For more than 25 years, I have practised anaesthesia. One would think that by now I would know for sure that procedures take much longer than they are scheduled for and that every list these days is overbooked. Still, foolishly I hope to finish in time every day. Even though I have had to cancel after-work plans on many occasions, at every new opportunity I want to give a chance to the possibility of a desirable outcome.
When Saagar was ill, I was optimistic. I believed that he would get better. That it was only a matter of time. The messages I got from professionals reaffirmed that belief. My faith in life and confidence in Saagar and myself kept that belief strong.
Now when I am with worried parents and friends, I hold their uncertainty and mine. Things can go one of many ways. We don’t know. We just need to be with that uncomfortable uncertainty with positivity. That is compassion. Understanding.
In quantum physics, Heisenberg’s principle of Uncertainty says that there is an inherent uncertainty in the amount of energy involved in quantum processes and in the time it takes for those processes to happen. Vacuums are often defined as the absence of everything. But not so in quantum theory. It is possible that for very, very short periods of time, a quantum system’s energy can be highly uncertain, so much that particles can appear out of a vacuum. This is well within the laws of quantum physics, as long as the particles only exist fleetingly and disappear when their time is up. Uncertainty, then, is nothing to worry about in quantum physics and, in fact, we wouldn’t be here if this principle didn’t exist.
“One misconception is that entrepreneurs love risk. Actually, we all want things to go as we expect. What you need is a blind optimism and a tolerance for uncertainty.”
At the end of my meditation, I don’t want to open my eyes. There is nothing more to see. I don’t want to open my mouth. There is nothing more to say. All is done. There isn’t much more. It would be ok to have a quite existence in an obscure little place that no one has heard of.
At the end of my meditation, the word ‘acceptance’ hits me like an arrow right in the middle of my forehead. What is the distinction between ‘acceptance’ and ‘resignation’? How can either be experienced without a sense of defeat?
Where is the need to wake up to an alarm every morning? Where is the need to wade through the London traffic every day? What for? There are more peaceful ways to get through time. I long for them.
The last bit of Liz Lochhead’s poem ‘Favourite Place’ written in memory of her husband:
“But tonight you are three months dead
and I must pull down the bed and lie in it alone.
Tomorrow, and every day in this place
these words of Sorley MacLean’s will echo
The world is still beautiful, though you are not in it.
And this will not be a consolation
but a further desolation.”
The custom of placing flowers on an alter is an ancient one. In the sixth century, Ikebana was founded in Kyoto as an offering to the Goddess of Mercy. Flower arranging contests were held at the imperial court where aristocrats and monks competed with each other at festivals.
In the early 16th century people tried to give a deeper meaning to the thoughts accompanying flower arranging. They wished to arrange rather than casually placing them in a vase. An earlier attitude of passive appreciation developed into a more deeply considered approach.
Rikka is the oldest style of Ikebana. Trees symbolise mountains while grasses and flowers suggest water. A natural landscape is expressed in a single vase. Indeed, all things in nature are reflected. In Rikka it is important to know the laws of nature through harmony of trees and plants.
It is my good fortune that I have the opportunity to be very intimate with Mother Nature in this concrete jungle of London. I have a teacher who is dedicated to passing this ancient tradition on to future generations. Her school has generated a number of teachers who inspire many people like me. Arranging flowers is like meditation in motion. The right brain can express itself to the fullest. The intuitive decision making, the textures, smells and colours of materials, the elegant shapes, the spatial organisation and the movement within bring peace and satisfaction. It is creative within a set of rules. It is aesthetically appealing to the subtle sensibilities. It is a gentle experience of being one with nature.
A picture of innocence. Beautiful big eyes. Gorgeous striations of white and grey. Perfect symmetry. Luxurious fur. Abundant agility.
Instinctively he knows the newest and best piece of furniture in the house. Very soon it belongs to him. If he finds someone else sitting on his chair, he lets them know that he is putting himself through the inconvenience of waiting for them to vacate his seat.
While perfectly capable of using the cat-flap, if we happen to be in the lounge, he expects to be let in by us. He even places his front paws on the French windows, just in-case we hadn’t noticed. I must admit that when we do open the door for him, he always obliges us with his grand entry. As the saying goes, dogs have masters and cat have staff.
One minute he is your best friend and the next he completely ignores you. The next, he goes for your toes as if they were menacing little mice. The next he wants a kiss and a cuddle and the next he claws the very fingers that caress him. Quiet the alpha male, he is often seen bullying other cats in the neighbourhood. In a jiffy he transforms into a cute little fur-ball. He doesn’t like light falling on his eyes and he assumes various shapes to block it out.
Sweetest memories come from mundane everyday activities.
When Saagar and I went for our weekly shopping, he loved to take full charge of steering the trolley around. He wouldn’t want me to touch it. Sometimes I would mistakenly place a hand on it and get a glare from him. Other times I would deliberately touch the trolley with the tip of my little pinky, just to get a reaction from him. I was never disappointed. He obliged. We also had a ritual of rewarding ourselves with a chocolate éclair each, on our way home.
Soon after Day 0, I couldn’t manage to go to that supermarket without a major heart-break. I would stand in front of the bakery section and cry like a school kid with sobs and tissues and both my fists covering my eyes. It didn’t matter who was around. It didn’t matter that I made a spectacle of myself. It just happened.
Today, it didn’t happen. We went there and finished our shopping. We went to the bakery section. Si stood beside me and put his hand on my shoulder as we got our chocolate eclairs. We went to the car-park, stood in the sun and enjoyed our sweet rewards. It felt like Saagar was there. He was there in our hearts and minds.
The Japanese have a word, kaizen. Kai means change and zen means good. Kaizen is based on the philosophical belief of continuous, incremental improvement. It believes that everything can be changed for the better. Nothing is ever seen as a status quo – there are continuous efforts to improve which result in small, often imperceptible, changes over time. These small changes add up to big changes over the longer term.
When something like this happens, it changes who you are and how you live your life. Your alignment with the universe shifts and you transform into an avatar of your former self. There are some similarities but huge differences.
I can’t remember what I used to be like.
Large swathes of my mental canvas have been rendered blank. Maybe it’s a defence mechanism. Maybe it’s the accelerated ageing process. Maybe shock and grief have gobbled up millions of my grey cells. Maybe part of my brain has mulched into pulp.
Whole new plantations have made an appearance in this barren space. I feel like I am going mad about MAD – making a difference. Writing was a miniscule and secretive part of my life but now it claims a lot of territory. I used to spend a lot of time and energy on my job. Now it takes up only a small part of my time. My job used to be satisfying and pleasurable. Now it sits in the back-ground. I find fulfilment in writing, connecting with people and volunteering my time to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Keeping Saagar alive through sharing his story seems like the most meaningful thing to do. Repeating his story as many times as it takes, to change things that need to change is of paramount importance.
Living in gratitude is the only way to live.
Last week I wrote this article sitting at the dining table in my parent’s house with the intention to mark the Mental Health Awareness week. Thankfully Huffington post published it today.
The idea of this blog was conceived in a state of utter shock and numbness. All I knew was that no one should suffer alone. I didn’t want anyone to experience the pain that was in me. All I wanted was to immortalise Saagar. I wanted to continue having him in my life on a daily basis. This blog was and is, my sacred time with my son. On some days it’s my life jacket. On others it’s a luminous shrine or a punch bag, a podium with a loud speaker or an art gallery, a story-telling exercise or a tear-soaked handkerchief, a rant or a vent.
Every week I hear back from people who have been touched by Saagar’s story.
Message from a Mum:
“I don’t know you my dear but I have to say your son is so beautiful and he is watching you from heavens and being happy that you are able to save so my kids by opening up …..virtual hugs from a mom who is dealing with the same disease your son fought i was able to hug my daughter today as i knew more what she is dealing with because of you rather than getting frustrated with her ……..thanks from the bottom of my heart for correcting me in dealing with this disease.”
Message from a lovely young lady:
“Hi S. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. I just wanted to say that when we met last summer and we had an emotional conversation about Saagar and life in general. Something definitely struck a chord with me. I’ve spent my whole life since I was a child, running away from my mental health issues. I had a complete breakdown shortly after seeing you. I’ve just been discharged from the Home Treatment team after a very difficult period. I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and am on the waiting list to receive the right therapy. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you because I think if I hadn’t had that conversation with you I wouldn’t have been able to open up to my family and ask for the help I desperately needed. I’ve been wanting to message you for a while but it’s taken me some time to accept that I have a mental disorder. I read your blog all the time and it’s inspired me to write my own about my own thoughts and experiences. Thank you for the amazing work you are doing to raise mental health awareness. Sorry about the mammoth text. I hope you are well and your yoga retreat plans are going well. Love, Z. x”