: If you’ve never been able to find the time to get serious about your nutritional intake there’s never been a better time. This does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as first taking the time to track your food intake for a few days and then assessing if what you are consuming is healthy for you. Having a balanced meal means complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats. Check out Dr. Mary Hyman’s website for great resources. Here are a few quick things you can do right away.

Minimize the 3 As (acidic, allergenic, addictive foods)

Balance Blood Sugar (reduce processed foods and added sugars)

Support Your Digestive System (include adequate fiber and incorporate a probiotic into your diet).

Take a lesson
from your pet

Rest: Ah, the ever elusive rest. Most Americans do not get 8 hours of sleep a night. It’s a known fact that new parents get less than 5-6 hours of sleep per night; however this number doesn’t change as the kids get older. Stress and other factors continue to keep those Z hours way below the recommended average. Now is a great time to boost this number. You’ve got nowhere to go and nothing critical on your calendar. The first step to resetting your circadian rhythm and your body clock is awareness. Being aware of when you sleep and what your habits are before bed time will help you change this. Most of us can get lost in our social media or news feeds and we tend to just lose ourselves in the black hole of the thumb scroll.

Set a new precedent and put social media or other screen time limits for yourself. Instead of scrolling through your news feed before bed time, which will simply exacerbate your frustration and inability to wind down, get your news first thing in the morning or throughout the day, but limit yourself from reading the news say after 8pm, and switch your reading to be more for leisure.

Pick up a real book, revisit a classic or read those titles you have been saving for ‘when you have time,’ that time is here now.

Take a leisurely bath; again one of those elusive luxuries that we never have the time for. Create little rituals for yourself and your family (our bed time ritual as a family is to play crazy eights or UNO and then do 1 minute of plank, 1 minute of wall sits and as many push ups as we can do!)

As a society we live in a high state of ongoing stress. Stress was never meant to be chronic. Stress triggers certain hormones that the body produces to protect itself, however when we experience chronic levels of stress (and therefore overproduction of those hormones) we may experience chronic disease. We may not have control over the fact that we have stress in our lives, but we can certainly control HOW we deal with the stress.

We Are #EARTHSTRONG

We have an opportunity to support each other, love each other and encourage each other (from a safe 6 ft distance or more) through this situation. Now is a time to reach out to each other more than ever before. Technology like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Marco Polo and Zoom (we are hosting a Zoom party for my daughter who turns 13 tomorrow) all exist to help us shrink this feeling of isolation and can connect us to each other in a more meaningful, less distracted way.

We are in this together and will prevail together. We are #EARTHSTRONG

Manifestation

I’ve been radio silent for a while now. Nothing wrong…just enjoying the BEING PRESENT in my life. Not doing more than I need to. Listening deeply to the needs of my body and my soul.

Working Out
Eating Well
Sleeping Deeply
Meditating Daily
Playing Regularly
Smiling Frequently
Cooking
Reading
Breathing
Laughing
Giving Thanks Daily.

Life is good.
But I just had to jump on here to share some major news with you.

But first…

You may not know this about me, but travel is in my DNA. I have been traveling since before I could walk and my family kept a rigorous pace of travel for the first 20 something years of my life. Thereafter came school, college, responsibilities etc. Despite that, I still managed to travel to new places.

Then career, marriage, home, more responsibilities, kids and even more responsibilities.

Travel took a backseat.

Don’t get me wrong. We go places as a family. We have traditions that I am thrilled we’ve started with the kids. Sedona for Spring Break. Carlsbad for a week in the summer. Camping in Montaña de Oro each summer and visiting family and friends in the Bay Area regularly. I am very excited that this year we’re going to Zion for Spring Break! This is a major bucket list item for me, and I know the kids are going to love it!

But this is different from travel. Travel for me is when we experience different cultures, cuisines, conversations, costumes and truly expand our mind to a new community. Walking the streets of Ulm in Germany or Bern in Switzerland, Brugge in Belgium, Salzberg in Austria, Barcelona in Spain or any other city/town/village/country we’ve never been to before, to soak it in, to live as if we were locals even if just for a week. This is my definition of travel.

That is something I haven’t done in nearly 20 years.
And I miss it!
It’s a physical ache in my heart.
Nothing or no one to blame here.
Just the circumstances of my life.
No regrets, no disappointments.
Just a void that needs filling.

So, this year I started to work on manifesting this. Anything that we truly want, that we want so badly that we can see it, smell it, taste it, touch it, and get emotional over it BEFORE it happens, can manifest for us. I don’t think I need to tell you that this DOES NOT work to wish ill for anyone else. This ONLY works on yourself. This is best used for your and your world’s greatest and highest good.

So back to travel.

Imagine if someone told you that you couldn’t walk anymore.
But there’s nothing wrong with your ability.
Just that you just can’t because of circumstances.
That’s how I was beginning to feel.
Cut off from a big part of my soul.

So, I set to work.

In my meditations, I imagined being at gorgeous locations, places I had only yet seen in pictures. (Luckily this is an easy one to manifest since pictures outside your mind’s eye exist to provide you with an easy reference.. vision board anyone)

And then, last week…it happened.

My friend Mo texted me; “Check your email” she said.

I was in the midst of kids’ night time routines, so I didn’t get to it until a couple hours later.

She was inviting me to go with her as her plus one on what sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime! TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!!!

Now, remember I said, I have traveled all over before I turned 20.

I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica and South America.

Now, I get to cross one very significant Bucket List item off! South America, and in particular the Galapagos Islands.

This is happening ladies and gentlemen.

I dreamed it, I wished for it, I imagined it, I saw it, I visualized it, I expressed gratitude for it, as though it had already happened.

I had NO IDEA where, or how, or when, or with whom this would come about. This dream to go someplace I haven’t been before. I just knew that I wanted it so badly, I could imagine myself on a plane going somewhere with a dizzy anticipation! The kind of anticipation I had when waiting to see if my p-stick would indicate a dark purple line affirming I was growing life inside of me. It was so real in my meditations, in my imagination…not the location. Not the place. Just the ‘going.’ I wasn’t tied to going to anyplace. I just wanted to go!

And so, go I will.

Watch this space in the months to come to see incredible pictures and hear about our travels as they unfold.

I showed up for myself, and quieted my monkey mind, refused the chatter of my analytical brain telling me that this was just impossible.

My entire life is a testament to the words of the great Audrey Hepburn.

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m Possible.”

Resonance

Since the beginning of September, I have had the opportunity to speak about Putting the Oxygen Mask on yourself first for quite a number of audiences. These varied from parents groups to small business owners and most recently to a group of single parents (mostly moms, and 1 dad!) who are trying to elevate themselves and their families out of poverty through education.

This is something that is so dear to my heart on so many levels. As someone who was born and bred in India till age 21, I recognize first hand the impact of education on someone’s life. My earliest exposure to the power of education was at 12 when for community service, I worked with a nonprofit that provided education to slum children. We would go into the slums to extricate the kids, some as young as 5 – whose parents would rather have them working/washing dishes/cleaning than send them to school for a few hours. My favorite memory of that time is this young girl who curled up in my lap to study. She wouldn’t sit in a chair. She had to sit in my lap. But when the words made sense and she could read a sentence; the joy in her eyes and her face brought tears to my own.

Education is a powerful tool. It is THE ONLY tool to fight prejudice, disease or ignorance.

But I digress…so – a couple weeks ago, I spoke to this group of single parents. The thing that struck me as a shortcoming in my presentation as I reflected later was that of the 2 hours that I had with them, I spent more than 1/2 that time setting the stage about the things we DO to ourselves right now; how we only take the dregs of the day, how we put the needs of everyone in our lives before our own and this includes community and volunteer service too, how we don’t think of our own needs to rest, restore, repair, but would never dream of running our kids ragged the way we run ourselves ragged. I spent so much time articulating the things that we do that we must strive to change, that I feel like I shortchanged them on the tools to actually implement that change amidst a hectic schedule like theirs – kids, work, full load of college classes.

As always, I stuck around after the class to see if anyone wanted to share, ask suggestions for implementing mindful moments or anything else we had covered during the class. Two women came up to me, one at a time. One, from Mississippi said that she was on her own journey of change and could totally relate to everything I had said. She was hesitant to ask, but then took a deep breath and asked if she could reach out to me afterward to share more with me. I couldn’t whip out a pen fast enough for her. I have had so many people give me that time in my own life, lend me an ear, a shoulder, a kind word, that it is my honor and privilege to pay that forward when I have the opportunity. We ended in a hug that was so meaningful to both of us; we stood in the embrace a lot longer than the average 2 seconds and what was powerful was that, while I am sure it was good for her – it was incredible for me. My body settled, I could feel the blood coursing through me and it’s a little hard to describe – but I just felt like I was floating.

The second lady came up to me a few minutes later. She shared that she had not planned to attend class today because she was so tired all the time. But, something made her come and that she is glad she did. She wouldn’t share what, but the emotions in her voice told me that it really resonated with her. She just kept saying that everything I said resonated, she just felt her shoulders fall away from her ears when I put them through the 3-minute box breathing and meditation. And then I was again struck by the urge to hug her. So I did. Now here’s what’s interesting – she tried to ‘complete the hug’ on a couple of occasions – that is, move away after the cursory 2 seconds, she even was patting my back the way you would pat a child’s back, and she kept ‘fidgeting.’ I found myself just standing there in an embrace with her that would not quit. I found myself really grounded, at such peace. And then the dam burst. And everything that she had been holding in released and she sobbed, and THEN she finally settled down and allowed her body to be still.

Truly and completely still.

That’s when we knew it was time to break the embrace.

It was probably cathartic for her, but oh so powerful for me. It appeared that my body and mind were acting in tandem, but without me. I wasn’t driving this. I didn’t make an active decision to hug either of the two women. I feel like my soul responded to their souls because somehow the combination of words that flowed through me that morning resonated with them deeper than they expected.

On a whim, I just looked up the word Resonance. I am not sure why I chose this to be the title of this blog post. But – apparently it is perfect for what I want to share.

res·o·nance: PHYSICS the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.

I realized in that moment that I had shared exactly the way this group needed to hear. That in order to implement any of the tools, they had to understand that I understood them, that I may not be a single parent, but I too have worked myself to the bone.

I too have worked so much and so hard that when I could finally take a small breather, I fell sick. And that this happened over and over again for years.

I too have put the needs of everyone around me first, because that is what I was programmed to do.

I too have felt the guilt of taking time for myself.

I too have worked harder than needed, just because I thought I had to prove myself, but then never just worked hard. Continued to give 200% even when there was nothing left in me and I was making myself sick. There is something to be said about doing an excellent job, but doing it in balance.

I realized that in just sharing my story, my story of how I got here in the first place; being an immigrant myself, knowing no one, not ever having lived alone, working 3 jobs, studying by night (albeit, no kids at the time)…all this was necessary to give me the credibility, that I had walked in their shoes, that I knew what it felt like to be bone tired and still have to keep going, that I knew what it felt like to work through illness not because I wanted to, but because if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t get paid. That I knew what it felt like to feel like I had my back up against a wall with no way out.

I had been there.

And now I am here.

I work hard, but I don’t kill myself.

I take time to care for myself.

If my body needs rest.

I rest.

I am more present, more joyful, more grounded as a result, and this makes me a better woman, wife, mom, professional and community leader. I work smarter and produce better results.

I am never busy, but always productive (this is just a choice of language…and this choice DOES actually make it so that I have stopped feeling like I am on a hamster wheel accomplishing nothing, but being busy all the time!) I did a short video years ago to share what I mean.

I feel so grateful to be able to share on a topic that I love and have come to deeply appreciate as a result of my own journey with self-care and self-awareness.

It is always interesting then, when the Universe gives you an opportunity to practice what you preach. More on this later.

If you have a story about how you started to embrace putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, I would love to hear about it. Please comment below or send me a private message.

Remember to be kind to yourself.

Eat Mindfully the Length of One Song

My Mindful Meal

This week, I was a speaker on my favorite topic; Putting the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First for Ventura SCORE, this wonderful nonprofit organization that provides mentorship for small business owners from retired business executives who donate their time. The topic was of course on Work-Life Balance. I am curious to know what that means for you? What do you conjure up when you hear those words?

Anyway, we were three speakers, each with 30 minutes to share on our topic. What I found wonderful was how, the lineup had been decided even before any of us had submit our topics, and yet we were lined up exactly in the right order that you would want to hear the content we all delivered.

Speaker 1: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time
Speaker 2: Living Your Life to Your Fullest Potential (all about different ways to harmoniously balance stress/long work ours etc.)
Speaker 3: ME! Putting the Oxygen Mask on Yourself First

I will admit, I was nervous. Now, I have LOVED public speaking for over a decade, and can talk in any sized room whether it be 3 people or 300 people. BUT, I was still nervous. I’ve been a fundraiser for so long, that I can speak on that topic ad nauseum, but until lately my forum for speaking about Oxygen Mask has been all virtual/digital. You’ve all heard me go on about it here, if you know me personally, you have heard me share face to face, one to one, if we are friends on social media, or if follow my page The Breathing Space on Facebook then you have heard me talk about this.

This was only the second time that I had spoken about this to a live audience and had never done the presentation along with the slides I prepared; only because they asked me for slides! hahahah!!

Anyway, I had decided that I would just go up and be me. And it turns out, that when I have an audience, I can be a ham, I can be funnier than I think I am in real life, and I can totally be myself. The response was wonderful; people were laughing, participating, sharing and asking questions. What more can a speaker want?

OK, so what has this to do with the title?

That afternoon, I went to Namaste Spiceland to get chai and a simple lunch. As I was waiting for my meal of daal, roti, sabji I tuned into the music that they were playing over the speakers. It was of this deep voice, the voice of Amitabh Bachchan – India’s most iconic movie star whose stardom transcends generations. I couldn’t follow along with the Hindi, but just that sound of his voice, and the words that I couldn’t make out, but recognized from the movie that I loved so much as a child. My food arrived, and I sat enjoying it, savoring the hot, sweet spiced milk chai absorbed in the music of my youth. I didn’t realize the impact of that music on my soul, till I started to tear up as I listened to the soothing voice of my favorite Bollywood star. The food, the music, being surrounded by familiar smells, sounds and sights of my childhood and youth; I was completely immersed.

So what has this to do with the presentation that evening on Oxygen Mask?

So glad you asked. Let me tell you.

As we were talking about Mindful Minutes, I asked for examples of how they could incorporate what we were discussing into their own lives. How can you incorporate mindfulness into your over-committed days someone raised her hand and volunteered; when you eat, just eat. Just savor the foods, don’t talk, don’t watch TV, don’t work, worse of all, don’t drive!

YES! I exclaimed! YES indeed.

And I was able to recount my afternoon experience of my mini trip to India through all my senses.

Believe me when I tell you, if I am not with a donor or a potential donor, most afternoons my lunch is a protein shake drunk at my desk. I work right through lunch; but not because I am trying to over work – because I allow myself to leave work earlier as a result. It’s worth the trade off to be with my kids earlier.

But here’s what I really want to share. Yes, life is busy. Yes eating at the table is a luxury.

But what if you did that once or twice a week, JUST for the duration of ONE SONG (2-3 minutes)? Imagine this – you get to pick out your favorite song/s and then just as you sit to eat, you turn on the music — and allow yourself to be immersed in the experience of food and music.

So today’s call to action for you is to see if you can, just even once sit still and eat, for the duration of one song (remember it’s just 2-3 minutes) before you jump up to do 15 other things.

Will you write and tell me if you try this?

The Wild Woman

This is so very true. 6 years ago, I started to seek, and once I truly found my way back to my soul, once I was truly awakened— there is NOTHING more important to me than keeping that spark alive. That aliveness, the importance I place in my own self – not out of ego or importance of my physical self, but rather this very deep understanding that this physical life is simply a journey, it’s like going to Hawaii or any other part of the world that’s not your home. And that my soul – or in her words my Wild Woman transcends this life. And that by keeping this kindling alive, by constantly allowing her to speak through me, I live the best way I know how in this life and then all else falls into place. This knowing has helped me surrender so much. I don’t worry anymore. I don’t get frustrated about the state of the world, it’s God’s doing, it’s God’s will, and God’s plan is greater than my physical mind can wrap around.

But when I can quiet my physical self, and truly listen through quiet ears, I can catch a glimpse of that magnitude of The Plan.

And I realize all is well. Through natural disasters, man made disasters, violence, disease, hunger, poverty, all of this — there is a Plan. And my role, is to simply take care of the square footage around my own two feet. To trust that if I LOVE myself, truly love myself, in doing so, I am doing my part for this Plan. Imagine if we all loved ourselves. Truly and honestly and sincerely loved ourselves with the same lack of judgment and unconditionality that we love our kids with.

THAT is a big part of God’s Plan. The only part that we need to play.

At least that’s what I believe.

You?

Your Body Will Show You the Way

Last Tuesday, on the heels of my son, my daughter and my husband all taking turns with a cough and fever bout; I found myself starting to cough. I would come home from work, collapse on the sofa out of sheer exhaustion and pretty soon my body would begin to ache. I would suffer through dinner and then run upstairs to get ready for bed. My home remedies helped some…warm salt water gargles, honey, ginger, turmeric paste, neti pot…you know the drill. Truly though, only when I tumbled into bed after squirting my Sleep Well Spray by Arbonne did I feel any relief. I would cough all night, keeping myself and my husband awake, although he was still recovering too, so his cough and mine made quite the inharmonious medley! Next morning I would feel strong enough to drive kids to school, take myself to work and the cycle repeated. Ordinarily I would have taken time off. I am NOT one to expose people to my germs intentionally. But, this was the week of culmination with the installation of a project that I have, with a committee been working on for two solid years. We had vendors from out of town, in town for the installation. This was not a week I could be out. I didn’t have to be around people much, so I hid out in my office and washed my hands and wiped down my work space with Clorox frequently.

Only on Friday evening after this cycle repeated for the whole week, did it occur to me to check my temperature – 101! Right – of course, that’s WHY I felt the body ache. Why on earth had it not occurred to me sooner? After all, isn’t that one of the first things I would have done with my kids? YES! Yes I would have! And I would have faithfully recorded the temperature from both ears on my phone, so as to provide an accurate recount to the pediatrician who I would have called by day 3 of them feeling half as crappy as I was feeling.

You get where I am going with this yes?

We parents don’t do nearly as good a job with ourselves as we do with our kids. And I TEACH THIS for crying out loud! This is my platform right? Oxygen Mask on yourself first! What is it they say? Do what I say, don’t do what I do!

I have a point to this long recount of my week – and I promise it is not to get any sympathy.

The story continues – I go to urgent care on Saturday morning. My husband, who has been home hacking up a lung all week has NOT yet seen the doctor but is continuing to feel like crap. I harangue him into going to urgent care – he agrees. My UC doc didn’t see it fit to give me antibiotics, but his did! What??? We are living in the same house, strong probability that we have the same bug. So I continue my home care all weekend; long weekend I might add, and so the doctor was not available to see me till Tuesday, when I still continued to feel like crap, while said husband, on day 3 of his miracle z-pack was back and work and feeling a lot lot better.

So what’s the point of this, aside from the obvious message to take care of yourself?

See the one thing that I did differently this time, that I almost never do when I get a ‘little cough and fever’ is that I rested.

A LOT.

As I said, I was in bed most nights by 8pm. On the weekend, I did the barest of minimum that I could do and asked for help when I couldn’t. There was one stretch on the weekend when I sat for over three hours! Can you remember the last time you sat for three hours reading while you were not on vacation?

And I rested.

I read 3 books.

For pleasure.

Not for personal or professional development.

Purely pleasure.

What a novel concept.

And I am NOT being facetious. I truly can’t recall the last time I read for pleasure.

Not an audio book.

An actual book!

Well, actually it was on my Kindle, but it still counts!

So, there’s more to this story though. It is not just a message about rest. Although that’s a fine message in and of itself. I can venture to guess that most of you reading this DO NOT take nearly enough time for yourselves to rest.

Too busy.

Life doesn’t permit rest.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead!

Yep, I have given all those excuses myself.

The message here was that in prolonging the visit to the doctor, something that was not intentional but just so happened because of the way the days fell, I got to truly tap in to and listen to my body (and all its aches).

See, if I had gone to the doctor on Friday which my husband was pushing me to do, then by Sunday, I would have been on my feet, running around at full speed as usual and the messages my body and psyche were trying to send me would have been lost in the noise of my life.

Because I had no choice but to dramatically slow my pace down because my body demanded this of me, by sending me signal after signal; I discovered that I have the capacity to truly listen to the quiet whispers of my soul. Not just during meditation and mindfulness and journaling. But anytime. While driving to the doctor; while attempting to warm soup for myself, while checking my temperature, while just sitting and reading. This is a topic for another post, but I promise you once you experience this, you will NEVER want it to go away.

I realize now that I had been getting signals to slow down for weeks, perhaps even months. For no apparent reason my right hip flexor started to hurt to the point of tears and many sessions of chiropractic care were needed, then my back started to hurt, then my left wrist (and no I don’t have carpel tunnel) and then my right. I texted my chiropractor the weekend before we left for our camping trip that I was in level 8 pain in my back and my body was completely out of alignment. I couldn’t stand straight without pain. Yoga helped me that day with reducing the pain level so I didn’t go visit him for an adjustment.

On the heels of the camping trip, I came back 100% pain free.

Nothing hurt.

Anywhere!

3 days, out in nature with nothing to do except be present to the sounds of birds, watching the endless ocean, shooing raccoons (day 3, the little guy got away with our final marshmallows and then had the nerve to sit up in the tree taunting us, while we sat trying to make s’mores with graham crackers and chocolate!), sighting deer; scrambling up rocks, skipping stones, hiking and just absorbing the beauty of God’s canvas with majestic sunsets and sitting that final night by campfire in awe of the clarity with which we were able to see the Milky Way and satellites in orbit.

Came back, hit the ground running to get ready for school, work etc. but my body said NO! Not yet. And you just read the rest of the story!

Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. We can take on a lot. The one thing we are NOT supposed to take on on a consistent basis is oodles of stress. The stress hormone Cortisol is only supposed to be released in the case of true danger and for 90 seconds to 2 minutes at a time. Thereafter we are supposed to normalize and that hormone is meant to dissipate and our counter-balancing proteins are supposed to kick in to ensure that our immune system is supported which DOES get impacted when we are releasing Cortisol.

So what happens when we are continually living in stress. Either real (physical danger) or perceived (well…everything else!)

Yup, our immunity is grossly compromised.

And then illness happens.

Almost always.

There are ways to support yourself in the midst of your crazy hectic life that allow you to take time for yourself. More on this in later posts.

Teaching you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you are better for the people you love, the community you serve and the world you seek to change. It’s ironic that all this has happened. This month and next, I have been given 4 different opportunities to talk about the Oxygen Mask analogy. I guess, I needed to hear it myself and live it real time so that I could truly embody my talk.

The thing I most need to hear myself, is the thing that I am being asked to talk about. This is truly an opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

And of course, as I just proved to you with my story above; it’s a work in progress.

Always.

This is one job you can never quit.

Much like you can never quit being a parent.

So settle in for the long haul.

And remember to be kind to yourself.

Settling Into Life in USA

New Rochelle, NY 1994: My parents have left after spending nearly a month with me here in the US. This is not vacation anymore. My new life starts here and now. I wanted this. I planned for this. My then boyfriend; a rock n roll guitarist named James (name changed) and I had devised a grand plan to get out of India, me first – since mine would have to happen with complete parental involvement and support. And here I was. Alone. For the very first time in my life. No one to lean on, no one to turn to except myself. Except I didn’t know how. I had never done it before. Never been completely totally alone. Yes, my parents traveled, without us, but they left us with family, or friends who were closer than family, and there were maids, building people, just people who knew us and would watch out for us. Because that’s how the community was in my world. Everyone was up in each other’s business. Mostly annoying, but then, when stuff happened, it was nice to know there were people out there watching out for you. Even the elevator operators in the building (liftman), and the watchman (security guard) knew me. Growing up in India, this always made me nervous, because they were so loyal to my mom, that I was sure that one of these days they would rat me out to her when she returned from a trip with my dad. “Aapki beti to pura raat bahar rehkar, subaha subaha doodh wale ke sath vapas aati hai!” (your daughter stays out all night and gets back when the milk man arrives) Yep, on a side note, our milk was delivered fresh to our door each morning, as was our produce, meat and even fish. And oh, this was way before home delivery service was ever a thing here in the US! This is the age-old way that housewives got their food – fresh! No grocery stores. Outdoor markets that were not nearly as sexy – perhaps they would have been, if we called them farmers markets – but to us, they were the ‘backward’ way that we lived. No brick and mortar market places, produce, dairy, meat, poultry and fish nearly from the source itself. But I digress; but before I go back to my new life here – it’s important to me to point out, that the going out all night was purely to dance the night away in clubs with friends who I had grown up with. We had this tight knit group of friends, most of us who had known each other since kindergarten, others who had come along and become as close as if we had known them since kinder. Clubs closed at 4am, we’d go get breakfast at an ‘omelette cart’ and then get home ‘with the milkman.’ It was always a wonder that my mom didn’t ever hear of these shenanigans. Never mind that I was well past 18. If she had her way, I would have had 11 pm curfews till I turned 30!

So back to my master plan. I arrived USA in August of 1994, and James was to arrive as soon as he could. His prospects weren’t so good. He was a single guy, a musician, not intending to go to college. Rather, intending to apply for a tourist visa to USA and just never leave. Mind you, even though this was before ICE and DOJ. It was simply INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) and even though it was tough to get an American visa (lines at the consulate were notorious for running around 2 blocks with people camped out there for a full day or more), he managed to get a visa and made plans to arrive NY in the summer of 1995.

But, here we are, Fall 1994.

I found a job at the local Boston Chicken and also worked as a barista at a coffee shop, long before Starbucks came along. New Rochelle, like most suburbs had terrible public transportation, so either I was waiting a long time, or I was barely making the bus. I dropped my class load to 1 class per semester; both to stretch out the money, but also so that I could work more as I muddled through figuring out how much everything would cost to live. As a tourist or a student in the United States, you don’t have the right to earn too much money. After all, the intention is that you’re there either just to visit, or then to go to school. So while you can work on campus you’re not supposed to really have full time work. I don’t know how I skirted this, or how a company like Boston Chicken hired me with the credentials I had then. But I am so glad they did – and till date, I have a fondness for Boston Market food and Thanksgiving continues to be my absolute favorite holiday. I had a lot of people take chances on me through the years and for this I am truly grateful to them, and to this country that gave me a chance to make a life of my own.

My parents had started me off with 3 months rent, so I didn’t have to worry about that. My biggest expense at the time were phone bills; mainly to James still in India, who I missed terribly. Long distance calling was terribly expensive, and I am still mortified when I remember that I had one phone bill that was nearly $2,500!

I made a friend named Maria who worked in the International Student affairs office, she was from Morocco and was always so chic-ly dressed. Distressed boot cut jeans, white collared button down shirt with the sleeves scruffily folded; which for me added to her allure, a fedora and motorcycle boots; the kind that had the square toe and the round metal buckle on either side of the ankle area. Hers were worn in by years of use and I thought they were the coolest boots ever and resolved to save up enough money to buy a pair for myself someday.

Maria was as broke as I was, so routinely we would go to the North Way Diner across the street from our college, and make a meal out of a plate of fries perfectly salted and crisp on the outside and soft inside; and endless refills of coffee. This was dinner and it cost us all of $6.50.

In December that year, I got a call from the International Affairs office on campus that my student visa status had been denied. Within days, I received a deportation notice that asked me to leave the country within 30 days. I was devastated. I remember being on a bus with a couple of friends from work at Boston Chicken wondering what I should do. One of them very practically said – just ignore that.

I had just gone from being legally in the United States to being considered an illegal alien (yep, that’s what we were called back then!)

I couldn’t keep my job at Boston Chicken, probably because of the immigration status, but also because it didn’t make me nearly enough money to survive. I remember weeks when all I could spend on groceries was about $20. Frank, the Greek owner/manager at the North Way diner is the reason that I didn’t starve. One of my work friends recommended an Indian restaurant in NYC where all the people who worked there were Indian and that they might be sympathetic to my status. The restaurant turned out to be a fine dining establishment in midtown Manhattan within a 20 minute walk of Grand Central Station. The manager there was indeed sympathetic. He did require me to ‘get a social security number.’

Back to my very resourceful colleague and for $100 he got me a social security number and card to match; no questions asked. Now, I went from making $4.50 an hour at Boston Chicken to making $2,25 an hour, but the tips more than made up for the pitiful hourly rate. The hourly rate check became the little bonus I would look forward to, each week. The pay stub showed all the taxes that were being deducted on my behalf. I was grateful every single day for this opportunity to work; to prove that I could live this life on my terms, in my way and without any help from anyone. My parents were a huge presence in my life; and I knew that they were just a phone call away if I ever needed anything. I was determined not to need anything as best I could. My father’s batch mates in New Jersey kept tabs on me ever so often but again, I worked hard not to need anything.

For the next year, I would leave New Rochelle on a bus by 9:00 am, taking it to the very last possible stop; from there I would get on a subway to Grand Central and walk to the restaurant, getting there by 11:00 am, just in time to set up for the lunch rush. After lunch ended at 2:30 pm, we would clean up and then had to ‘kill time’ till the 5 pm evening session. Since I lived as far as I did, going home wasn’t an option, so I would study there, or nap, or occasionally when I wasn’t exhausted from being on my feet, walk around NYC. Dinner shift would end by 11 pm, and by the time we cleaned up and closed up, it would be after midnight. I would walk to Grand Central and take the last Metro North train back to New Rochelle and take a cab home to my place. The restaurant had slate floors and since we were a fine dining place, wearing sneakers was not an option; even though I was only 21, my back hurt every single day for being on my feet as much as I was. I kept up this grueling schedule 6 days a week, going to school one night a week.

But I loved every minute of it. Yes, there were days where I despaired, and days when I really didn’t want to work so hard, but for the most part, I was grateful and mostly disbelieving that I was actually living here in the United States.

My little attic room on the 3rd floor of a single family home within walking distance of my college was furnished with a bed and a desk. I had to climb a staircase through a hatch in the floor to get in and out of my room. I had a window to the outside, sloping walls which I covered up with pictures of my family and Jon Bon Jovi and oh, a wired telephone.

A New Country, A New Life – part 1

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day that I entered the United States as a 21 year old (yes, go ahead…do the math! I am 46 years old!) bright-eyed, idealistic and excited to create a life of my own. The story is actually quite interesting…that year…1994 I had spent my birthday with my best friend in her hometown of Bhopal. When I returned from that celebration, my parents introduced me to this guy that they had been looking into for me…a potential husband. Arrange marriages are alive and well in India. However in this case, my parents were progressive enough where they were just making the introduction, with zero pressure to actually marry him, or anyone at that particular point. He lived in the US, was a Stanford graduate and was starting to work for Apple. The company was going to do his immigration papers, and his desire was to have an Indian wife (he was Indian) whose papers could be done at the same time as his. Our families knew each other, and apparently there had been talk for months that perhaps we should meet. So mind you – this is pre-email or cell phone, so we resorted to old fashioned letter writing. In my mind this was a NO-WAY-JOSE situation. BUT, he DID live in the US, and I had known from a very young age, that I wanted to live in the US. I just had no idea how to make it happen, or whether my parents would approve. You see, I grew up in a culture where women at the time went straight from parents’ house to husband’s house with not much opportunity to have a life of one’s own. I imagine its different now, but this WAS 25 years ago.

So, I did communicate with this guy, lets call him Samir (not his real name!). I remember thinking that he was a bit arrogant (He probably thought that his just having graduated from a top Ivy League school, and a job at a top company should have impressed me…it didn’t!). That summer, I suggested to my parents that we go visit said potential beau in California. We decided to make a vacation of it, never having been to the west coast of United States. When I let Samir know we were coming to Los Angeles, he offered for me to go stay at his place for a few days in San Francisco. Well, this was perfect, because I knew my parents would NEVER allow me to ‘go off on my own’ and it in fact showed significant disrespect that he hadn’t extended the invite to my parents. So, they didn’t resist too much when I said I didn’t want to meet the guy and that I didn’t think he was for me. Phew, thank goodness that one died in the water.

Funny story about our visit to LA. Never having visited this coast before, and being used to East Coast cities where ‘downtown’ is the place you want to hang out – when the travel agent was booking us, she asked where in LA we wanted to stay, we shrugged our shoulders and said ‘downtown.’ Imagine our surprise when we pulled into our Holiday Inn downtown LA just after dark when everything was deserted and there was no festive activity, no restaurants or culture or really anything to do. This of course is pre-LA Live, pre-Staples Center etc. Downtown was NOT where you hung out after dark, downtown was not where you touristed either. Needless to say my parents never let me out of their sight. Not that I can blame them. We did touristy things like the Beverly Hills celebrity house tour, (the OJ Simpson trial was going on so the tour guide had to take us via the courthouse too!), Universal Studios, Disneyland, Santa Monica (realizing that THIS is where we should have been staying). And then one day decided to go check out Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. So yes, we DROVE to San Francisco, had fish and chips at the Wharf, walked around that area (also so significantly different than it is today!) and DROVE BACK to Los Angeles! All in one day. hahahah! We still laugh about that one.

After our vacation on the West Coast, we made our way to New York. My parents had extended family here; my desire to stay back and convert this vacation to permanent residence was known to my parents and so we settled on this small town of New Rochelle, NY; 20 minutes on the Metro North red line to New Haven from Grand Central Station. They enrolled me in school at Iona College (even though I had a B.Sc in Economics from a college in Bombay, the US system required one more year worth of classes to get an equivalent B.A. in Economics. We rented me a small finished attic room in a home within walking distance of Iona College. They paid for 3-4 months rent, 1-2 semesters tuition and then we said our final goodbyes. For the very first time, in my life at the age of 21, I was truly alone. Yes they were always just a phone call away, but I had NEVER lived alone, never paid a bill, gone out to eat, cooked for myself, run a household or done any adulting. Now I had to figure this all out for myself, in a new country.

More later…stay tuned.

MIA

So I have been missing in action for a while. Not from my life; rather from my very active social media life. I decided to fall off the face of the earth for a month or two and see what would happen. The earth did NOT stop spinning on its axis, the sun still came up in the east and set in the west and lo and behold life continues. Interestingly life continued for me in a more present, more intentional, more connected way than I have felt in a long time. Somehow I don’t feel rushed or busy. I am working hard at a job I love, spending quality time with people I love. and even managing a major remodel project at home with Jason (no kitchen/laundry at home since November 2018…but that’s a story for another time) and I am finding myself with time to spare. Not oodles of it, but I am not living the overwhelmed out of control dizzying speed of life, rather it seems to be a more measured pace, one that is easy to manage, one that has time for conversation, communication and connection, Not just with the people I love, but with myself. This is a foreign notion to be sure. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I found time. So I sat down on my sofa (a novelty too unless it’s to watch TV with the family) and READ a magazine. I didn’t skim it, or flick through the pretty travel pictures, rather I actually read the stories of people traveling to gorgeous places like the Amalfi Coast, Greece and Iceland. You know, I kept feeling like I had to get up and do something. It took force of will to actually keep sitting there. I couldn’t get through one article without looking up from my magazine to see if there was something I should be doing instead.
What is it about us women (yes, gross generalization here, but I think I am not far off point), why is it that we can’t enjoy our own homes? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my home, no matter where we travel, I ALWAYS love coming home. BUT, I have to go away to feel rested, I have to leave my home and town to take a break because a staycation becomes a holiday for everyone in the family but me. For me, I will find hundreds of things to do around the house.
So this summer, since we are still in the midst of construction and can’t really travel anywhere I am bound and determined to make life simpler for myself; simpler like it is when we go away from home for a vacation which is typically where I can let go and relax. My goal is to let go and relax right here, in my own home (yes, in the midst of construction!)

To start this, I had to let go of social media. Why? Well because for me, I had become a little addicted. There, I said it. Hi my name is Niki and I am a social media addict. In the grocery line, at the stop light, in the bathroom, on my way to tuck my kids in to bed, I was finding myself needing to check my feeds oodles of times a day; feeling a sense of ‘obligation’ to those who follow me. Yes, I know, crazy. I found myself distracted around my family and instead of worrying about showing up for those people in my life who truly matter, who love me, and I them and being present to and for them, I was worrying about what inspirational thing I could post for my social media followers (and its not like I am an influencer or inspirational/motivational speaker/guru or anything!). Instead of scheduling time for play with my kids, I was spending time scheduling posts days and weeks out at a time so I wouldn’t let social media land down.

So, I had to rip the band-aid and uninstall social media from my phone. I didn’t go so far as to deactivate my accounts, but I did remove the convenience in order to overcome the addiction. And let me tell you, for the first week, my hands would automatically go to my phone when I had a couple spare minutes, only to realize that it’s going to function as just that…a phone – a communication device. A tool to talk to and connect with the people who have my number and who’s number I have because they’re a friend or family member and not because they’re someone who is a friend of a friend of a friend. I have to tell you – those likes and hearts are addicting too. There is a rush when you see a post you’ve written trending high and hitting dozens and perhaps even hundreds of likes or hearts. I felt like I had developed a false sense of importance when a post that I wrote would receive hundreds of likes and dozens of comments from people I don’t know personally.

So I just quit for a while. I needed to do a hard reset and really evaluate what and who was important to me, and how did I want to communicate with them. What came out of this digital detox is that I am very blessed to have really good friends in my life. Some who live within a 20 minute drive, but others who I adore who live across the country and even the world. These are the friends who I want to stay connected with. Social media wasn’t doing that for me. I had this false sense of being connected, and yet I had no idea what was going on in their lives. This is what I wanted to work on. I wanted to be present for the people that matter. Not to say that those people who follow me or are friends with me on social media don’t matter. They do – but not in the way I wanted to cultivate relationships. I’ve heard it said that an individual can only truly ‘know’ 100 – 150 people. So why did I need to have 2,000+ friends? They weren’t the ones who I would be reaching out to, if I need a shoulder to cry on or if I truly needed help. It would be the handful of people that I can count on the fingers of one hand that I would call. It would be the people who are on my kids emergency contact list, or the ones who I have welcomed into my home and have broken bread with who mattered most, and I did not need social media to stay connected to them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-social media at all. It is a powerful tool to get a message out to a large group of people. I have a lot of appreciation for the moms groups that I belong to, that are my first go to resource when I need to learn about a helicopter flying overhead late at night, or when a wildfire breaks out, or if I need recommendations for shopping, restaurants or anything else that I need an answer for. I am grateful for the community of moms that rallies and watches out for our kids riding bikes, puppies getting out of the house, special deals to know about in town, it’s like the town square. And it’s important. But I don’t want to spend every spare moment in town square, and I don’t need to broadcast my life from there either.

So now I spend my time differently. I reach out to friends I want to talk to; I go meet them, text them, call them or even use Marco Polo or Messenger to chat with them.

I’m thinking of relearning French and taking a dance lesson, now that I have all this time freed up in my life. I’ve been in touch with friends I adore who don’t live in my town and I know what’s going on in their lives. I am on the floor of my son’s room every night where my kids and I do plank, push ups and other body weight bearing exercises together before bed and that time spent with them giggling as we suffer through 1-2 minutes of plank is time I truly cherish!

And yes, now I do in fact feel more rested and relaxed in my own home.