SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

38 things that make me smile

 Growing up, my grandmother had this very funny statement to make, "Don't laugh too much, otherwise you will end up crying". I say 'funny' because this is what happens if we take it at face value ( tears streaming down as we laugh and laugh?!), but what she meant was that we should not get carried away with happiness (laugh/giggle loudly), for sorrow and sadness will follow in its wake.
So macabre. I really don't know where she learnt this. But it somehow seeped into me for a long time and I would always remember those words growing up,  but even though our culture believes in emotional restraint, we should make knowing and acknowledging Happiness as our greatest habit.

 Gratitude is a great mood enhancer I am told and Happiness is a subset of that.

 So which comes first?

 Of late, I consciously tell myself what I am happy and grateful for. There is an immediate and perceptible change within me. This is an experiment I started for myself to break the cycle of learned unhappiness within me.

So here is a list of 38 things that make me smile

( they can be arranged according to: people/ places/ things/ activities)
A list because, I like to be organised that way and lists are always fun to read!!

    1. the sea and the sea spray, my glasses get clouded but the deep connection with the sea always fills me with happiness cycling along shaded roads to meet a friend ( or with a friend)
    2. eating hot-fried pakodas/ bajjis on wildly wet days
    3. warm fluffy sweaters that I absolutely need, for I shiver even when it is slightly chill (as I write this I remember the flower-seller I saw here in Bangalore, a typical Tamil woman just come from the village, she was wearing a brand new sweater and it made me realise how alien this piece of clothing would be for her especially if she was from Tamil nadu and had never used it before)    
    4. new pen (ball pen as against the gel-pen) and a brand new notepad to write in
    5. babies cheeks waiting to be snuggled/ kissed (babies bums too, so sweet!!) 
    6. long drives in the car, somehow I just need to go for a drive and it makes me feel better :)
    7. sweet, lemony drink after a thirsty morning of work
    8. A butterfly kiss on my cheek (especially when I am supposedly asleep and the little folk creep in to give it to me)
    9. 2.50 pm, the exact time when kids come back home, (the opposite is also true: 8.05 am makes me happy as they leave home for school!) 
    10. photos of us, memories of what we did captured forever
    11. chatting, chatting, chatting...
    12. gentle words and kind voices
    13. a whisper that tickles my cheek
    14. beautiful, soulful music shared on the i-pod 
    15. a walk with nature, looking and feeling the sky, especially on a starry night
    16. ice-cream, licking and slurping it 
    17. husband's special efforts to impress me with his domestic skills
    18. a gift, given with love and affection
    19. a friend who remembers me
    20.  the lovely beautiful, honey dripping, full moon in the sky that makes me want to stare at it forever, lost in the eternity and the expanse of space 
    21. getting that jig-saw piece fit perfectly at the first shot 
    22. when family gets together and we laugh and tease around
    23. thinking of a tune that my crazy brother keeps singing 
    24. the smell of rain on the earth...oh my that makes me go mmmmmm....
    25. doing something right the first time ( I copied this from another place:))...but oh so true
    26. knowing I stuck to something till the finish...a warm happy smile for that
    27. musicals: mary poppins and sound of music...happy happy
    28. baby animals that are so cuuuteeee
    29.  people who understand me and who I understand...ooo how I love that
    30. a surprise call, a voice of a friend!
    31. hugging...it really puts a smile on my face
    32. laughing till tears roll down my face
    33. being inspired by a speaker,, feel this way every time I listen to an amazing speaker on TED
    34. knowing that I can access any part of this world sitting at home...gosh that makes me feel awestruck
    35. Helping people and knowing that it has made a difference to them and me
    36. reading a book that I really enjoyed
    37. Calvin and Hobbes, and I call my son Calvin, cause he is one!
    38. When I see people showing Kindness to each other
     I know that was a long list, but if you have not guessed by now, that 38 is how old I am!

    Make your own list, if you like to do such things!!


    Friday, February 22, 2013

    Chennai Storytelling Conference: Feb 2013

    Storytelling is a relationship created between the person telling and the person listening through the medium of a narrative, an oral language. This relationship remains just a communication between the two, but when the teller consciously reaches out to connect with her audience, then magic is created as they then choose to embark on a journey together, a journey of discovery, a journey of interpretation and meaning. 

    Watch this presentation, snapshots from the Chennai Storytelling Conference. Be patient as it is 18 minutes long, but worth it!!  




    Storytellers get all geeky when they get together.They want to talk about narratives and metaphors, story structure, theories and processes, maybe even get pedantic...Now balance that with pure fun, passion, sharing, and connecting...Even then  I cannot do justice to a space that involves Storytellers, Storytelling and Stories!

    Conferences are fun, learning spaces and a great occasion to network. Well, we got some of that and more at the Storytelling Conference held at Chennai in February this year.

    Envisioned by Eric Miller of the World Storytelling Institute (WSI), a well known face in Chennai in this space, he is a passionate advocate of stories in its native form (regional stories/ stories from folklore etc). Ably supported by a team of extremely capable Storytellers who have pitched their time and resources exceedingly well. Kudos is due to all of them.

    The keynote speaker Kamini Ramachandran captured this magic for us in her Inaugural address, a glimpse is what we got, but never-the-less, a story is what I carried back, a story that showed me what happens to a story if it is kept within, for, a story must be told, she said, narrating to us a tale from a.k.ramanujam's collection. 

    My partner Aparna and I chose to share our work with children. Using stories to develop social and emotional skills in young children. Fables, folktales and social stories are visualised by us to tell and teach skills that will help children develop self awareness.

    Stories use the language of emotions and we saw this being repeated in most of the speakers, whether it was the dancer Anita Ratnam, creating a dramatic story impromptu, or the precision storytelling required for business as told by Sandhya Ruben of Eloquens.  

    Video Conferencing acted as a bridge, bringing us closer to tellers from around the world. Conceptually a fantastic idea, as we got to see and interact with known and familiar tellers from around the world like Tim Sheppard, but this is still nascent technology and for more earthy and hands on people, the technical difficulties and disconnect was a little frustrating.

    Fishermen stories, dhoni paatu (catamaran songs), using the song and story technique were some of the other variations that we got to see of this medium.  

    Though we got to see performances by tellers of repute, Kamini and Usha Venkataraman, and members of the CSA ( Chennai Storytelling Association), I come away wanting more stories. It struck me that we spoke about story telling and techniques or its application, but we did not share as many stories. The scope of a more didactic conference such as this, does not make space for more telling spaces I think. But I would like to see more Tellers, More telling and definitely more stories being shared at the next Story telling conference. 



    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Fear of Failure or Lack of Confidence?

    My daughter is entering her teens...

    Oh my, I am growing older! Yet it is a standing joke between us that she is 2 years old and I am 16!!

    So does that make me a child bride?! In a way that is true, for I enjoy thinking like a child and behaving like one too.

    So coming back to my daughter. She has moments of extreme anxiety, about her intelligence at times, about her looks maybe and at other times about her skills, but basically about her abilities and inabilities. School teachers add to such self-conversations by projecting very unnecessary and unwanted thoughts into her.

    My husband and I are also be adding to it, as we tell her to be more organised, be more aware, be more present, be more, be more....

    Gosh, what a lot the child has to process.

    Usually she is the cool cucumber, but the pressure is adding up and she is just in 7th standard.
    The other day she was very distressed about her Math scores and spent an agonizing 15 minutes pouring her heart out.

    "Why is it, that even when I prepare well, I don't perform. Look at my other friend, she says she did not touch her book, but she got all the answers right" she berated one day.

    On an other day it was her Teacher's words
    " My teacher says I am not really all that good in Elocution, I just have no stage fear and that is my only skill"

    What a lot of hurt...and what do I do?

    I cried inside me, with her, knowing that I have been through similar times, carrying such similar thoughts and forming my own interpretations of very similar experiences.

    Yet the difference here is that I could have a dialogue with her and give her a perspective that could help.

    I chose a story

    (A Spanish FolkTale)

    A king was to marry and his minister came up with an idea. They declared that The Magic Mirror would choose their Queen. This mirror had the ability to show the world any blemish, no matter how small and so any Princess who came forward to look into the mirror would be the chosen one. 
    The King and Minister expected Princesses to flock his kingdom, but surprisingly no one came. The King waited and waited, but only heard excuses; of Princesses who were too busy to come, or others already engaged, while others preferred to remain single. Finally the minister heard of a Shepherdess who was willing to look into the mirror and had her brought forth. The shepherdess was an ordinary looking girl, but she had only this to say: "I may have blemishes, but I have nothing to hide from the King or the mirror." So saying she looked into the mirror in the presence of many ladies and genteel folk who had gathered there.
    But, it was no Magic Mirror, just an ordinary one and the ladies were incensed. This mirror only shows the normal self, there is no magic in it. "Let me take a look" said the pretty girls, "Choose me" said another.        
    "Its too late" said the King, "I have chosen the shepherdess, for she alone had the courage to own her mistakes and stand up inspite of that. So I choose her."

    What is our greatest fear? Failure?
    But who defines that something is failed? (Unless it is a matter of Life and Death)

    I chose to tell my daughter that we need to release ourselves from the Fear of Failure. Have courage in what you do, do it with conviction, and if the results are not as expected, we just need to know that there is probably another way to do it. Lets learn it.

    Courage and confidence are the foundations for learning and living. Fear, is its biggest hurdle.
     I know, I have struggled with it all my life.








    Tuesday, February 19, 2013

    Words of wisdom

    The last post I wrote was in January, 6 days after my mother passed away. It is February 19th today and finally I have the motivation to put words on paper.

    I miss her...but I don't also.

    My son says, "Amma she is not in pain now, she is happier, why do you miss her?"

    My daughter says " Amma, think I am Paati and give me a kiss, you will feel better"

    It brings tears to my eyes.

    I think of her at so many spaces in my life now; at different times with different emotions.
    I never thought of her as much when she was with me. We can never be prepared enough for a loss.

    Last friday we had friends over for dinner and my father was with us, in fact the small gathering was to say bye to him, as he was leaving back to Chennai after a short stay with us.
    I missed her then.  She would have made a dish and then nagged me to take out the cups she had given me for my wedding, 15 years back! If I brought out a new set, she would fidget and sigh at me, that I was wasting money on buying stuff in spite of having old ones that I hardly used.

    It was heart wrenching to see stacks and stacks of sarees, neatly arranged in her almirah. Packed into polythene covers and assorted according to usage. Each saree in a plastic cover, can you imagine?! Fastidious, meticulous, organised and clinical in her approach to most things. She was a stickler for perfection and it made me swear off doing anything perfectly for life (what a fool I am!). I could not go through the pain of sorting her things, and left it to my braver, more pragmatic sister to take care.
    Yet her sarees that I brought back with me, I take out at every opportunity to wear and feel...it feels like she is near. I feel her presence then...

    My daughter, son and I spent the first 5 days after her passing away, huddled together under the mosquito net in sultry Chennai. Days of normal activity telescoped into nights of hushed whispers and discussions. They had seen her struggle with Cancer and knew her pain. So they never questioned why, but always wanted to know; what now, where now?

    "Where is she now? What happens when we die? Will you die like your mother?" they asked me

    "I only know that she is inside me, in my thoughts and memories" I told them, for I had no other answer to give.

    "You know Ma, in Egyptian culture it is believed that every person has a Ba that lives on after the person dies" said my daughter

    "Ba, what's that? I only know Paati's name is Pra-Bha" I said, trying to make a joke of the  heaviness that had fallen around the three of us.

    "Ba is the soul that lives on...as long as we remember her name, her soul will never die, it remains forever alive, not dead. So as long as we remember Paati, she will live on"

    I was taken aback at these words of wisdom that she was able to transfer from a book she had read, to a situation that required her to respond in such a way. I carry her words with me forever.

    I leave you with a story so similar to what transpired with us. It is an African tale that I came upon, that just goes to show that every knowledge that is contained in this world is a story, it is but the seeker who has to find it:

     The Gift of a Cow Tail Switch

    A West African Tale

    A great warrior did not return from the hunt. His family gave him up for dead, all except his youngest child who each day would ask, "Where is my father? Where is my father?"

    The child's older brothers, who were magicians, finally went forth to find him. They came upon his broken spear and a pile of bones. The first son assembled the bones into a skeleton; the second son put flesh upon the bones; the third son breathed life into the flesh.

    The warrior arose and walked into the village where there was great celebration. He said, "I will give a fine gift to the one who has brought me back to life."

    Each one of his sons cried out, "Give it to me, for I have done the most."

    "I will give the gift to my youngest child," said the warrior. "For it is this child who saved my life. A man is never truly dead until he is forgotten!"