Day 944

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The Great Master

All I manage to read these days are short stories. Partly due to my abbreviated attention span and partly because the time has come when I ‘should’ start wearing reading glasses but I don’t. I get by, by increasing the font size and by reading for short periods of time. Also by squinting a lot.

‘The First Forty nine stories’ is a collection by the Nobel prize winner, Earnest Hemingway. In the preface he says, “In going where you have to go and doing what you have to do and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and out a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.”

After devouring the collection, I read up about him and was saddened to find that he suffered with depression and died of suicide. Here’s an example of the sensitivity and vulnerability of his characters and the simplicity of his story telling style. It’s called ‘Cat in the rain’.

https://soundcloud.com/user-474898075/new-recording-2

 

Day 936

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Born to run

“Patti will observe a freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track… she gets me to the doctors and says, ‘This man needs a pill’.”

 His new memoirs speak a lot about his long battle with depression. Bruce Springsteen had a strong family history of mental illness. He didn’t do drugs as a rock star which is unusual. He was afraid  they would unmask his genetic potential for insanity but he was already suffering  with serious melancholia.

On the therapeutic value of touring he says, “You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.”

His wife of 25 years, Patti understands his illness. She helps him manage it. “A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself”, she says.

The media often reinforces negative stereotypes of people with mental illness, depicting them as inadequate, unlikable, dangerous, confused, aggressive and unpredictable. The Boss’s devotion to many progressive causes sharply contrasts that image.

Public stigma leads to self-stigma. It stops us from talking about mental illness and worse, ask for help when we are struggling. Patti was initially apprehensive about the book in which Bruce speaks openly about how years of depression left him crushed. It would be read by millions. But then, she saw the value in that.

I watched Bruce Springsteen in 1985 at a Live Aid Concert in Delhi. I was terribly envious of the young lady he invited on to the stage from the audience to dance with him.

Long live The Boss!

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line”
H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”

 

Day 934

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Rikka

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.

Maybe one day beauty will save the world.

 

Day 932

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A Cast for a Pod?

When I was in India for a couple of weeks, I missed all the Archers and Desert Island discs. I couldn’t listen to BBC Radio 4 but was content in the knowledge that I could listen to these programmes when I got back as they would all be downloaded as Podcasts on my I-pad. While in the Himalayas, I attended a writing retreat where we talked about blogging and podcasting. I learnt that I could make podcasts of my own and put them on-line. I didn’t believe it but I liked the idea of trying it some day.

One of Saagar’s friends, Nate kindly came to cat-sit for us while we were away. He was home when we got back and it was a delight to have him around. I was assured of excellent technical assistance with him here and he very kindly agreed to be the first guinea pig. So, we got on with it and made a little recording this morning.

Here’s our first experimental, unscripted, unedited podcast. A brief conversation (8 minutes) between 2 amateur participants about what the world looks like from the standpoint of this young man. Comments, suggestions and volunteers welcome. 🙂

 

Day 928

Metamorphosis

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.

Thirty months on:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sangeeta-mahajan/thirty-months-on_b_16412078.html

 

Day 913

Till date I wonder what it must have been like for Saagar, to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and to be on Psychiatric medications. I have read books, watched documentaries and films to gain an understanding of it and I think I have an idea but maybe I have absolutely no clue.

Watching a clip of Paul Dalio, a young man living with Bipolar disorder and a film director brought clarity in 2 and a half minutes.

“When you get diagnosed, you go from experiencing what you’re certain is divine illumination. After sometime in it, you’re thrown into a hospital, you’re pumped full of drugs, you come down 60 pounds overweight, completely disoriented and they tell you, ”No, there was nothing divine. Nothing illuminating. You have just triggered a lifelong genetic illness which will swing you from psychotic highs to suicidal lows and you’ll probably fall into the 1 in 4 statistic unless you take the medication which makes you feel no emotion. If you imagine missing feeling sad, it’s the only thing worse than pain.”
So, it’s very hard for people to comprehend.

After a lifetime of building your identity, your place within humanity, you’re suddenly told that you are a defect of humanity. And to know that you’re not going to be the person you used to be and that you’ll at best be able to get by is … is life shattering. And the only labels you have to choose from are some kind of a disorder, Manic-depressive or Bipolar. So you scrape through every clinical book  trying to look for answers. That’s exactly what I did. Peeling through these books which were these diagnostic, medical texts where I felt like I was under a microscope and someone in a lab coat was judging me.”

Paul Dalio came across a book by Kay Redfield Jamison who is a world authority on Bipolar Disorder by way of having the illness and being a Professor in Psychiatry. The book is called “Touched with Fire”. He went on to write and direct a film by the same name.

Ref:
Paul Dalio:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUnkt7M-GCM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr7vi4wLJI8
Film Trailer:

Day 904

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“Ut amem et foveam” (To love and cherish) reads one of the tattoos on David Beckham. “Quod me nutris, me destruit” (What nourishes me destroys me) reads one of Angelina Jolie’s. Dragons, spiderwebs, birds, butterflies and many other forms and words cover many a body, silently relaying many stories. Mine simply reads ‘Saagar’ – an uncompromising statement, ink sealed beneath the skin as a permanent marker of what matters most. I got it in this very town on the 3rd of October 2016 (Day 718). Yes. It was painful but well worth it.

Tattoos once signified tribal affiliations and hard line expressions of devotion to a particular gang or cult. They serve as potent conversation starters and quiet sources of strength and hope. Some people with depression pick themes such as ‘Amour’, ‘Stay strong’, the picture of an anchor, “Grace’, a butterfly signifying if I could get through this I could become something beautiful on the other side, a dream catcher and ‘Sometimes you’ve got to fall before you fly’ and many such quotes and song lyrics.

They are a form of self-expression but when all over, I wonder if they are also a form of self-harm as they do hurt, especially when combined with multiple piercings. They certainly are an effective way of covering up scars from self-harm and may inspire people to invest in treatment and recovery.

A 2015 survey of tattoo owners in Britain showed that 40% of them regretted at least one of their’s. It is no surprise that tattoo removal parlours are the largest growth sector in the cosmetic industry.

I suppose it means different things to different people. Some say you can never stop at one but I am happy with one and I know that I will never regret it.