Last week, I discovered Lauren Martin’s wonderful effort to curate the wisdom and grace of women through the ages – Words of Women. And it got me thinking about the women in my own life whose words have made me pause to think. Whose words I remember even today as life-altering in however small a way, perhaps even far from the original context.
What better end-of-the-year ritual than to reflect on these and see what I can carry forward into 2022!
“Things have a way of untangling themselves.”
My mother-in-law keeps a beautiful home and one of the things you’ll immediately notice are the bead curtains that frame every doorway. Some are made of glass globules. Others are of long wooden beads and macrame. They are very pretty – but also have a habit of getting tangled up if you brush past them roughly.
One warm afternoon, I was sitting on the little balcony that is Amma’s work corner (and my favourite spot in the house) trying to untangle the bead curtain that framed the door into it. I had been at it for over fifteen minutes, trying to coax the bead strings to loosen their death-grip around each other, and getting increasingly impatient. It seemed the more I tried, the more knots they tied themselves up in.
I was just considering cutting off the shorter end of one of the strings when Amma came in. “This isn’t working,” I told her, frustrated.
“Let them be,” she said, taking the strings between her fingers and calmly, gently, shaking them. “Things have a way of untangling themselves.”
And almost magically, I saw the bead strings unravel and slip back into their positions, swinging merrily. I don’t know if Amma meant anything more metaphorical but I read all kinds of meaning into her words.
Even today when I find myself thrashing about in a seemingly impossible situation, I remember what she said. I take a deep breath and tell myself, things will sort themselves out. I just have to let them be.
“Then do it.”
This happened some years ago. I was looking down the barrel of an insanely busy week. Everywhere I turned, it seemed there were only chores to be done and tasks to be completed. Work deadlines, house maintenance, personal goals, life admin.
I felt the weight of living press against me. And that night when I called my mother, I started telling her how stressed I was. I have to do this, then that, then the next, then something else after. It’s just too much. It’s never-ending. It’s a LOT.
I think she listened for about fifteen minutes. And she said, “Then do it.”
Cut off mid-sentence, I paused. “What?”
“You’re saying you have so much work, right? Then do it.”
I still have such weeks of to-dos as long as my leg. But whenever I catch myself fretting about them, I get up and do one thing. The smallest. The easiest. Somehow, it becomes simpler from there and before I know it, I am in the swing of things. And it is rarely as hard as I imagine.
“See people as assets.”
My mother, my sister-in-law, and I had visited a relative’s house. I had walked there and they had come on a scooter. By the time we left after saying goodbye, it was past 9pm.
I was about to set off on the walk back when my sister-in-law said she’d join me. “It’s okay,” I told her, “Go with Ammai. I’ll walk home quickly.” But she insisted. So my mother drove home and the two of us walked back.
On the way, I explained to her why I preferred to walk by myself. “See, it’s dark. What if something nasty happens? If I’m on my own, I can take care of myself. When you’re with me, I feel responsible for you and have to figure out how to keep you safe. That’s why I asked you and Ammai to go on ahead.”
“Oh,” she said, “I feel just the opposite. If there are two of us, isn’t it better than being alone, especially if something nasty happens?”
We walked on quietly but her words brought me a powerful realization.
Rarely are relationships one-way and I feel all the better for being reminded of that. These days when I have the urge to be a lone warrior, I remind myself to ask for help.
“You can always laugh about it.”
My cousin lives in another country and has little family nearby. She has a lot of responsibilities at work and home. And in the past few years, the family has had more than their fair share of health crises, both big and small. With the lockdown, she hasn’t been able to come and see her parents for over 2 years.There are always fires to put out at work. Her kids are young and have many needs.
Yet, she is the first in the family to dress up and celebrate every occasion. Every festival, every birthday, every anniversary. She wishes us, reminds us, shares photos, and goes over and above to give everyone a good time.
Every time I speak to her, she is laughing. Last week, she was sharing a pretty serious medical diagnosis with me – making jokes all the while and telling me a wisecrack she made to her young, fit physiotherapist.
“I’m glad to see you are taking it well,” I told her. And she said, “Well, I can’t change how things are. All I can do is laugh about it.”
I’ve been taking her cue and trying this laugh therapy myself. Last week, a coconut fell on our new car and I was able to laugh about it. And when I did, a thought came suddenly, “Thank goodness it didn’t fall on someone!”
A client did a complete U-turn on a project after days of effort. I was irritated but then decided to laugh it off. And when I did, my mind cleared and I texted him calmly saying I’d have to charge him a kill fee for the original effort. Sure, no problem, he texted back. I almost couldn’t believe it! If I had been fuming, I couldn’t have come up with such a rational solution.
I look forward to trying this a lot more in 2022.
“Do it for you.”
This is a story about another cousin. One who discovered the joy of running in her mid-30s. She used to be a pretty athletic person in her college days but somehow, like many of us, fell out of the habit for a long, long time.
Then she caught a second wind. She began to carve out time for herself – early in the morning, late in the evening, in between her kids’ classes and her husband’s work hours – to go for a run. She started small but she kept at it. In spite of changing houses and cities, traveling to and from families, the pandemic that kept us all indoors, and crazy schedules, she stuck to it. If she had to stop for a few weeks, she restarted when she could.
Today, she has been running for over 3 years. She does 10K most days, I think. Perhaps more. In our cousins’ group where we share tidbits about life, I was telling her about my fledgling attempts to eat mindfully and work out regularly. “I want to lose about 10kgs in 6 months. I like running – the feel of the wind in my face. Still, it feels like a chore to do it.”
“Do it for you.” she said. “Don’t do it to lose weight. Or with some number or goal in mind. Just do it for yourself because you like it.”
So that’s what I do these days. I walk or run or do yoga whenever I can. But I don’t obsessively check my weight or mark it on my tracking app. I say no to food indulgences as much as I can – and when I fail to resist temptation, I don’t beat myself up. Because now I know I will say no next time. Because now I know this is a lifestyle I have chosen – not a temporary campaign that ends in X weeks or months. Now I know that I am doing it for myself.
“Your body will tell you.”
The other day, I was struggling to make a decision about a new project. The work was interesting. The money was good. Everything seemed okay, yet a part of me was resisting signing the contract. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.
So I turned to a friend of mine who’s an old hand at independent consulting. She’s been running a successful business for 6+ years now and is a certified coach too. I went over the conversations I had with the client, the emails, the project terms, the negotiation. Theoretically, everything seemed fine – yet, why was I reluctant to pick this up? Was I being lazy? Or choosy?
“Imagine,” she said, “that this client texts you on a Friday afternoon. How would you feel? Don’t ask your brain – think about how you feel physically.”
As I imagined the situation, I felt my body tensing, my jaw clenching. I was dreading it, that conversation.
“Why?” she asked. “What do you think will happen?”
And it came to me in a rush – all the non-verbal clues I had picked up during my interactions with the client. I felt in my bones that this client would be pushy, disrespectful of my time and boundaries. He was the kind to try to get “maximum bang for his buck” and I didn’t want that sort of negative energy for the next few months till the project ended.
As I thanked her, my friend said, “Most of the time, our bodies know the answer. Even when our mind is confused.” She couldn’t be more right.
How has your year been? What words of wisdom are carrying you into 2022? I’d love to know.