Needs, needs …

Alexander Maslow called himself a Humanistic Psychologist. He had a special interest in the relationship between the human mind and human potential. He is known by the model of human needs he proposed, Maslow’s Triangle.

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Starting from below, the first 4 needs are classed as ‘Basic’ needs. They are essential to survival and yet, unmet for a large proportion of the world population. The order of needs is not meant to be strictly from the base to the tip of the pyramid. Many of them are of importance simultaneously. At different times, one can be more important than the other. Self-actualization is put forward as a ‘Being’ need, to connect with something beyond survival of the ‘ego’, to find self-fulfillment and help others find the same.

I read ‘morality’ as ‘authenticity’ – being aligned with my true values and self. For me it’s not about abiding by a religious doctrine or an external diktat.

When Saagar was alive, I spent most of my time in meeting our ‘basic’ needs, often sacrificing one for another. Moving away from friends and family, spending long hours at work, fighting stiff competition to move forward professionally, not making time for my hobbies, friends and relaxation, constantly chasing time, worrying about running a house-hold.

Since Saagar’s passing, I have had glimpses of ‘self-actualization’. I have been able to connect with myself and others authentically. I have a desire to know and understand the meaning of being human at a deeper level. My creativity has found expression. I have experienced transient moments of transcendence, which cannot be described in words. I have been able to appreciate beauty in flowers, leaves and poetry like never before. Retrospectively, I have been able to see that Saagar could not meet any of his needs except the most basic when he was severely depressed and that must have been crushingly painful for him.

I wish it didn’t take something so terrible, to make us see things clearly.

The Cats

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(Merry Christmas from Milkshake)

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the City Hospital was a circus. A different clown (read Consultant) was in-charge everyday. What was right on a Monday was completely wrong on a Tuesday. The same action would be pronounced as ‘perfect’ by one clown and ‘abhorrent’ by another. To make things better, they didn’t talk to each other. The flunkies (read junior doctors) were the in-betweeners that got lammed from both sides as their shifts crossed over time-territories. They were the pawns on the frontline that took over the running of the unit from one clown at the beginning of a shift and handed over to the other at the end. They were the ones dodging the arrows of conflict over phones, in hospital corridors and at handovers. They were the ones that stayed up all night working hard, only to be abused and criticised the next morning. They were the buckets into which bile was poured, the bile of bitterness that the clowns didn’t have the guts to express to each other.

In 2004, I was one of those flunkies. After about 8 months of this non-sense, I was done. I was loosing my sense of self, my confidence in making decisions and most importantly,  pride in my job. It was time to stop and take stock. After a nasty night shift, I was handing over the patients to the day team. I am sure at one point I heard the Consultant taking over suggest to me ‘you need your head examined’.  That did it for me. Bleary-eyed and broken, I couldn’t bear to go home only to come back to this toxic work environment yet again that night. I planted myself in Psychiatry Outpatient Department and demanded to be seen by someone. Dr Ingram was a handsome, young psychiatrist with kind eyes and a small beer belly, well couched in his grey suit. He understood. I was given 6 weeks of work-related-stress leave and started on Fluoxetine. I was also seen by an occupational therapist once every fortnight. She suggested getting a cat.

At the local Animal rescue home, we found an enchanting black and white, one year old feline. It was her eyes that got me – talking and smiling eyes. We were told it was a girl. We decided to call her Bella. We were advised to keep her strictly indoors for at least 6 weeks, till she got used to the smells in the house. She found her way to the strangest of places –  on top of kitchen cabinets and radiator covers, squeezed behind and underneath beds, chairs and sofas, inside shoes and boxes. The only place she didn’t like was her soft furry blanketed bed.

On our first trip to the vet for a basic check-up and vaccinations, we found out that the she-cat was in fact a he-cat. After much consultation, he was christened ‘Mr Bronx’, the old faithful. He soon became a source of great joy, comfort and hilarity for the family. We had him go crazy playing with balls of wool, soft toys with tiny in-built bells and laser beams. He was pure entertainment from a distance at the beginning but slowly he allowed us to stroke and cuddle him. Within a month we were having full-fledged conversations with him.

The Fluoxetine made me feel frozen. Hollow. No joy. No pain. No love. It was dehumanising and unbearable at times. It was proof that pills alone cannot make you happy. After 6 weeks, it was time to go back to work. I did. A cunning plan was put into place so that I didn’t spend too much time at the ICU. It worked.

9 years later, Saagar was home from University and I got a phone call from him at work. He said he’d found a cat on ‘Gumtree’ and he would love to get it. That evening we went over to a tiny flat in Sydenham occupied by a family of 4 – mum and 3 kids. On a window sill lounged another family of 4, a grey mother-cat with her three grey kittens, 6 weeks old. One of the malnourished kids was about 3. He handled the kittens like rags. He didn’t care if he lifted them by their ears or tails or bellies. He let them go from various heights above the floor, cornered and held them with a lot of force. He told us all about what the cats ate. We picked the cutest little kitten who resembled a mini-punk, got it properly accessorised and brought “Milkshake” home. He was Saagar’s baby that summer.

Not once did it occur to me that there might be a connection between the circumstances under which we got the first cat and the second.

Ref: https://www.cats.org.uk/news/purring-the-blues-away

Do I need another pair of socks?

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It would be a blessing to have all the time that I would otherwise waste on creating space in the house for more stuff and making room in the bin for more packaging and plastic. I would prefer to sit by the fire and read a book instead.

My clothes, like the arms of a giant octopus, have found their way underneath beds, in and on wardrobes, stuffed inside chests of drawers, wrapped around banisters and hanging off hooks behind every door. Cycling clothes, work attire, casual wear, Indian outfits, semi-formals, super-stuffy, long dresses, jackets, tunics, thermals, water-proofs, tights and … some never worn more than once a year.

There’s hardly a square foot of flat surface left bare on any table or shelf. The pile of unread books is growing taller every day, shooting accusatory looks at me. Unworn hats, unused gloves, unopened soaps, unlit candles, unadorned jewellery, unsent cards, unrevealed fragrances, lotions and potions … never wanted, never missed.

At the risk of being utterly boring, I am giving myself the gift of non-judgement this Christmas.  I am highlighting all adjectives and striking them off. Good, bad, lovely, pleasant, sad, merry, funny, empty, gorgeous, happy, beautiful, desolate, right, wrong etc are eradicated. All is just the way it is, without the need for appreciation, qualification or categorization. The turkey, the table settings, the cake, the tree, the gifts … just are.

I am uncluttering. Softening. Yielding. Opening. About time too. Nothing is absolute. Even when I’m unsure of myself, I can still make a difference. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean I am alone. Broken hearts too can give and receive love.

Inventory of Loss

Just like old trinkets, losses sit about in our being for years, forming layers upon layers, rusting us on the inside. Most of the world walks around with a thin film of red rust of unresolved grief just under their skin. A long list of losses dressed up as something else hides behind this film.

When Russell was 6, he went for a basketball game with his dad one Saturday. He lost his little blue jacket there. His dad gave him a good hiding for that. For Russell, it meant loss of safety. Did anyone recognise this as a loss? Nope.

When Saagar moved from India to Northern Ireland, he didn’t know English very well. He was one of three coloured kids in his Primary school. Something as fundamental as his name was alien to all around him. One day he came home from school and asked, “Can we change my name to Alan or something?” For him, this move meant loss of a sense of place and a sense of self. Was it acknowledged as such? Nope.

When the Tsunami washed away thousands of villages on 2004, Saagar was stunned. Until then he had faith in God but after watching the devastation caused by it on TV, it was all over for him. He said, “If there was a God, He would not allow such a horrible  thing to happen.” It meant a profound loss of faith for him. Did we know how to deal with it? Nope.

When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was 42. It mainly affected the small joints in both my hands. I worried about my ability to work in the future. With correct diagnosis and medication, I was back to normal in a short time, but for a while I lost my confidence, my sense of security. Was it expressed and addressed? Nope.

Yes. We accumulate losses without knowing it and our inventories continue to add on more items when we’re not looking.

I am learning to look at and validate all my losses. I am learning to be complete with them.  As Christmas is approaching, I am aware that that empty chair at my dinner table will hurt. But I am grateful that Saagar once sat there. I am already grateful for all those who will be in their chairs that day. I am also determined to make them feel special and wonderful, loved and cherished, like I would Saagar, if he were here.

PS: In Jan/Feb 2019 I hope to start a series of 8 weekly Grief Recovery workshops, 2 hours each. Up to 9 participants can be accommodated. It will most likely be on Tuesday evenings in South London. If you think you would like to work with me and take small actions towards healing, please do let me know. Thank you.

How did I get here?

17John W James was a young man in America who had his heart broken by the death of his son in 1977. He found that there was no help available for his heart. He was mostly asked to process the pain through his brain. This did not work for him. His pain continued to worsen and invade other parts of his life, such as his marriage and his work. At one point his suffering and isolation was so great that he couldn’t bear to continue living. He was on the brink of ending his life when he asked himself, “How did I get here?”

He sat down and took a closer look at his life. He found many losses in his past that had been claiming parts of his soul like land-mines along the way. For example, friends lost in the Vietnam war.  He had never addressed or resolved any of his previous painful experiences and they had been layering up, one on top of the other, on top of him, to the point he was being smothered by them. He unpicked each of these layers one by one. He dealt with every one of them in a particular way. He found a method by which he could reach his heart and reduce his pain. Slowly, he started to feel much better. He shared this method with other grieving families and it helped them too. He called it “Grief Recovery Method”.

This afternoon I completed my Grief Recovery Method workshops and I can see why they have helped thousands of people across the globe over the last 30 years.

PS: E-book request form : https://www.griefrecoverymethod.co.uk/ebookrequestform/

Belfast – Face 1

In 1999, I was 9000 miles from home, building a new life, working 80-100 hours a week looking after the sick. Today I had driven my new, blue, second hand Renault 19 into town for the very first time. After much worry, I had thankfully managed to find the right place to park. It was a Saturday morning in November, cold and almost too bright for Belfast, famous for its ‘jeans and polo-necks’ season all year round. I had my black boots, black denims and a light blue high-necked jumper on. I was looking for the Thomas Cook office. Couldn’t wait to buy plane tickets to go home after slogging all alone in a foreign land for nearly 5 months. My ears were thirsting to hear my beloved Hindi language again and my tongue was dying to speak it with my loved ones. My heart ached for home.

I couldn’t find the wretched office. It was 11 am. I was on a street called ‘Donegall place’. People walked about happily shopping, talking, laughing and sipping their portable drinks. They smiled and chatted as they strolled about with their friends and family. A portly middle aged man walked alone on the pavement with a newspaper tucked under his left armpit. I gently approached him for directions. Even before I had spoken, he retracted, scowled and spat, “I have nothing to give you.”

In that moment, every cell in my body wished to disappear.

Remembering. Not learning.

Six years ago, Remembrance Sunday fell on the 11th of November. Same as today. I was visiting Saagar in Durham that weekend and had the privilege of attending the special Sunday service at the ancient, opulent Durham Cathedral. The music and words were deeply moving. I felt lucky to have found a spot to stand at the back of the cathedral that day. I met up with Saagar afterwards and we went for a long walk, lunch and then we had a hot chocolate at the Railway station before my return.

I was surprised to find that over a million Indian soldiers fought in WW1 at Somme, France. At least 74,187 Indian soldiers died and 67,000 were wounded during the war. We rightly remember and honour those who lost their lives serving their country. But do we learn from history?

Northern Europeans have mass murdered indigenous people of entire continents, now Australia and USA, diminishing their numbers to tiny percentages. Then they funded scholars to write books to justify these acts of violence against innocents. Today, I remember and honour all those people who died defending their right to exist.

India was known as ‘the golden bird’ before the Empire established itself in that country. After years of exploitation and oppression they left behind a shattered subcontinent. A fractured country. 14 million people were displaced and several hundred thousand lost their lives as a result.  I salute all those innocents who died for no fault of their own.

“What do you think of western civilisation?”, someone asked Mahatma Gandhi.

He replied, “That would be a good idea.”

We continue to make war in the name of peace. We spend millions on finding more deadly and cowardly ways of killing people. We never forget the 3000 people who died in America on 9/11 but we don’t remember the 500 that have been dying every week in Syria for the last 7 years and in Yemen for the last four. Before that, in Afghanistan and Iraq. All, for peace and liberty. Today, I remember all people, everywhere who have been traumatised and displaced by war and those who have died violent deaths as a result of war. May humankind learn to be kind.

An excerpt from the hymn ‘Hope for the world’s despair’ by Ally Barrett:

Love for the human heart:
when hate grows from our fears
and inwardly we start
to turn our ploughs to spears.
Help us to sow
love’s precious seed
in word and deed,
that peace may grow.