Thursday, February 26, 2015

On Anger

This morning, my husband got a call from someone in his Madurai office, which made him retort in extreme anger. His voice became louder, his tone increased in harshness and he was simply screaming over the phone at the other person.

At the same time, while I was busy with my household chores, Raghav was talking to me about his explorations and adventures in Minecraft from yesterday. I was trying hard to concentrate and listen fully to him talking, but I couldn't. My husband's screaming was the only thing resonating inside and everything else seemed to simply shut down. So I told Raghav how I was feeling and asked him to wait until his father calmed down to continue his conversation. This happened a couple of times. The last time, he got a little irritated as he desperately wanted to finish sharing what he was thinking about.

Then, he went to the dining table, took out a pen and a piece of paper and wrote out something that he went and gave to his dad. A little later, my husband's voice softened and he stopped screaming. Later, when I asked Raghav what he had given his dad, he brought out the piece of paper and showed it to me....

And then we spoke some more...

Me: What do you think we can do when we feel so much anger?

R: I don't know. But maybe not show it out like this.....because when you get angry and scream, the other person gets angry, and then you get a little more angry, and the other person gets a little more angry, and then it never stops.

Profound but simple words that tell me how much he has observed and thought about without maybe even being conscious about it. Or maybe he already knows. I don't know. And I also know how tough it is for him to remember this when he himself gets angry :) But I quietly told myself that I could use this to remind him :)

But this is a huge learning for me about anger, how to deal with it, and about my son. The fact that he could see the 'pattern' that we get into because of anger, the fact that he chose a beautiful, non-intrusive way to tell his dad what he felt by writing it out instead of telling him orally, the fact that he actually wrote it all out (because writing is something he doesn't care about at all) are all beautiful things that I would love to stay with today. I love these little gifts that Life brings me day after every wonderful day!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Free to Be Myself

I am realising more and more each day that when I free myself, I free my son....or rather, when I feel free to be myself, I free my son to be himself too. Of late, all the things that have been happening in my life, only seem to be sending me this message : 'Say yes to yourself and life!' 

And so, I have been saying more 'yeses' to myself and to Life. To me, saying 'yes' is about opening up to the flow of trust myself and Life and her ways....and that can happen only when I am comfortable with everything that I feel I am now. To know that everything in me is valuable and there for a reason. To look at myself with keen eyes, and be aware of all that's being revealed - all my feelings, judgements, failings, fears, all of it. And to free myself to 'be' like this, has been a challenging yet enriching little journey of a few weeks.

There has been a huge shift within me of late, and I am learning slowly to love more parts of myself, and so feeling more at ease with myself.....and I am somehow feeling that this is in some way being transmitted to my son too. I don't know how though. But how he is responding now to things and situations that have come up earlier, seem to be telling me just that.

About ten days ago, I attended a talk on de-schooling, which raked up some old and new questions related to community and what it means to me now. I wrote down some of those thoughts and questions, which I want to share in this post, as it seems so connected and relevant here:

Community is the ecosystem that helps me not only survive but also thrive.

And to know that what I feel is 'my community' today exists and thrives only because of all the communities that I am not a physical part of or feel I don't 'belong' to.

I feel a true sense of community only where I feel that I can 'belong' to myself....first.

Is any kind of family a community? Or is it something larger?
Do we have to define community in a particular way?
By defining what it is or not, are we narrowing our choices down, and limiting our possibilities?
What would community mean to an ant, a tusker, a polar bear, a bird?
What would community mean to a person with autism or certain sensitivities?
Is our need for community based on a deep fear of survival or a need for sharing and learning and loving?
What is it that a community gives me that I cannot find in or give to myself?
Is the community fulfilling a need in me that is rooted in a fear of something? 

Or is it a space where I simply give without expecting anything in return for what I have to offer?

My community until today has been in many ways just my family - me, my husband, Raghav, his grandparents and my sister and her family. These are the people I interact with the most or most often, and who I know will be there for me, no matter what. Of course there are some friends who I look up to as family (or more) in this way, but those interactions are mostly online. Even the homeschooling community I interact with is mostly online. So when people speak about community, all those questions come up, because somewhere I feel that their definition and reality is different from mine, and wonder if the 'community' that they speak of is truly inclusive, when they seem to have boxed it in with a definition that doesn't seem to really change or evolve.

For a large part of our unschooling journey, we have been by ourselves, with no real community of like-minded people around us for support or sharing learning or simply doing things together. Yes, there have been and are supportive neighbours and friends, and that was perhaps all that we needed. Raghav needed a safe nest - home - where he could rest his tired, battered soul perhaps (after his difficult years at school), where he could find himself again, and where he could love himself completely. And because that was what he needed to feel safe, we re-evaluated our needs, and put some of them on the back burner. We stopped calling people over, we stopped socializing with friends and family, we stopped going out except when we really needed to. They were some of the most challenging years, because it meant letting go of many of our needs and sticking very much to the four walls of our house, for days and months on end, with every outing becoming an ordeal, with an argument before almost every outing and extreme tiredness after each, with each outing stretching to hours, simply because Raghav would take forever to just get ready and move!

There were so many days when I felt I was going crazy. I felt lonely, completely disconnected, depressed, angry and even wondered if I had made the right choice in choosing unschooling. So many times we used force to get the simplest of things done - like going shopping, paying bills etc., and every time, it left us all with a bad after taste and so much negative energy. But we had to just stay with it all. Some of those things had to be done. There was no other way that we knew of. That was our path. Painful, thorny, but our own unique one, the gifts of which we are opening only today.

Every time someone spoke about 'community' and 'togetherness' and 'belonging', I cringed, I hurt, and felt like an outcast. Every time someone spoke of 'solitude' and 'aloneness' I felt good, because that was what I could resonate with. That was my reality because of the choices I had made. This whole idea of community (the way most people seemed to see it) seemed like an unreachable place for Eden I could only dream of, if at all, but never be a part of. We had made an effort to be a part of different communities, but somehow never felt comfortable, because Raghav was rarely comfortable. And so then, we gave up making that effort. We then gave in to Life and her ways and found peace in that. We made our own little cozy nest, filling it with all the space that each of us needed to get more comfortable in our own skins.

There were many friends and family who told me and reminded me, that I had to make that effort, that I had to look after my needs, that I had to feel fulfilled if my son had to feel good about himself. So many words of advice, all well-meaning, but completely useless for me. For that path was not my path, not our path, at least then. I knew this deep down, but had no way of expressing it to anyone, including my own family. I guess people must have thought us to be the weirdest family around for digging up and getting into our own little rabbit hole :)

But those challenges brought us so many gifts that we would not have perhaps got otherwise. We took time to 'build' our nest, feel safe and at home in it, after years of distress and agony. We took time to understand ourselves and each other more intimately - our needs, our fears, sensitivities, etc. We saw the best and the worst versions of each other. We  learned to fight and love it all! We learned what was essential to us and what was inconsequential. And much more.

And yes, we are opening some of those gifts even today. After years of being at home mostly and not attending any gatherings or events, I was telling Raghav about two events that were coming up this month - one was a talk that I wanted to attend at the organic store we go to every week (a place that he loves going to) and the other was a homeschoolers' gathering. I was quite surprised when Raghav agreed instantly to attend both! And what shocked me even more was that he on his own told me that he would go without his iPad!

So yes, we went for the talk on 'Transition Towns'. He sat in a corner and read the books he had carried with him, while I sat and listened to the talk. We were there for more than an hour, which was an achievement in itself for the first time. His feeling comfortable was infectious, or was it the other way around ? :) I wonder if I will ever know. But yes, for the first time, I was completely at ease too - inside, outside and with him in tow.

It was such a fulfilling little journey that I had been on with my son, the seeds of which were sown so many years ago, when we (my husband and I) decided to give him the space he needed to blossom and value his choices and needs, as they impacted our lives, as much as they impacted his.

A week later, was the second event - a local homeschoolers' gathering, which also he wanted to attend as much as I did. Again, he decided he would not take his iPad along. The only 'deal' we made was this - that he would tell me when he wanted to leave, and that we would leave soon after. He surprised me with many things that he did there, and I guess the surprise for me was simply because I was holding on to an image that I already had of him, based on my earlier experiences. :)

The group was already together and people were introducing themselves. Even kids joined in. I asked Raghav if he wanted to introduce himself. He nodded and watched the others. Soon after I introduced myself, he introduced himself: "I am Raghav and I am nine years old." What a huge moment that was for me! Then, as the discussion moved on to questions about homeschooling etc., he got himself a book, sat close to me and immersed himself in reading.  After a point, when he got tired of sitting in one place, he asked me to go out with him. 

We went out into the garden where some children were chatting and playing. He wanted to join in but did not know how. I supported him and made the first contact with the kids, asking them their names, what they were playing etc. Soon, he jumped in and they played 'catch' together. Then, he came up with an obstacle race, which he explained to another twelve year old boy, who became his friend for the evening. I learned so much from being with the two of them - how they listened to each other, how they saw what the other shared through their own eyes, how they disagreed with each other and took it in their stride, how they adapted the flow of the course so that both their needs were met and ideas taken and valued. 

And my role was to merely reflect one to the other! It was beautiful to be a mirror between two beautiful children! And my greatest learning from being with children off and on is the importance they give to the process rather than the outcome. Like here, it was not as important for them to get down to playing and doing the obstacle course, as it was to understand each other, listen to each other and value each others' points of view and ideas.

Then, we went back in to join the group, which was just getting into the groove of playing a small game called 'passing the clap'. It was fun! Someone started a clap, which was passed on in a circle, keeping to the rhythm and tempo, and then the clap was passed randomly to anyone in the circle. Raghav wanted to join in and made an effort to understand and play it. He was one of the few kids who joined in with the adults. And it was funny to see how every time it came to him, the tempo would change and slow down! :) There were calls to keep to the tempo, but it wouldn't work when it came to him! :) Perhaps that's why we have kids in our slow us down, to not take things for granted, to not get swept away by the crowd, to stay present and grounded and continue to be be a part, and yet stand apart.....that for me is also what 'inclusion' is all about.

Soon, he wanted to leave, and I kept my promise by not tarrying to catch people's attention and say bye. We just got up and left, waving to the person who looked up at us. It was so beautiful and not contrived... and made me feel so much at ease. I hope the others felt the same way too, and if they didn't I hope they understood why we did that. And if they didn't understand still, well, that's just too bad! :)

As usual, on the way back, we got talking and I asked Raghav how he felt about being there.
"I loved being there....I made a new friend....I joined in the games...I liked those," he said.
"Why did you choose to come this time? Was it because I told you how much I wanted to go and you did not want me to feel bad?," I asked, sharing everything that was bubbling up inside.
" was not because of that. I wanted to come this time. I myself felt that I was getting too much into the iPad and staying at home, and wanted to do something about it. That's why I came. That's why I didn't want to bring my iPad along," he added. 
I smiled quietly, enjoying the nakedness that was being displayed. There was no question of being 'honest' or 'open', because there was simply no other way to be for him. He was simply being himself.
"So what made you want to do this today, which you did not want to do earlier?" I prodded on.
"I am just more comfortable being myself...." was his prompt reply.

That said it all. Yes, the same was true for me. I was also more comfortable being myself....and yes, it has taken me just so many more years. But I guess it pays to be late, because with Life there is really nothing like 'late' or 'early'....everything just happens in its own time, in the best possible way for each one.

Here is a FB post that I shared later about how I felt after this sums up all that we've been through together and the joy that we are feeling just being ourselves....

I have 'waited without waiting'  (I don't know how to explain that waiting in any other way) for so many years now, for Raghav to 'want' to come with me for some gatherings, especially when it involves meeting people....and I am today basking in the joy that comes with that waiting...two trips in one week - one to attend a talk and the other to meet up with seems too good to be true!

It truly is a gift to watch a flower blooming slowly and surely, and that's how I feel about him gives me goosebumps to think that I followed my heart and listened to my son, 'knowing' deeply that he needed this time and space (years actually and looong periods of not wanting to step out of the house at all), despite all the voices around me that questioned that and also became my own voice sometimes :) 

Also remembering a dear friend's sharing of a story, and the few hours I spent at a learning space in Bangalore, called 'Bhavya', where I learned the importance of giving time and space to children....not as much as what YOU think they need, but as much as THEY think they need. Grateful for those little-big lessons that Life brought me when I most needed it.

Today, on our way back home, when I asked Raghav as to what had made him 'want' to do this, he said: "I am just more comfortable being myself....and I myself felt that I was getting too much into the iPad and wanted to do something about it.....I enjoyed myself today....I made a new friend and met so many people."

Yes, this is HUGE for him and for want to step out of the house to meet people and to be okay to not take his 'best friend' (the iPad) along...of course, we could not stay for the whole time, and of course this may not happen every single time.....but it happened today, and that is all that matters, and I share my joy with all of you...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

When you need a hug....

My husband was leaving for Madurai this morning. Raghav likes to be woken up to say bye, however late he has slept the previous night. So he did the same today. He likes the 'Madurai hug' as he calls it, where all three of us hug each other tight in a small circle. But this morning, he was too sleepy to get up and do that. So my husband just hugged him and said bye, before picking up his bags to leave.

He was already at the door, asking me to open it for him. There was no hug for me. I couldn't take that. I couldn't open the door within and without. He had forgotten to hug me before leaving. And that hurt like hell. I stood frozen and he suddenly realised what he had done or what he hadn't done. He stopped, put his bags down and came back. But I was upset and angry.

Well, I needed and wanted a hug. But I have trouble doing that on my own, I have trouble initiating. It takes a lot of effort for me to just get out of myself and out of my own way, to hug someone else. Most often. And so I waited for him to make the first move. But inside of me, there was no joy. There was the pain of being ignored, not understood, not loved, and even abandoned. I was crying inside, burning inside. These were the 'little' things that I 'expected' of the people I loved so dearly. But except my son, no one else seemed to understand me and love me the way I wanted to be loved. He would just 'know' spontaneously what to do with and for me when I was feeling low. And I haven't seen that kind of empathy with anyone else just yet. These were the thoughts going through my head. And as I was thinking those, the tears from inside started flowing out silently.

I shared what I was feeling with my husband. Raghav woke up and came to us. "What is going on?", he asked us. I was too overwhelmed with my emotions to speak. My husband told him that I was upset, but that he couldn't tell him more just yet. He went away after hanging around for a while.
As we usually do, we spoke our hearts and our minds, to each other. And everything was sorted out for now. I felt better after just sharing what I was feeling. After a long long time, I forced myself out of that hard, strong shell that I had locked myself in and hugged him. I realised then how empty of myself I had to be to really enjoy the hug. Words from a dear friend rang in my ears. Just a week ago, we had shared how we had to be empty of ourselves like children are.

My husband then left. After a while, Raghav asked me why I had been crying. And so I told him all that had happened. I shared with him how I could not be 'empty' like he is when he needs a hug or something else, or when he is interacting with us or someone else. I told him how much he understands me and gives me exactly what I need, without my asking him. I told him how much that means to me and what a great gift he has to know what I need. And then like a little child, I asked my little Guru: "So what do you think I should do or should have done? What do you do when you need a hug?"

"When you need a hug, you should just go and hug someone you love. That's what I do," he said most nonchalantly. Yes, that's what I need to do. That is my challenge. Time to empty myself of myself all over again.

Here is a link to the poem that was inspired by this incident: