Mine your own Material: the Past

Day Eighteen: WordPress Writing 101, September 30, 2015

“Think about the things we leave behind. Tell us about a time you’ve left an object, place, person, or even an idea behind — and had to move on”. WP

Moving on beyond the PAST:

As I write this post, I can’t help wondering why moving on from certain things is so, so difficult. Sometimes you have a dream, an idea of what your life is going to be. It’s like a blueprint etched in the brain and when you come upon it you know that this is what you wanted to do all your life. It feels so right. You are willing to give up anything, undergo anything just to achieve this goal. This happened to me some twenty years ago. I was on a path that I thought destiny might have charted for me. It was not easy to get onto it. I even faced opposition from my family who felt that I was taking a very big risk with my life. Maybe I was. But the so-called enormity of the chances I was taking did not count because I had fallen totally in love with this idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Well, a small clue — it was a career choice that I made, away from the beaten track.

Does this sound familiar?

And then for five years in the prime of my life, when every energy and enthusiasm is at its best, when you are ready to take on the world, I toiled for this dream. Yes, I did make mistakes, I wasted time perhaps, I got distracted by emotions and by circumstances beyond my control, but I tried my best to make it work. I gave it my ALL. And then it happened. Just when I was about to reach the finish line, there it confronted me — total and abject failure. I had chosen ‘the road not taken’, and walking down that path, fraught with many challenges the least of which was loneliness, I came to a ‘dead end’. Life just stopped and I with it.

Today twenty years later, even when I know I had given it the best as I knew it then, regret sometimes fills my heart. The mind fills with ‘what ifs’. It is too late now and pointless too. The universe whispers messages that unless I totally let go and move on, I could never truly live again. That is what I have been trying I do these past years. First I tried many things to bring this dream back. Retrace my steps, so to say and hope that a miracle would find its way to me and there would be an opening I could clutch at! But nothing happened. I spent a lot of time in limbo, stuck, unable to move. The past kept me there. The past was over, that much I knew finally. But the future was a void and path less. I hung at the mouth of an abyss, neither falling in, neither flying up. Then one day something subtly changed.

Something totally unexpected happened in my life. I resisted it with all my might, but it did not go away and then slowly my fossilised brain understood that life was reaching out to me. So what if this new element was nowhere in my plans, so what if I never thought that the road I did not take that day in the woods waited for me still and was  opening up for me ? Life is very strange, friends and Grace comes when you least expect it. When life gives a second chance grab it! Even if it does not look like anything you ever imagined, go for it. There is a higher power that looks out for you and always keeps you in its sights. Some call it God.

Today I stand at a place where the future is not yet formed. It is like a cusp between the past and the future. These things take time, this much I have learnt from life. Finally, after much painful and sometimes involuntary lingering, I am finally letting go of this obsession, this so-called dream that seemed so perfect. No, that is not meant for me and guess what, it is relief that I feel. Well that is something I did not expect. It is as if I have given permission to rid myself of the burden of an unfulfilled dream. I discover that it was a beautiful mirage that I thought would fulfill me. But now sadder and wiser, with much more self-knowledge under my belt, I finally sense that I did not know myself at all. It was not even my dream after all.

The shattering of that long ago dream was necessary for me to truly arrive at what will make me happy. That dream itself was not mine, but one subtly superimposed on my psyche by expectations from people around me. Even when I thought I was following my own path, it was not truly mine. This long journey has been worthwhile because it helped me separate what I truly need and want from what I thought I did. Yes, I agree with the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, that “pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding,” a quote from his masterpiece, The Prophet that has always haunted me. Finally, I am ready to let go and for this, I am grateful.




Writing 101: Day SIX: A Character Building Exercise

Writing 101: Day SIX: Character Study

Today’s Prompt: Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Our stories are inevitably linked to the people around us. We are social creatures: from the family members and friends who’ve known us since childhood, to the coworkers, service providers, and strangers who populate our world (and, at times, leave an unexpected mark on us).

Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations! – Anton Chekhov, Letter to Alexander Chekhov; May 10, 1886 

Don’t just list their features. Tell us something about how their physical appearance shapes the way they act and engage with others. For example, see how the author of this moving photo essay, which documents the final weeks of a woman dying of cancer, captures the kernel of the woman’s spirit with a short, masterful statement: ‘Her eyes told stories that her voice didn’t have the power to articulate and she had a kindness that immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years.’ Give us a glimpse of what makes this person unique. We all have our own quirks, mannerisms, and individual gestures, both physical and linguistic. 

My Grandmother 

I can still see her in my mind’s eye, sitting placidly by the window or in her comfortable cushioned chair, surrounded by her prayer books, rosary and other spiritual paraphernalia. Sometimes it would be some women’s magazine from which she would be jotting down recepies or beauty tips ! I still remember the one where you smeared sugar over acne or pimples, for a quick way to smoother skin, or swathed a burn with toothpaste to avoid blisters ! A typical ‘grandmother remedy’, albeit borrowed, that always worked. My grandmother was not the overtly religious, ritualistic kind. But she was spiritual — exceedingly so. Those times that I sat with her, taking a break from routine, hectic activity, a calm descended on me. Something peaceful crept into all our interactions! She had that effect on people. Was she pious then ? I wouldn’t say so, not in the way it is usually meant, which is being sanctimonious. With her gentle eyes and soft voice, humorous and wise at once, she filled people with a reassuring delight. Her keen observations on life and situations, tongue-in-cheek opinions on people, punctuated by that candid comment or an unexpected insight — my grandmother never ceased to surprise me.

She was loving and caring to all of us, her five grandchildren, but I like to think she had a soft corner for me, her eldest grandchild. Out of all the compliments that I cherish is the one from my granny saying appreciatively to me, “you are the prettiest, today you look like a film star” ! Was it merely a sardonic tongue-in-cheek observation, a loving exaggeration or was it to boost my morale, during a difficult time? I’ll never know and it does not matter, for, that after-comment glow lingers on still !

When she passed on, gently, as  in life so in death, something imperceptibly caved within me. I knew I’d lost a kindred soul, a person who understood me at my core, more than my parents, siblings or friends. I could stop to grieve as I did many a time in the past, but when I close my eyes and think of her, I see her bright, twinkling eyes in that wrinkled face lighting up when she smiled. I see her willing me to believe in myself and move on.


Day TENApril A-Z Blogging Challenge 2015  : Mental Health Awareness — layers and nuances


Journey and JOURNALLING :

Life is like a journey that we begin seemingly without consent, with no choice of locale or travelling companions. This is the external bit, where we are born into families we did not choose, grow in environments over which we have little control and finally as adults may be too tired to change things when we are able to. We might have fallen into a rut! But the inner process is slightly different. In the INNER JOURNEY, we do have choice — the choice to think and choose our attitude as Victor Frankyl said, and this might make all the difference in life.


Just as we make many preparations for an outer journey, carrying with us several knick-knacks that we may need, the same is applicable for the inner journey too. We need TOOLS that will provide direction and help us to measure progress. One such extremely useful tool that helps us to gauge our inner journey, without depending on outside help is to maintain a journal. Julia Cameron, the well-known author of two books on creativity and the creative process, titled, The Artist’s Way and The Vein of Gold emphasises the importance of JOURNALLING as a process of inner healing and creative recovery. In what she terms as ‘morning  pages’, she  advises aspiring artists to do some much needed spring-cleaning of their subconscious by a process of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing as one of the first tasks before the day really begins.

Try it! It worked for me 🙂

© Lakshmi S. Menon & VOICE’nVIEWS

Writing 101: Day FIVE: Be Brief

 Writing 101: Day FIVEBe BRIEF

Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

None of us will ever know the whole story in other words. We can only collect a bag full of shards that each seem perfect.

— From 100 Word Story‘s About page

Brevity is the goal of this task, although “brief” can mean five words or five-hundred words. You might write a fifty-word story, as writer Vincent Mars publishes on his blog, Boy in the Hat. Or you might tell your tale in precisely one-hundred words, like the folks at 100 Word Story — an approach that forces you to question every word.

For writers who tend to write more, a longer word count may be considered concise, too. At Brevity, writers publish nonfiction of seven-hundred-fifty words or less: there is space to develop a piece, yet a focus on succinctness.

The Note

The shop was closed. I sighed in exasperation and was about to stomp off in a huff, when I saw the little note tucked into the window sill. Curious (I know, it was none of my business), I opened it and read:

I waited and you didn’t come. Nothing’s changed. You are still the same. All talk and no . . . . If you want to see me before I leave, be at the station by 8.    Lily”

A scrawl no doubt, but the letters were legible. My sleuthing instincts and detective-thriller-loving brain conjured up endless possibilities. I looked around, the next shop door was ajar. There was a girl at the counter idly watching a mini TV. She told me what I needed to hear. I ran out like a mad woman and hailed the first cab that came by lazily. It was 7.45 a.m.

Luckily there was only one train expected at our small station at 8.00. I scanned the platform, looking for a girl, a woman, anyone who could be ‘Lily’. Nothing, nobody. The train was being announced. A young man got up nearby, heaving a heavy bag onto his shoulders. He seemed strained and anxious. He dropped his wallet and a photograph peeped out. While picking it up for him, suddenly it all clicked into place.

‘Are you Lleweyn?’, I asked him. ‘Yes’, he said, surprised, ‘how did you . . . .’ I cut him short. ‘She’s in the hospital and unconscious. Yesterday morning as she stepped out of her shop, a hit-and-run maniac pushed her off the kerb . . . .St. johns’, second floor’, I yelled after him. He disappeared as the 8 o’clock Intercity pulled into the station. I looked at the photograph I was left holding. Lleweyn and Marisa, the antique shop girl, were smiling into the camera and on top there was this legend: ‘Llly and Mark, Lleweyn loves Marisa’ !

Writing 101: Day Three: Songs and Commit to a Writing Practice

Writing 101: Day Three: Free Writing

Today’s Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Today, try free writing. To begin, empty your mind onto the page. Don’t censor yourself; don’t think.  Just let go. Let the emotions or memories connected to your three songs carry you.

 Today’s twist: You’ll commit to a writing practice. The frequency and the amount of time you choose to spend today — and moving forward — are up to you, but we recommend a minimum of fifteen uninterrupted minutes per day.

“The basic unit of writing practice is the timed exercise” – Natalie 

The Fragrance of Love:

The three songs that sing to me and always make me smile are, you guessed it, songs on LOVE! The most beautiful emotion in the world is love, the most beautiful sentiment that can overcome any barriers, that can restore any loss, that can heal any wound and make life lovable and liveable again is love. Love is perhaps the most sung and performed topic in the world!

Here are my three favourite songs on Love that I could listen to without ever getting bored:

PERHAPS LOVE‘ sung soulfully by the fabulous John Denver and Placido Domingo — a duet by a country singer and an opera artist

Another Year has Gone By‘ sung by the inimitable Celine Dion

Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You by George Benson

To choose three songs is very, very difficult especially if you love listening to music and can speak and understand five languages ! There are so many favourites to choose from. Songs could be happy or sad, silly or sublime, inspiring or depressing, romantic, nostalgic, bitter, angry, grieving and anything else that has to do with human emotions. I choose today to remember three songs on love that speak to me about endurance in love. 

In the fast-paced world that we live, change is a constant. From phones and gadgets to dressing styles, from food fads to car models, from holiday destinations to movie picks, nothing seems to have a quality of constancy about it. We are all in a frenzy to keep up with changing trends and shifting equations ALL the time. We are always paranoid that we are ‘missing out’ on something and sadly this has crept into spiritual pursuits too. Nowadays, instead of sticking to a chosen spiritual guide or a path of faith, people merrily convert their beliefs at the drop of a hat or indulge in what is called, ‘ashram hopping’ say in a country like India. They move from Guru to Guru or from Church to Church, or from temple to mosque, in search of quick hearings and miracles, sensationalism and excitement and instant gratification, when the source of all peace and love lies within. It is a very sad state of affairs and amusing too. Reminds me of the words of the 19th century mystic-saint of India, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (whose disciple Swami Vivekananda introduced Vedanta to the Western world), who used to advise his followers that to get water from the ground, one should dig in one place and persist till you strike water. Instead, out of boredom and impatience, you dig several holes, you will never find water and you just waste time and dissipate energy.

I believe love too is like that. To discover the treasures in love, you have to give up the constant search for excitement or ego and sense gratification and instead persist in loving what is there in life. People are like oysters, the pearl within is revealed after many layers are uncovered ! Endurance in love though rare nowadays is something that I would personally cherish.

Writing 101: Day TWO: A Room with a View

Writing 101:  Day Two: Description of a Setting

Today’s Prompt: If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image. – Joan Didion

Today, choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

Today’s twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

Nostalgia: One Day, in a Field

Where do I want to be? My fugitive memory takes me back to an evening when I was an undergraduate student, more than two decades ago. Staying in a hostel away from home, but never homesick, I was discovering the pleasures of solitude, where I could be anonymous in a crowd. It was a time and a place when I came close to myself.

Evening, and I was with a team of girls, playing basket-ball. Games in the evenings and yoga in the mornings were compulsory for us. I’d signed up for basketball, an unlikely sport for a bookworm like me! There was this ground behind the college and hostel buildings — a vast stretch of open land, ringed by the distant hills , including one that we called, ‘the lion mountain’, since it’s peak resembled a lion’s head! The silence of the evening and the glorious views of the setting sun (each day a panorama) were interrupted by the excited cries of young women — playing ! Away from prying eyes, breathing in the sense of a fresh freedom, we dribbled the ball, passed it and threw it around, till it found its mark in the ‘basket’, hanging enticingly above — not too high, not too low! Hair flying, muscles straining, limbs unwinding, we played — lost in motion and movement, mental-emotional clutter and chatter held at bay, mind focussed on just one thing — how to get at that basket — and time stood still through all this.

When the game was done, I often felt I’d just been to another land — a place, a state of mind when thoughts were in abeyance and the mind almost did not exist. I finally understood why people play or join a sport — why athletes run and footballers risk injuries, why a Michael Schumacher dares death again and again in Formula racing, why a Saina Nehwal puts in those gruelling hours going through intensive coaching or why the movie ‘Chak de INDIA’ a movie about women’s hockey became such a hit. And yes, before I forget, why that over-rated game called cricket has normally sane people glued to TV sets for hours ! 

It’s all for that state of mind — notwithstanding the pride of country or spirit of adventure– knowingly by the players, unknowingly by the fans.

Writing 101: Day ONE: Unlock the mind

Writing 101: Day One:  stream-of-consciousness writing

The prompt quote:

You write because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true. And yet, by the time this idea passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your hand, and onto the page or computer screen — it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The writing you end up with is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to say.

– Author Khaled Hosseini, “How to Write,” the Atlantic

A ‘free write’ on  free writing

So my mind just blanked out for a minute there, and I thought — good place to begin ! Right now, I’m wondering about the four simultaneous challenges I took upon myself, through the month of April, spread out on two blogs. Did I bite off more than I can chew ? Hmmm. As I plod on, daily, with a crashed laptop, (writing everything on my mini IPad and enjoying learning my way through it!), power shutdowns — minor ones thankfully, but wifi does go off then,  water scarcity situation during these hot summer months, minor insomnia brought on by determination to somehow write my posts, no matter what the deadlines and how many times, I break them — deadlines! Remember a poster that I had gleefully stuck to my wall a few years back that said, “deadlines: they are dead lines!”. Still, deadlines are necessary as are routines and structures to let life move along somewhat smoothly amidst all the chaos around. Structured routines, however irritating are a place you could go back to when life feels ‘out of control’ ! Never thought I’d ever say this ! 

Are para breaks allowed in such writing?! Doing it for the convenience of readers who happen to visit! Does such writing warrantee a topic ? Surprisingly, ‘stream-of-consciousness writing’ and ‘free writing’ (is there a difference?) have their own ‘method in the madness’ type of logic. Somehow, the mind creates its own sense, after a while at least, as we evolve, I suppose. Anyhow, I’m not new to this. Many years ago, chanced upon a lovely book on creativity by Julia Cameron, titled, ‘ The Artist’s Way’, where she describes a process called, ‘Writing Pages’, to unlock creativity and kind of clear out from the subconscious whatever blocks the clear flow of thoughts. Simple really — get up in the morning, take a long notebook and without much ado — start writing with a pen or pencil, whatever comes to mind! This first task reminded me of this. I found it very, very cathartic. I found years of grief and pain pouring out of my pen and then they finally left me leaving behind some revealing insights and a vastly decluttered mind space. TRY IT everyday and some amazing things begin to happen.

Writing in -process !

A view from the ‘other side’

Statutory Warning: Be willing to stretch your minds to include the reality of DIMENSIONS beyond the physical one. Now read on . . . .

September 10th was declared as ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ and people were blogging in support of this movement. I liked one blog that talked about depressive tendencies leading to suicide in creative people. Mental illness and creative talent seem to be inextricably linked. Robin Williams is on many people’s minds; his death made many realise that wealth and fame with million dollar homes and every material possession one could wish for cannot promise happiness — that elusive fairy of well-being that makes life worthwhile.

However the word ‘suicide’ triggered in me the memory of a meeting I once had with a healer and channeller who spoke about her own experience with suicide. I hesitated to post this with the other blogs that were all talking about various practical things related to suicide; because what Roshita (the said healer) spoke to us was about an experience from another dimension! But when something wants to write itself out, it keeps nagging and prodding and so here I am with what I heard from R.

To begin with, I was attending a channelling session for the first time in my life and I really didn’t know what to expect. When the young, petite girl casually dressed in jeans and jumper opened the door, I got my first shock. Where were the beads and scarves and henna hair ?! Before the channelling started, (material for another post), R. introduced herself and talked a bit of her experiences with the esoteric. In India, re-incarnation and karma are not alien concepts but part of life for most people except of course, the anchors and intellectuals you find on TV talk-shows! R. affirmed that after death we go to a different dimension where we face a ‘life-review’ and the soul enters into a state of ‘rest’ before the next round of birth-and-death, whose circumstances are decided by what the soul chooses to learn. Talk about fixing responsibility for all the **** that goes on in life! There are a group of evolved souls/ascended Beings who help in this ‘review’ and  assist the soul to decide where it wants to go next. Rather than the concept of punishment and retribution, it is about learning from unwise choices that lead to suffering for oneself and others. One is given the chance to rectify wrong choices and here is a scoop! The soul is always asked, “do you want to go back?” And if you are smart or tired of this endless cycle, you can choose to say, “NO”. The journey then continues in astral dimensions, where things are not as grey as they are on the earth dimension. However we are so caught up in dramas of attachment or revenge, ambition, desire and greed that most often, we choose to go back. Remember to say, “NO’ when asked this crucial question, R. exhorted us. But I’m digressing . . . . getting back to what R. revealed about suicides.

This experience apparently is her own. In a previous life, R, was exceedingly fond of her father and very attached to him. He however died suddenly and the young girl, in her grief and despair, took her own life. Her over-riding thought at the time of death was that she wanted to be born as his daughter again. So what happened next ? (I was very curious here because recently there had been a suicide in my extended family and I had heard tradition denouncing suicide as having no redemption and souls wandering around endlessly and so on.)

Roshita went on to say that after death all souls are brought to a waiting-area (imagine a huge airport- lounge) where they are assigned different ‘rooms’ / sections depending on what experiences they have had. Those who have taken their own life are bundled into a room where they have to simply WAIT it out ! Wait out what ? Well, the rest of their allotted life-span and herein lies the catch: Suicide is just a temporary relief; the soul remains in limbo for the rest of earth-time, waiting for conditions to ripen before being born again. It sounded a bit like how when we have missed a flight we have to wait at the airport for the next one. So R. in her previous ‘after-life’ had to wait out her current life-span and then wait some more for her ‘father’ to be born, grow and be old enough to be her dad again!

What then is to be learnt from this, dear reader (if you are still with me)? Suicide is NEVER the solution to any tough situation we might be facing. The lesson will come back in another form, in another life with a lot of time wasted in the meantime. As long as there is life, hope exists. Let us remember the mantra: this too will pass

BOAT at sea

Getting Started

And so let me BEGIN. This is an introductory post to anyone who might bump into this site and so hey, welcome to my blog ! It took many decades but finally the fuzzinessss in the ‘little grey cells’ (as Poirot would say), cleared up and here I am doing what I was always meant to do – WRITE ! From voracious reading to hopefully, relentless writing. From dabbling in poetry, philosophy, researching, teaching, mediating and navigating through the many waterways of life, I feel I have finally settled down — they say when you are nearing your destination, you feel a sense of peace and I would add, you also feel a sense of PURPOSE. No matter that no one else can see it or believe it, the spaces in life get filled when you can see your own purpose. On this semi-wise note, I extend a warm welcome to all my future readers, co-writers, fellow-bloggers, story-tellers, poets and look forward to fruitful interactions on life and the like ! Will be back soon. Watch out for the new kid (writer) on the block (blogosphere).