Feathers etc.

10 weeks back I was surprised to find an all-day course in ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ for Health Professionals advertised on the Trust intranet. It sounded great and it was for free. Wow! We are recognising the pressures on health care professionals and moving slowly but surely in the right direction. To organise a course like this and make it available to all staff at no cost is nothing less than super-fantastic.

I enrolled instantly and waited patiently for the day to arrive. The day arrived.  I entered the room to find all these items scattered neatly around the room: a bowl of smooth tactile pebbles in purple, maroon, white and yellow, little bottles of lavender and vanilla extracts, fantastical eye-catching postcards, maracas and manjiras, a white rosary in a tiny wooden box, sketch pads with charcoal tree sticks, a bunch of sea shells, sprigs of fresh rosemary and mint, a dried corn on the cob, a few white and brown feathers, a spongy red ball and a spiky yellow plastic one, a tiny hand-crank music box and an hour-glass with pink sand. These things were for us to appreciate, touch, feel, smell and listen to.

Two gentle young women led the day taking great care of everyone in the room and in complete harmony with each other. We started with a ‘soft landing’ – becoming aware of our feet on the floor, bum on chair, our breath and our finger tips. They called these short snatches of peace, the ‘green moments’. We were encouraged to create/access these green moments to transition from seeing one patient to the next or from work to home mode and vice versa.

The word ‘discernment’ was brought into my awareness. While the dictionary meaning of it is “the ability to judge well”, we were encouraged to scan our thoughts and ‘notice what’s not helpful’. It was a useful concept. It helped me locate stuff that was unnecessarily cluttering up my mind and blocking light from entering this sacred space.

I remembered that as a teenager I had a big scrap book filled with my collection of feathers of all kinds, my favourite being the peacock feather. Where did that dreamy girl with 2 pig-tails go?

For a while I could hold the little girl in me lovingly in my arms and marvel at her innocence and beauty, appreciate her child-like sense of wonder and creativity. This sweet girl is me. Perfect and complete in every way. All she needed was to be seen. By me.

Caring with compassion for you and me.

No shame. Just love.

Last week I met Matt. A young man, calmly determined to share his story and open up a rainbow that would envelop the world and knit it closer together. A story of a glorious love, a damning shame and a tragic unnecessary death.

Matt and Naz met in Birmingham in the year 2000 and instantly fell in love. Matt Ogston and Dr Nazim Mahmood. Both men. Men in love. They tried having a relationship in that city but knew that if they wanted to live like normal people doing normal things, they’d have to move away. So, they did. Over the next 13 years they built and lived a fulfilled and happy life together in London. All this time they managed to hide their gayness from Naz’s family as it was guaranteed to create unhappiness.

One weekend Naz needed to go back to Birmingham for a family event. The question of his sexuality came up and he spoke the truth. As expected, his family reacted badly. He was told that he was living in ‘sin’ and his ‘condition’ was treatable. I cannot imagine how he must have felt. Deeply humiliated I guess. That day he must have known that now, he could never be the man he was born to be. His love for his fiancé would always be seen as sin by others he deeply loved.

He returned to London. To Matt. Two days later he ended his life.

In his utter devastation, Matt found the determination to do what he could, to stop religion from getting in the way of love. He set up the Naz and Matt Foundation.

“Our mission is to never let religion, any religion, come in the way of the unconditional love between parents and their children.”

Rush hour London

7 am. Monday. South-east England.

From the window of an inbound aeroplane, they look like moving lines changing texture every second. Demarcating hedges, rail tracks, rivers and roads run around in graceful undulating curves. These lines pass between patches of all forty shades of green. And some dry brown ones and watery blue ones. A silver set of solar panels glitters like a massive diamond. Imperfect squares and rectangles are juxtaposed like patches on an applique quilt. Thickets in rough triangular shapes fit neatly into corners. Multitudes to houses sit snugly like school kids in tidy rows. Each house, home to multitudes of stories.

London

The City is poised at the start line. London, in a state of fresh awareness. The sun is shining. Commuters are rumbling, making their way to the nearest train station, bus-stop, car or bike. Multi-coloured bicycles and black motorcyclists wriggle about in clusters. The air is cool. The smoke is gathering. It hasn’t formed a blanket yet. A hum in the background holds at a fixed, non-descript pitch. Jarring sirens of police and ambulances intercept at regular intervals. The stirrings of people, shaking the City. Millions of people in organised chaos, moving over and under the ground.

Me

I draw the curtains aside, to a dream morning for a bike ride. Gentle breeze and soft sun. I glug the smoothie I prepared last night. Pull on my cycling gear.  My body wanting to jump on to the bike this second. Put my stuff into the pannier bag that I should have bought ages ago. Remember to wear my helmet before the gloves. Remember to lock the house. Switch on the lights on the bike. Put on my yellow high-vis jacket. Say a silent prayer. And take off. Gear up. 1-1. 1-2. 1-3. 2-3. 2-6. 3-3 … The down-slope after the first right turn brings the morning air face to face with me and I am flying. Levitating. Floating blissfully to work. Lost in the rhythm of my breath going in and out. Feeling my legs going round and round in meditative circles. All my senses awakened. In this second, I am free. And so lucky to be alive!

Methuselah

One morning, despite severe inertia and amplified gravity, I carried my body through treacle to a yoga lesson nearby. Once I got there, the music, the incense, the light, the chanting, the breathing and the presence of other people lightened me up and I got into the groove.

I became the rhythm of my breath and the simultaneous harmonious dance of the body with the breath. Each posture pushed me just a little bit outside my comfort zone and the energy started to shift and flow. Before I knew it one hour was up. As we were finishing off the session with a short meditation, Felix, the teacher said “Dedicate your practice to someone you love.”

In that moment, tears sprung out in rivers. Out of nowhere, all on their own accord, they flooded me. I lay in the corpse pose (shavasana) and the warmth of my tears continued to soak the hair at both my temples.

Just then a set of 4 light soft paws, one by one stepped on to my tummy. I am familiar with the weight and size of such paws due to our feline, Milkshake’s nightly visits. Instantly, I broke into a smile. I lifted my head and opened one eye. A black cat that had been lazing on a sofa previously had made itself comfortable on top of me, rolled up into a ball. The fuzzy warmth of that circle travelled all the way to my heart. I sat up and cuddled it, stroked it and thanked it for reaching out to me. It was gracious enough to let me. Love was boomeranging.

Mirror, mirror …

5 feet 5 inches. Average frame. 67 kilos. Completely owns her 52 years. Medium brown skin, a shade darker in a horizontal oval shape around the lips and in half-moons under the eyes.

It used to be thick black and curly but now it’s scant, allowing pale scalp to peep through in places. The blackness now replaced with streaks of silver, grey and pale brown that she wears in a bunch behind her head. The curls are now looser, more manageable. The hairline, less defined.

The oval face bears a forehead with 2 thin but clear, straight horizontal lines running parallel, about 1 centimeter apart, from one side of the face to the other. A baby line is forming on top of these two. Faint but visible on a closer look.

Asymmetrical eye-brows, the left one bearing a scar from a childhood fall. Not bushy, not sleek, not modified. Just plain, normal, slightly curved, unremarkable black brows concaving over dark brown eyes with microscopic gold flecks. The ones she passed on to her son. They are almond shaped and carry a sadness which lingers even when her face breaks into a smile. She didn’t know that her eyes closed when she laughed. A stranger told her once. He’s now her husband.

Her nose is odd. She’s always been embarrassed about it. Too broad. Too big. Strangely no one else seems to think so. Maybe they’re just being polite. Maybe they don’t really care. Maybe its inconsequential.

Her small shapely ears, adorned with traditional diamond studs set in the shape of a flower with 6 petals. Her lips, brownish-purple with a hint of pink where they meet. Her husband says she reminds him of the ancient drawings of apsaras at the caves of Ajanta and Ellora. Her teeth, perfect. Her chin, proud. Her jawline, clean. Her neck and shoulders, silky.

Her loose-fitting, sleeveless olive-green linen tunic has a modest V-neck. It allows her to freely move and breathe. And lets her hide herself. A pair of grey tights cover her legs.

She sits out in the sun in her backyard which is green with grass and weeds. One shrub with big round heads of purple and yellow flowers dominates half the square patch. She trims it every autumn and it comes back bigger and ever-more-loving the following year. Some say it looks untidy but who cares. She loves it.

Her study table is a mess and so are her ward-robes. Only she knows that. Everyone else seems to think she is super organised.

Halfway down her left arm, half a tattoo can be seen from the front. It is blackish-green in colour. It has English letters hanging off a horizontal line, like they do in Hindi script. The font is predictably called Ananda Namaste.  One afternoon in September 2016 in Lagos, Portugal, a skinny middle-aged man with glasses took 45 minutes to make it. He didn’t make small talk. What did this word mean? Why this? Why now? She was relieved. All she knew was that she would never change her mind or heart about this one. She would always love Saagar.

Constantine Bay

The entire coastline covered in Sea Pinks, bunched together in shapes resembling piglets. They could easily be called Sea Pigs. Poor soil – no problem. Lashing winds – no problem. Salt laden air and water – lovely! These little pink flowers are hardy as hell. Unperishable. Their leaves stay green all year round – sun or rain.

A week in Cornwall, the perfect escape from the Big Smoke.

From the white sands, rock pools and sand dunes of the bay, we could see a classic white light-house standing tall. A beacon of hope for hundreds of years for hundreds of people, lost at sea.

Lovely long walks along the headlands, fresh sea-breeze and delicious sea food. And, lots of exceptional cream-teas- especially the one at Bedruthan steps. Wowwie!!! It was indeed, like a dream. Our Scrabble travelled with us. In London we don’t get time to play it. So, here was our chance.

After dinner on Wednesday, I opened the green cardboard box. We were with friends who were half willing to play. We agreed to form 2 teams of two each so we would be able to consult and won’t have to wait too long between goes. As I unpacked the box, I found some old score sheets in there. They had 2 columns of scores – one for Saagar and one for me.

My heart lurched up to my throat and my eyes stung and burnt. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and smoothened out the contortions of my face. I didn’t want to spoil the evening for everyone. A good game is had by all and we are off to bed by 11 pm.

“I am in a strange building in a strange sandy seaside town. I am wearing strange flowing green garments. Someone says three people are waiting to see me outside. After a while I walk out to see these people. 3 young men are seated on comfy cane sofas in a shaded balcony. As I walk towards them, one pair of eyes glints back at me bathed in recognition. A knowing smile flashes across his handsome olive face.

I freeze and stare. His hair has grown. He has blonde highlights, like he did when he was 15. He is wearing a big tan jacket and looking so good! He stands up and steps gently toward me. I look at him is disbelief. He holds me in his trademark big bear hug.

“You know how much I’ve cried.” I whisper.

“I know.” He whispers in his sweet young-man voice.

I hang on to him, never to let him go.”

Then the flood gates of my conscience are flung open and once again I am staring at a gaping hole. Another day … love … longing … The sea pinks … endure. The light house … hope …

At 15.

Cricket in the summers and badminton in the winters. That’s what Saagar chose to play during his school years. He was good at both and wanted to be better.

I often went along to watch him play, even though I didn’t appreciate all the technicalities of either game. One evening we gathered in the Sports club to watch him play. I noticed that every time he missed a shot he hit his right leg hard with the badminton racket gripped in his right hand. That must hurt. I didn’t understand. It distressed me. I spoke with him later. “It’s only a game, darling.”, I said. He kept quiet, neither defending his action, nor arguing with me, pointedly focussing on the piece of ground hit by his obliquely downcast eyes.  In him I saw a boy in pursuit of perfection.

Out of the blue he broke up with his lovely girl-friend of 7 months. That too on Valentine’s Day. His first love. Sweet and innocent. On being asked why, he said, ”It’s boring.” Soon after, late one night I gleened tears in his eyes as he hugged me, pretending not to sob. In him I saw a boy, trying to be a man. Oh! The pains of growing!

After a night out with friends, one weekend I noticed a cluster of 3 pea-sized fresh burn marks on his right forearm. Horrified, I asked what happened. He said it was a dare. A few of his friends were being goofy and challenged him to hold the burnt end of a cigarette on his skin and he did. He laughed as if it was a joke. I didn’t know what to make of it. How could this bright kid with an astute sense of right and wrong be talked into this kind of silliness? In him, I saw a boy trying to fit in with his peers.

Was there more to see? Did he tell me everything or just what he thought I could handle?