December Memories

December to me is the most happiest month of the year. After growing up in a lushly green yet sleepy village where time almost stood still in the rice-rich Palakkad, the month simply evokes in my mind myriad images.
The sight of very many pilgrims clad in black, blue and of late orange, all readying to go to Sabarimala for pilgrimage… The mornings & evenings were greeted by Ayyappa devotional songs….
I love the December weather. Mornings are chill and the evenings are cool. Throughout the day there is the strong eastern winds blowing along the Palakkad Pass. This has come to be known as the “Palakkadan Kaattu” (meaning Palakkad’s wind). You feel the wind against you the moment you enter the district from either via Walayar or Kuthiran hills – sometimes caressing, at times a little too strong…
The strong breeze bringing in dry leaves especially of teak and its dry flowers and fruit laden branches, which will fill the courtyards…
The emerald green rice fields swaying to the rhythm of winds making gentle waves. What a spectacle is this from the nearby hillock called Karivottu Mala!
The full Malampuzha Canal, the waters of which are released to help the farmers water the paddy fields for the second crop…
Trees laden with drumsticks and gooseberries…
Beds of Koorka Kizhangu or Chinese potatoes. The taste of Mummy’s fry made of these tubers still lingers in my palate…
The hyacinth bean or Avarakka with its purple flowers and green bean pods climbing on to the trellis. Sambhar made of this kind of broad beans and the bean fry are just delicious…
Arrow root, the powder of which is used to make a sweet porridge for one of the most important of festivals – Thiruvathira, which falls on the full moon day…
Walking along with my siblings and my grandmother on Thiruvathira day to the Thripallavurappan temple with a tray full of goodies for the Lord – tender coconut, bananas, betel leaves, agarbathis, camphor and the like…
The dry reeds in the hillocks around that reflect & glow golden yellow at dawn and dusk… There is pure magic in the December air!

December is also the month when the world celebrates Christmas. Houses and shops are all decked. One very clear memory is that of lot of big balloons with ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ imprinted on them along with the pictures of Santa! Christmas star is even to this day an integral part of our household, though we are Hindus. The last five years have seen us setting up the Christmas tree replete with decorations and coloured lights. It gladdens me to see how secular we have grown to be. We used to send out so many cards  for Christmas & New Year by snail mail. When my daughter Aathira moved into the middle school, she developed a keen interest in making her own greeting cards using water colours on chart paper cards. Now all that has become part of the bygone era. Today it is just e-cards, tweets, status updates – all sent through the click of a button or the swipe of a touch screen.

And one of the best Decembers in my memory is of 2000 – when we, my daughter and I, spent almost all of December in Munnar as my daughter was preparing for her class 10 examinations. Though we had a month of winter holidays, we decided to stay on at Munnar and go home briefly around Christmas time to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday with her grandparents. The crystal clear night skies  decked with thousands of twinkling stars… The joy of finding an occasional shooting star… We used to switch off all the lights and sit on the step gazing wondrously at the enchanting spectacle of the sky… The very cold mornings which did not deter us from taking our morning walks…  The morning teas which had to be literally gulped down to savour it hot… Simple joys and pleasures galore!

One of the finest books on Christmas that I have read is the Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it even more when I taught it for my class 10 students. It was a great opportunity to acquaint impressionable minds with timeless values. The story of Scrooge, a miser who becomes a different man when he is presented with visions of past, present and future by the ghost of Marley makes it such an endearing read. Christmas celebrations at school … and listening to some of the most beautifully rendered Christmas songs by Jim Reeves… Plum cakes… Cakes with icing…

Finally the best thing about December is that I became the mother of a lovely girl in this charming month. She was born on 27th December; on the full moon day on which we, Hindus, celebrate the festival of Thiruvathira. Rightly she is named Aathira.

So, those are my very own December memories. What are yours?
Am signing off with wishes to each one of you for a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

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Desiderata

Holiday season is around. It is the season for festivities, celebrations and reunions. It is also the time to look behind and beyond for we are at the threshold of a brand new year. There is a lot of turmoil all around the globe. Am sure there are a lot of good things that happen around the world. But we get to know more of the bad and the ugly possibly because the media absorbs them like a sponge and showcases them in all limelight.

Let us introspect for a while. How good was 2012 for you? Can you list the 5 best things that happened to you? Or the worst that has happened to you / what went horribly wrong? What could you have done better this year? Why did things go the way it went? Before an event we plan everything so that the event happens smoothly, without hitches and glitches. So it is with the new year.
Plan ahead.
Pay attention.
Do your best. Leave the rest.
Have Hope and Faith.
Believe in yourself and in everything you do.
Smile a lot. It is good for your body and spirit.
Silence the inner critic in you. Be kind most of all to yourself.
Let go of the past. The hurts. The troubles and travails.
Forgive and forget. It will release the demon, the prisoner in you.
Be compassionate. Judge not. You or others.

Finally let me leave you with this very positive credo for life. I came across this thanks to a dear friend Giribala Menon, way back in 1988, while working as an English Teacher in Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Pallavur. Those were troubled times for me personally and the lines were like a soothing balm on my frayed nerves. I must have read them hundreds of times! Called “Desiderata“, it was written by Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Terre Haute, Indiana, who lived from 1872 to 1945. It has been reported that Desiderata was inspired by an urge that Ehrmann wrote about in his diary: “I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift – a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods.”

The word Desiderata, a noun, is the plural of desideratum (1650s), from Latin, lit. “something for which desire is felt,” from pp. stem of desiderare “to long for”. It means things wanted or desired. May these lines be a beacon of light whenever you walk along dark alleys and ride on troubled waters.

(I am using red and green for those are the colours of the festive season!) 🙂

                                                                 DESIDERATA

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Xmas

Loving Yourself: How to?

When I wrote my earlier post on Loving Myself – Is is Vanity or Necessity and shared it on my FB wall, a former student commented that it would be good to learn about the “how to” also. Therefore this post. I hasten to add that all these are tried and tested ways when I went through a “low self esteem” phase.
 
(I hope this is useful, Swati.) 
 
1. Discover yourself.
 
Ask yourself these questions: Do you know yourself well? What are your strong points? What are the areas where you have developmental needs? Write them all in a private journal. The more you know about yourself, the better you can accept yourself.
 
2. Smile often.
 
Research says that one uses less facial muscles to smile and more to frown. Therefore smile should come to us easily and naturally. It is not for nothing there is this saying that exhorts one to smile, for ‘it adds to one’s face value.’ Smiles beget smiles and what an amount of happy cheerful energy surrounds you! This is the most positive aspect of smiles. They are like sunshine – life giving and radiating.
 
3. Cultivate acceptance.
 
You are what you are physically. Technology has advanced so much that there are costly quick fixes like Botox or tummy tucks and the like to enhance one’s body image. It is also worth remembering that such alteration comes with heavy prices – the actual cost factor and the after effects that can be even life threatening. Look at yourself in the mirror and lovingly tell yourself “I love my … “ (fill it with every body part from head to toe). Look at yourself with new eyes. What a marvel you are thanks to each and every invisible part in your body! Take the case of your heart – it does the job silently. Should it stop, we cease to exist. But have we ever thanked our heart for keeping us alive? Our legs, for taking us from place to place? This exercise of thanking each and every part of our body will help us with not only acceptance but also fill us with gratitude.
 
4. Learn from mistakes.
 
Society abhors the ‘F’ word – failure I mean. Historically educators as well as adults have created a climate that does not encourage errors. Failure is pictured as a bottomless abyss from which pupils / people can never come out. No wonder then that many young teens are hope-less and despondent even before they have entered the brave new adult world. Whether it is homework, test taking, making friends or playing games, learning is enriched through making mistakes. It is here that a parent /mentor/educator can play a vital role – encourage all even when they make mistakes. This will prompt them to try again and not give up in despair.
 
5. Be kind & positive to yourself.
 
Many cannot forgive the lapses they make or that of others. Research says that ruminating about the past and about mistakes committed releases so many negative emotions and expressions, increase cardiac reactivity and impair the body’s parasympathetic calming response. Compassion and forgiveness on the other hand generate a host of positive emotions and responses, giving the body comfort, control and the right social orientation. So, it is worth letting go of bitterness and grudges. The moment you do that you stop being and acting like a victim. More importantly, forgive your own trespasses. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and say, “I forgive myself for——.” Another technique is to write a letter to your own self about the transgression. Burn it (be careful and prevent accidents of fire). This is symbolic of burning the thoughts of guilt and being reborn from its ashes, like the proverbial phoenix.
 
6. Silence the inner critic in you.
 
Is your negative self with its nonstop chatter, chiding you at each and every step? Stop this; else it will kill your self-confidence, and leave you at the very edge of depression and anxiety. Such an inner critic is all about the past and looks for blame. Replace that which beats you up with something new that will make you feel good – something constructive, positive. Accept your imperfections and be grateful that you are you and not anyone else. Remember it is perfectly ok to not be perfect.
 
7. Affirmations – use them lavishly.
 
“I live in the present, here and now.”
“I am very contented and happy.”
“I am fit and healthy.”
“I am me, I am ok.”
Words are expressions of thought and repeated positive and fostering expressions send positive vibrations to the Universe and make thoughts happen. So use suitable affirmations to develop love for yourself.
 
8. Look after your Body.
 
Eat healthy. Nurture it with proper nutrition and exercise. Treat it with utmost respect and care. Nourish it with Love. Very often many body image issues occur because the body lacks love and care.
 
9. Stay away from the comparison trap.
 
Can you ever compare apples with oranges? Each has its unique features. Never compare yourself with others. Comparing results in judging and leads to resentment, hatred. It evokes either inferiority or superiority, besides a host of other negative, damaging feelings. How do you stop comparing? Count your blessings! Focus on your positives, your strengths. To love yourself is to stop comparing.
 
10. Journal and plot your shift.
 
This is a highly reflective and effective exercise. Look at the good and the bad / the high and the low of each day. Jot it down in a private diary. It is an amazing stress buster and helps to release all pent up emotions. The consequent reflection empowers you by clearing your mind and giving you focus. When life hits unprecedented lows of change, hurt, loss and pain, journal writing can detoxify and heal. It can be an observation journal or the very effective gratitude journal.
 
So, there we are – love yourself first. When nobody celebrates or compliments you, learn to do them to yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company. The more you like yourself, the less you will want the lives of other people. The more the encouragement comes from within you, the more wholesome you will be. And the more wholesome you are, the more you will love yourself!
 
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