Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shelling peas, Caterpillars, Fighting ants and What is home...

Raghav was in the midst of clearing a level in his new found passion - a game called Real Racing Challenge, on the iPad. Occasionally, he would scream out what he had achieved or come over to me and share something that he was thinking about....or ask me to choose cars to race with for his next level.

I was in the kitchen shelling peas that had been lying in the refrigerator for many days and needed attention....yes everything needs attention - our bodies, our minds, things and people around us, feelings that rise and fall...and when something is given that undivided attention, I have found that things are peaceful both within and without.....and then one begins to notice tiny miracles and celebrate every moment...

So here I was, flitting like a butterfly, from shelling peas to listening to my son....back and forth, back and forth, my attention flew from one to the other, but stayed with each, trying to find the sweet joy in doing both.

The peas were a rich green despite being in the refrigerator for so many days. I loved the cool, soft texture between my fingers, the sound of popping them open and watching the perfect green rounds roll into the vessel in line, with an occasional rebel that rolled out and onto the floor! I found myself lost in the moment until my son called out to me...so many times I have found a quiet peace and joy in mundane, repetitive activities and chores around the house that I so love to do, because they keep me in constant touch with myself in an intriguing way.
our little friend

My thoughts stopped when I saw a bright green caterpillar move out of the half-opened pod. I quickly called out to Raghav to come and see what I had found...unabashedly sharing the excitement of the little child in me! That was the beginning of our wondrous exploration over the next few hours.

Raghav first brought his magnifying glass to look at it more closely. Suddenly, he remembered the little bug box that we had (which I  thought was long-forgotten!) and ran to get it. While I gently transferred the green squiggle into the bug box, he reminded me to put in some of the pea pods in, so that it would have food to eat.

For the next few hours, all that he did was to watch it closely from all angles, describing it and sharing what he discovered, felt and thought.

let me take a closer look...
"Amma it has seven legs on each side....so that makes it 14 legs!.....I wonder how it manages with so many legs...I can't manage with two sometimes!"

"It has beautiful black dots on its body....see how beautifully God has created it?"

"I don't think it has eyes....I can't see them.....but it has a head."

"Look at the way it moves....it is as if its whole stomach is moving forwards and backwards!"

pretty pattern
"Amma, why does it lift its head and stretch out like that? What is it trying to do?"

"I don't know....maybe it is exploring or trying to get out....", I replied.

"Then, why don't you Google and find out? Google will tell you everything!", he said with a certainty.

"Where do you think it came from? Where is its home?", he asked with concern and a little sadness. "Where do you think its family is?"

That led us onto a path of exploring our thoughts and feelings about what is a family, what is home, how it must be feeling, and so on. We spoke about how it must have come from a farm somewhere up in the hills (because peas usually grow in hilly areas), how it perhaps fed on the leaves of peas, how it must have travelled by bus or lorry or train, to the organic store we bought the peas from, in our bag and then to our house.

when time stood still and watched with us....
I remembered how when I was in 3rd or 4th Grade in school, I used to love the essay writing activities our English teacher gave us about imagining ourselves to be something - like a coin or a flower or a fly and write in first person, how we felt, describing our imaginary journey. This conversation reminded me of that exercise. But what was different here, was that similar thoughts and putting oneself in the shoes of another, happened so naturally and seamlessly, triggered by a real-life experience. It was not contrived. It was not a flight of imagination. It was real - one could see, feel, touch and live it as it was unfolding before us.

"Amma, I think it has come specially to be with us....I don't think it will be sad anymore amma. It has a family now....we are its family..."

I knew what was coming. "Let's make a home for it!", he beamed. So I Googled and found out how to keep caterpillars at home. While we pored over the information together, we watched our little friend move around, rest a while on a pod and then arch his body upwards towards the lens of the bug box. "Do you remember how you caught a mosquito once for me in this bug box, and then we set it free? Let's do the same.....let's make it a home so that it can come and go as it pleases", he said. "I think this bug box is too small for it....remember 'Flippy the Fish story' in my Oswald DVD? I think he needs a bigger home".

the new home we made for it :)
So we  found an old terracotta bowl, put some of our compost in it as a thin layer, added a few pea pods that Raghav insisted was his friend's food, and moved our friend into his new home gently, using a piece of cardboard. We watched him crawl around the edge of the bowl, sometimes so tantalizingly poised that we thought he might tip over. Raghav kept wanting to know why he was moving around the edge. He felt that his friend probably wanted to get away, while I felt that he was just exploring his new place. Raghav wanted to know if his friend was happy in his new home, and so we watched him move and stretch, trying in our own ways to make sense of what we saw. Finally, when the little green fellow crept into a pod and lay snug inside for a while, the happiest person that moment was my little son!

looks like a comfy home!

In a few minutes, our friend seemed to get restless again and started crawling around. He tried to stretch towards a plastic bucket close by, but couldn't. Raghav felt that he probably wanted to explore that, but that the surface was perhaps too slippery and smooth for him to crawl on. Then, we kept a piece of cardboard like a ramp, so that he could crawl out of the bowl and onto the floor if he wanted to. Sure enough he did! He even crawled over to Raghav's scooter nearby and then fell off!

arching its body to reach the bucket...
crawling up the ramp to its home!

You can watch a little video clip of him here:

 Our Rendezvous with a Caterpillar

There was a long line of red ants nearby, scurrying to the kambha which I use for composting. We watched how they hurried along, barely missing bumping into one another in their hurry. We wondered together about how they must send messages to each other or talk to each other. I remembered reading Feynman's experience while observing ants and rubbed the space in between with my finger. We watched together with excitement when the ants seemed confused and did not know which way to go. I shared with him whatever little I knew about pheromones and how when you rub the space in between the paths the ants take, they cannot smell and send messages anymore.

It was also wonderful to see how they did not once disturb the little caterpillar or come in his way. Each one seemed to have his own invisible space demarcated. Raghav suddenly found one little ant carrying something white and hurrying on. We figured that it must be some of the old rice that I had put into the compost pile. Raghav laughed as he watched this ant trying to move away from the rest with his piece of treasure :) and at one point a couple of them bumped into each other, tugged at the rice (were they fighting over it?) and then moved on.

Lost in the wondrous world of ants, we had forgotten about our little friend, the caterpillar. We looked everywhere, but could not find him. He had disappeared. Raghav was very upset and kept asking me: "Where do you think he would have gone?" I had no answer that could satisfy him. We sat together in sadness and thought about where he might have gone, why, how he must have felt and how we felt about it all. We spoke about freedom and home - what it means to us.

"We found him a nice home amma....then why would he want to leave?", he asked pouting his lips. He was really upset.

"What is home Raghav? What makes you feel happy at home?", I asked.

"Home is where I am free to do what I like. I feel safe and happy...and I am with you and appa", he said.

"Yes. So do you think he was free in this new home? Do you think he was happy? Did he have his appa and amma or family?"

"No....I don't know", he said looking sullen.

I hugged him and we talked about how we missed him....and then we hoped that he would come back to us someday, and be happy and free, wherever he was now.

The little bowl still sits in the same place in our balcony. Raghav still goes out every morning to see if his friend is back. The pea pods are now dried up, but still lie there in the same place. Who knows? Perhaps he will come back someday. Perhaps he won't.

Real life is filled with infinite possibilities.....of living, learning and simply being.
And so we live in hope and trust, celebrating each moment that comes our way, opening our minds and hearts to those endless possibilities that are waiting somewhere for each of us...


We are still settling down into our new house. Yes, the stuff is all put away and we can see the floor now :), but our bodies are still getting used to the new space we are in after 3 years. As you read on, you will know why.

This morning I was telling Raghav how my hand had gone automatically to one direction, in search of the light switch in the kitchen, when actually, the switch was on another side. We both laughed and then discussed at length about how sometimes we do things automatically out of habit. We spoke about how my body had gotten used to the switch being in one place and now had to get used to it being in a different place in the new house. That led to a long discussion on habits - what they are, why something becomes a habit, and how do we not make something a habit. We spoke about brushing teeth, having a bath and many such daily routines.

Finally Raghav signed off saying this: "Amma, I think when we do not think about what we are doing, is when it becomes a habit. I don't want to make anything a habit, because then I will stop thinking!"

One more lesson in mindful living :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

What lies beneath

Raghav has been into types of cars and car-racing of late. A trained mind (like my old one!) would often only see what lies out in the open - what is tangible, visible, quantifiable and measurable, not so much what lies beneath. So what thoughts would cars and car racing bring to this kind of a mind? Types of cars, how cars were made, history of racing, names of racers, speeds, and things like that - right?

Right, but not any more though! Now I like getting into this roller coaster journey with all my senses on high alert, waiting for and enjoying the mystery of what unfolds in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways! And so it has been with this new passion for cars that he harbours...so read on to find out more....

Raghav loved cars even when he was a little kid. But of late, he has been wanting to delve deep into the world of cars and racing. So we found some cool car racing challenges on the App store, that he  downloaded and now plays almost everyday. He has also been watching some old recorded programmes of Formula 1 Racing on TV, and wanting to find out so many things about racing, cars and related stuff on the internet - stuff like "what is drag", what is the "DRS", what are the different flags used in racing and what they mean, the different car companies; we watched Youtube videos on how Lamborghini and Porsche cars are made; he looked at pictures of different cars and built models of those with his Lego, and even played a game with me where I would name a car and he would quickly do a make-over of one of the models, by adding or taking away a few pieces, to make it look like the one I wanted! Then he would set up a mini race track on the bed and race them along, declaring winners and awarding trophies to all. He would calculate speeds of cars (convert from kilometres per hour into miles per hour), figure out how many years ago it was made and therefore how old the car was, would repaint his car in colours of his choice as many times as he wanted to, would figure out how much money (against points earned in the game) he needed to get a car of his choice, and weave dreams of all the cars he wants to own when he grows up.

One day, we were driving back home after dropping in to see my dad. Usually, Raghav plays his music in the car and sings along loudly. But he had forgotten his pen drive with all his music. So instead, he decided he would sing on his own and talk to me when he needed a break. Soon however, there was no break :), as he chatted non-stop about his car racing games, enlightening me on a subject that I had hardly any interest in! Then out of the blue, came this, from him:

"You know, when you win all the time, you don't learn anything anymore, because you already know how to beat the other person. But when you lose, you learn so much....because you try and find out what you can do to beat the other person and win. You learn more when you lose. I learned this while playing my Real Racing Challenge."

Whoa! That hit me hard and deep.

I recalled how all these years, I had struggled with this with Raghav and myself. He hated losing; he always had to win! That used to get my goat. I had wanted him to be perfect...and selfless... and "good". He was none of that. Conscious parenting helped me make the shift inside and let go of what I was holding onto. Inside of me. Fear. That's what it was.

And then, when that gave and I broke free, I freed him too. I freed myself, so he could be himself.

Today, yet again, I realised the power of letting go. What he said was like a sudden dive for me into the darkness, on a roller coaster ride! My heart sank; my stomach churned; and I felt the sheer beauty and joy of not knowing what lies beneath, until it is revealed on its own. That for me is the magic of all learning and being.