The solution to fundamentalism, wastage and mediocrity is the same.

Why are we wasting water despite the draught in Maharashtra?

Why do we continue to live in outdated ways that are eating up our environment?

Why do we keep becoming fundamentalists, and keep funding fundamentalism?

The answer is that because we are using our mind, our thinking capacities all wrong. Those aspects of us, like belief and the ability to ignore when needed, as well as to conform to social rules to help avoid crimes and chaos – we are using all of these qualities to turn a blind eye to prevalent problems, and to not change our ways. We grew up this way – don’t question, just cover your own interests, you are too small to matter in any way.

When you socialize the child in this way, and beat out all sorts of divergent thinking patterns in schools and other institutions as he or she grows, are you surprised that so many people take to fundamentalism, because it finally allows them to feel passion again? Or many become mediocre products of society just buying the mass products created by it’s markets? Or has such a hard time imagining anything without a video in front of it, that it can’t imagine the shambles that the world is coming to?

To save the pitfalls of the mind, which were twisted for various reasons to shut out voices of dissent, we have to develop two basic skills, and we totally have to cultivate in our children with urgen fervour – these are two skills more important than teaching language, math or science.

These two skills are: Critical Thinking and Empathy.

Recently, there was a mention of ‘a case against empathy’ because it marrs clear thinking. That’s more than a little stupid because humans are complex and so they can surely think critcally, and be empathetic, both together. We are not so droll as to be able to do only one at a time.

Critical thinking would help us question the logic of strange statements thrown at us, so that belief does not get the better of us and perpetuate a faulty decision. And empathy is required for basic human connection, which would be the motivating factor for any good change, for a person going out of the way to change a convenient habit, because it harms someone.

For example, if I child was taught critical thinking and empathy right from birth and it was just more enhanced in school, he would not buy it if someone told him, that his religion asks him to kill people of another religion. His empathy would help him understand the plight of those who are facing a draught, so he would change his ways to save whatever water he can. These two qualities would ensure that he makes people accountable for environmental damage. Imagination, an offshoot of empathy, would help him visualise an uninhabiltable world, socially and environmentally, and that would help him take all the steps needed to address these situations, without feeling robbed of ‘comforts’.

While some of us do manage to see things a different way, and develop these skills, even our efforts at convincing others will fizzle out if we socially reinforce all the wrong traits. We just need to correct what we are teaching and okaying. The real things need to matter now.

India Rising: But to what end?

Ever since the BJP Government came into power, with its development agenda, we hear news of growth and development everyday. From the news that our GDP is more than China’s (but what that may mean is still debated, as stated in this article), or whether it’s about newer investments in India, our Prime Minister’s efforts at bettering foreign relations, to newer roads, flyovers and more money put into development infrastructure, it’s all to the slogan of ‘India Rising’.

But can you eat money?

Last I checked, you could not.

We always forget the human development indicators in all this. What’s the point of high rises and big roads if your people are unhappy and unwell? We are losing more and more merit to nations like the US because our policies of education and employment are forcing Indians to leave for greener pastures.

Our basics of poverty alleviation, education, health and mental health – have a long way to go. According to a WHO report, we are one of the most depressed countries, with suicide as second leading cause of death. That way, the only thing that seems to be rising, is unhappiness. Farmer suicides are a constant problem. It looks like materialism and vote bank politics are not a permanent solution.

Does this mean we give up infrastructure development? Of course not. But that will only improve our structures. What about the functionality of these structures? What about the users of these structures?

The expenditure on mental health is 0.6% of the health budget, not even of the GDP. Clearly, our allocation to human development and quality of life indicators need to improve, which of course includes gender ratio as well.

Sports (apart from cricket) are suffering, with football clubs like Pune FC and Bharat FC are shutting down. Our LGBTQ population have little or no legal protection from harassment. Moral policing is on an all time high with police raiding hotel rooms used by two consenting adults. We are becoming more and more intolerant about diversity, which used to be our strong point, and more and more leaning towards safeguarding ‘our kind’ and our thinking with imposed bans and bandhs for reservation, or against helpful laws.

We need a people-friendly government. A policy and police system we can approach and don’t have to be scared of.

It’s good to have good structures to live in, and travel by. But it’s even better if these structures are complemented by basic needs, of which, it’s high time that education, sanitation, livelihood, health and mental health were made an important part. It’s imperative to have human conditions of happiness and satisfaction. Concrete can only do so much.

Are we rising where we need to?

Are we rising where we need to?

In Sickness and Health

I’m down with a bit of flu, some bit of fever triggered by throat infection. I have noticed that I am snapping a lot and not being my usual collected self with family, may be even friends.

I am irritable because of fever and body pain and a few complaints. This – after getting access to medication the day i fell ill. Also, the day after was the weekend so I did not have to go to work. And i do not have to for a while now. This, after I am getting all the rest I need, am at the liberty to eat and sleep as I see fit, and am gradually getting better.

Compare my situation to someone who has had an illness – chronic or acute, mental or physical, without privilege.

If a flu can make me snarky, what can constant pain do?

Yet, we want all patients to be nice, sweet, obedient, playing the victim. If they are angry, hostile, rude or in anyway not how we expect them to be – rosy – we do not treat them well, consciously or unconsciously.

If a flu can trigger hostility and bring down inhibition, stronger stuff definitely can?

Why do we want cute little victims?

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Has being a savior become more important than being a humane health professional?

My new year evolution.

The norm is usually to make new year resolutions a day or so before the new year, and stick to them for a period of time, ranging from a day to a week, to a month, depending on how serious you were.
I stopped making resolutions many years ago, when I realized that I felt doing new things in between the year, and so I initiate new things and behaviours, regardless of the date.
What I would like to do today, is to resolve to take away some things, undo some actions and reduce some behaviors. Therefore, I’m going to subtract what I perceive as toxic, because often, when we keep adding new agendas, we forget to discard the useless ones. My evolution will take place by discarding what isn’t useful any more.

So here is a short list-

1) Less emotional dependence- although I do not do this with every relationship in my life, but within some, I become extremely dependent, and I can’t often control. Vulnerability in close relationships is good,given that it’s mutual. If not, you feel indebted and unwanted. So I’ll choose carefully whom to be vulnerable with, and only if they are equally unguarded with me.

2) Less procrastination- If at all I take on too many tasks, then I should be able to do each of them on time so that I don’t delay. I’m spending this week clearing many backlogs so as to have a fresh start. When things are happening on time, I have a sense of control, that makes me feel healthy.

3) Less bunking- This applies to lectures as well as aerobics class. Sometimes, it may feel like a stretch to attend everything, but I must try my best to do so. I miss out a lot when I can’t go. I’m sure that I can use my time well.

4) Less whining- I’m trying my best to not complain, and rather put across what I feel in a more constructive way. If you believe like I do, that everything is energy, and that it can change forms, converting it from negative to positive is not only possible, but also important. This will also help me develop as a therapist.

5) Less hatred- Hatred, unjustified or justified, is toxic. I will try to understand and work with my prejudices and biases. Even if hatred or anger is justified, it harms me more than the person it’s directed at, so I will let go, yet, obviously, maintain self respect.

So, as the picture below illustrates, I will look at this year and the people in it, but with love.

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From Dichotomies to Continuums

The title may illicit interests of people with a philosophical/physicist bend of mind, and while I take my principles from there, I’m actually talking about something much more commonplace. People.

We were taught intelligence testing during this first semester of Clinical Psych course. And we were repeatedly cautioned : IQ is just a number, a snapshot of the person, do not think that you know the person entirely just by knowing their I.Q. Why? I.Q falls on the bell curve, a continuum, although it has most people around the centre, but there are people towards the other two ends too – subnormal and supernormal intelligence – NORMAL is decided by what MOST people are. But its not as if normal is good and anything else is bad.

But we do think in those ways. We think in dichotomies. I SHOULD get the best. Or, I am a TOTAL loser. Or, He is completely EVIL. A brilliant new therapy we are learning, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, talks about how such rigid, dichotomous thinking leads to stress, depression, and then the less garden variety type things like OCDs, panic, anxiety and so on. At some level, we know these dichotomies are not real. We could be telling ourselves, “Oh, I do good so I would prefer getting good in return, but since I can’t control everything, I may not get good each time, but that’s ok, I’m not a bad person if that happens’.

So many years of gloating about ourselves, pages and pages written, as proof of our versatality, and yet we can’t think in continuums. Why?

1. It’s shorter to think in dichotomies (I’m stupid) than (I’m a worthy person but seemed to have made a mistake in this situation)

2. It’s simple. this is just an extension of the above, but dichotomies create water-tight compartments, where it is easier to place people. Imagine if you had to meet each new person with a blank mind and did not have categories like ‘indian’ ‘woman’ ‘single’ which have their own stereotypes attached. It would be a lot of work! And we are inherently lazy (or cost-efficient, for a better world)

3. It’s the better option during emergency situations. If you broke your arm, its much easier to make instant noodles, rather than some grand, drawn out lamp chops recipe. But her its ok because a broken arm is not a permanent situation (hopefully). But what would happen if you were to eat instant noodles all the time? Not gastronomical fitness, or delight, definitely. Similarly, it is easier to resort to dichotomies when we are too sad or distressed, and we can’t think clearly. But these situations can keep happening over and over. So we have to train our mind to think in continuums so much, that tha becomes the basic, first, primary response.

Are dichotomies only about adjectives? No, they’re about all yes-no categories. Talented-nottalented, smart-dumb, thin-fat, love-hate, single-committed, and even male-female. There are many in-betweens among each of these. There have to be! Because we are humans, and so goddamn versatile. We could not agree on facts, to save our lives, how can we agree on something so subjective as traits?

So let’s try to not only accept the differences, but the degree of differences.

Let’s go from dichotomies to continuums.

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Easy periods, difficult men?

I’m going to talk about periods.. those who feel uncomfortable, better make themselves comfortable. What’s the point of making a common biological phenomenon such a taboo?

Many of my female friends and acquaintances often complain how horrible are their periods for them. The first couple of days are really bad for the most. They get enraged at whisper wishing us a happy period. Stupid company, right? Wrong. You can have an easy, happy period. Even without Whisper.

I was once the lot who had it real bad too. Going to school and college was scary because of the constant threat of a stain. Sports were out of bounds during those days. I felt all swollen, stupid and ugly. In a world where the appearance of a woman matters so much that we internalize it, its a tough phase to go through. Add to that the fact that your hormones go haywire, and you crave fatty food, and are irritable and angry.

What changed? I had visited a gynaec, but only as long as I took her medicines, would my periods be fine. She had said that the hormonal imbalance was also the reason for my weight gain, and so I did complete the course of the medicine. But periods were still bad later.

Then I started to work as a content writer, and had to read a lot on health in order to write my articles. I’d started working out to lose weight, and I was also more conscious of what I was eating.

I realized that if I worked out for roughly 21 days a month, and ate good food, I didn’t face a painful period. Now, I work out even during the periods, except on the first day. It is advisable not to do weight training and abs throughout, though. Now the periods come and go, and I’m least affected. How?

1. Eat right – Make it a habit to eat as much home-cooked, and fresh food as possible, all the times, not just during periods. It’s great for the skin. But if you can’t at least during the periods, avoid processed food. The more processed food like wafers etc you eat, the more your body has to work to digest it. It’s like giving a sleep deprived person another night of work. Make it easy for your body be eating fresh food, foods containing fibre and protein, and lots of water. You might want to reduce on the caffeine as its a diuretic and may hold water in the body, increasing swelling. Alsi seeds soaked in water overnight are a good home remedy if swelling is a recurrent problem.

2. Exercise – Most women I know don’t exercise outside of the little walking that they have to do in order to get to and fro the workplace/ college. It’s a pity because I can’t stress how important exercise is, in order to feel good. Especially during your periods, it helps the blood to flow out easily, and thus the pain in the lower abdomen that may happen due to blockage will not happen. I know, it is difficult to think of exercise when you’re writhing in pain, but just some walking or jogging for half an hour will also do. When it becomes a habit, it will be your first response to periods-pain.

3. Take care of yourself – All said and done, periods are still a stressful time for your body. Take care of yourself. Use massage and heat to release the pressure wherever you feel pain. Lighten the workload in possible. Rest adequately, try to indulge in things you like. My mom would go on a rampage during her periods and clean as much as possible – leading to pain and swollen feet. I know periods give you free time, but use that to rest and be happy.

4. Talk to the men – Most women say that doing all the above will only make them feel good, but what about external issues, when people misunderstand them? and in my experience, by people, they mean men. The day a man automatically gets what it’s like to have a period is the day a women gets how it feels like to get kicked in the balls. Not gonna happen. So, TALK TO THEM. Tell them that you may be irritable around your periods, but every time you are angry, you’re not menstruating, so that they do not trivialize justified anger.

I’ve done all this, and believe me, life is a lot easier. Go on, make it easier for you too. You deserve it.

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Time and Space – All pervasive.

Before humanities students (like myself) read the title and run away, and before physicists start to take a deep interest (although I’m sure there are no physicists reading my blog) – a clarification. I’m not talking of time and space in the sense of physics, but in a more personal manner. What do you expect? I’m studying to become a shrink, after all!

So yes, I started studying for my masters at TISS, tadadada.. all that which I have been incessantly blabbering about in my previous posts. But, the fact of importance is, with time, I’ve eased into things. They’ve become more handleable. I think that the passage of time is a gift that gives you the opportunity to find yourself in whatever you decide to do.

I used to think that, if I’m in college or travelling from around 8 to 5, when do I be with myself? And with a jolt in the bus, I realized that, to be with myself, I do not have to be alone. Yes, alone with the self is the best me time. But still, I could be connected to myself even during college hours. There is no need to switch off the inner connection and just be ‘a student’.

As might be expected, the academics is so much, I do not get time for extracurrics. I regret that. Being at TISS and not participating. But I’ve made peace for myself – to keep that reserved for festival days. For others, academics and resposibilites towards my family are more important.

Talking of family, I do not think that they want hours from you. Somewhere, they realize you are busy. I used to sit with my mom for half an hour before too. But my tiredness showed on my face, and my face buried in my phone. Now, I sit with her for like 10 – 15 minutes, but I give her my total attention. Sometimes, her complains about the maids, relatives seem redundant. At that time, it is very easy and tempting to act all uninterested. But no. With just a little effort, I show genuine interest, and it makes her really happy. I think somewhere, I’ve practically started to apply the counselor qualities I’m learning.

College will become all the more busier when field work starts, which is almost at the same time that Ramzan starts. It’s a combo like mutton biryani and keema paratha. It’s bound to make you anxious. But belief motivates unlike anything else. You become used to it after the first few fasts. In fact, research indicates that formation of a new habit, for most people, requires that they consistently do it for 40 days. This is the maximum. You may form a habit in even lesser days.

And of course space. Not only is it important for others, in relation to them but with yourself. Give yourself space first. I’ve been stuck on the last 5 kgs for quite some time now, reagrding my weight loss regime, and the negativity had somehow creeped in. Although not so much overtly, but somewhere, I was getting very critical of myself. But it was important to stop that. Peoples’ weight loss plateaus have known to be on for years too, I’m just stuck for months. Besides, a positive outlook is the best atmosphere to trigger change. So now I’m focusing on just liking what I do and doing what I like. Being happy.

Space for others. Despite knowing how important it is, I still slip sometimes. I forget that space is letting the person be, and not hold some secret resentment towards them. Yes, its difficult to not talk sometimes. Especially when your friends are far away and you don’t know what’s happening to them or what they are going through. But that’s exactly when they need to sort things out in their head, and my experience has been that when they get back, they really appreciate being given the required space. Because giving space is showing trust. There’s nothing more loving than that.  Let’s hope this holds true for further experiences.

As much as i have loved writing this post, it has become rather long. Although it has confirmed my beliefs which I was starting to doubt a bit. And then I’ve gone a bit overboard and signed on for two courses on coursera that begin in September, as that’s the last month of my 1st sem. So human of me.