Missing mum, 5 years on

Written by Suraj Shah.

Who has been present in the major events of your life?

In a timeline exercise I did one evening last week, I discovered a common thread – the importance of one single person throughout my life.

Timeline’s are more powerful than you realise. They help trace out the major events that took place at various stages of your life, and they help you remember, using the memory of your senses, what was going on at that time, who was around, and how you felt.

Some major moments in my life

Here is how some of my timeline looks (although ages may be a little skewed as memory has ways of playing tricks on you):

  • Age 5: Attended primary school.
  • Age 9: Won a competition.
  • Age 10: Moved house.
  • Age 10: House burgled.
  • Age 12: Started high school.
  • Age 13: Moved to a private school.
  • Age 14/15: Tutor died.
  • Age 15: Penpal died.
  • Age 16: Grandma died.
  • Age 16: Moved school.
  • Age 18: Went to uni
  • Age 18: Grandfather died.
  • Age 22: Finished uni – got my degree.
  • Age 22: Best friend died.
  • Age 23: Travelled around India for over 3 months.
  • Age 25: Mum terribly unwell. Mum died. Mum’s uncle died. Dad’s uncle died.
  • Age 26: Met Heena (now my wife). The best summer of my life.
  • Age 27: Got married. Other grandma died.
  • etc.

As I was recalling these major events of my life, I was recollecting who was around me, what was going on, and how I felt. A common thread emerged.

Mum was around for it – she was a part of the big moments in my life

Whilst I was at primary school at age 5, at a time when we all had to wear shorts, I once tripped in the playground and my right knee was so badly grazed that it was bleeding non-stop for over 5 minutes. At that age, it felt like decades! I remember how mum came to collect me from school to take me home and nurse me.

One Saturday morning, aged 9, I was feeling unwell and couldn’t make it to music school. So while I was resting on the sofa watching cartoons, I heard the doorbell ring, and mum answered the door. The postman had delivered a package, with my name on it. It was a brand new Nintendo Gameboy – I had won a competition! That became my prized possession. I suddenly didn’t feel so unwell!

At age 10, we moved house, but dad was so busy in the shop at that time that we hadn’t managed to unpack every single box. In the spare room upstairs, there were boxes of mum’s jewellery, our video camera, and a collection of home movies that hadn’t yet been transferred onto VHS. Within weeks of moving house, we were burgled. It was bad enough that they stole some of the expensive digital equipment and the jewellery, but why the video tapes too? Mum was distraught – all her precious memories from my brother and I as young children – gone.

At age 12, I started high school. The night before, while I was trying on my new uniform and getting my books and pens ready, I remember tears rolling down my eyes. I was scared about going to this new school, mum was in hospital undergoing surgery, and I didn’t want dad to see me cry. I missed mum and wished she was there to comfort me.

At age 13, mum tried her hardest to get me into a better school. Together we succeeded. I started at a private school, and luckily my fees were all paid for me by the school. Mum was over the moon, as education was so important to her.

Around the age of 14 or 15, my physics tutor died. I remember mum telling me the news after she got off the phone with the tutor’s wife. I didn’t know how to react. Then my penpal died. Then my grandma died. Mum wanted to support me through all of that, but we never really spoke more than a few words about each incident.

Soon I went to Manchester to start university, and within months, my grandfather died. I rushed back to London to be with the family. Four years later, I graduated from uni and my best friend died. Mum wanted to support me through that too, but once again we never really spoke more than a few words about it.

And then, mum wasn’t around…

Over the years, mum’s health deteriorated further and further, with several major operations along the way. When I was 25, mum was in hospital for several months and eventually passed away. Clearly, she wasn’t there to support me through that. Within weeks, her uncle died. A couple of months later, my dad’s uncle died. Mum wasn’t around to support me through any of that.

The following year I met Heena, and then we got married. Mum wasn’t around for that. My cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that.

The following year, my brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

The following year, another cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

This year, my cousin sister is getting married. Mum won’t be around for that either.

September 26th, 2011, marks five years since mum passed away, and I certainly do miss her presence in my life. Some days I feel numb. Many days I feel lost. But then the clouds clear and the sun shines through, and I realise that I am blessed with such great people in my life, and that a purposeful and inspired life is inevitable.

The power of the timeline

Before this timeline exercise, I hadn’t realised just how much of an important force my mum was in my life. She was present, in some way or another, in almost all the major events that took place in my life.

If you have a spare half-hour, give the timeline exercise a go. Perhaps share what you discover, by writing in the comments below.

(Photo courtesy of Alice Lim)

It’s your own fault

Written by Suraj Shah.

“Koina parn dosh jo nahi. Tara pothana dosh thi je kai thaai chhe, te thaai chhe, em maan.” = “Don’t look at anyone else’s faults. Understand that whatever is happening, is taking place due to your own faults.” – Shrimad Rajchandra, Vacchanamrut, letter 157, part 13, point 1.

In everyday life, we face a multitude of challenges, with people and situations demanding our constant attention, with mayhem rattling our mundane lives.

It’s far too cold out there, but it’s just too hot in here.
Thieves broke into my house. Some jerk rear-ended my car.
My children won’t obey me. My boss is a tyrant.
My husband is lazy. My wife won’t stop nagging.
Everybody wants a piece of me. Nobody loves me.

Aren’t we always looking for somebody or something to blame?

When things don’t go as intended, we flare up, identifying and enlarging other people’s faults, blaming them for what is happening, thinking that perhaps in some way, by offloading the responsibility onto them, it will lessen the heat.

But our situations are not due to them, their actions, their malicious intent, or their negligence. The difficulties arise only due to our own faults.

Our faults include many damaging levels of anger and spite, of endless greed for more and more, of the untamed ego wanting to protect “me and mine” and of deception through constant scheming and lies. We all do it, whether we recognise it in ourselves or not.

Karmically, it’s all your own fault

As the law of karma goes, these faults bring rise to strong emotions that send out vibrations into the universe. These vibrations attract negative clusters of karmic particles towards us that bind to the soul. At a predetermined time, these karmic clusters naturally fall off. But the eventual shedding of the karmic clusters is what brings rise to situations in our lives.

You could say that me reacting angrily to a situation today results in an unprovoked attack on me by thugs at some point in the future. At that point in the future I might think I did nothing wrong, that I was just a victim. But the truth is that I was certainly at fault, just that it was triggered by the way I behaved in the past.

So quite bluntly, our own faults are the direct reason that all painful situations, whether mild or tough, arise in our lives.

From fault to freedom

So how do we turn that around? Knowing what we know now, that our faults lead to troublesome situations, how do we overcome our faults of anger, greed, ego and deceit?

FACE-ing it: Friendship, Appreciation, Compassion and Equanimity.

Friendship cultivates forgiveness which is the antidote to anger. The power of friendship towards all people and all living beings, means that you have not even a single speck of malice towards anybody else. Through friendship, revenge is not an option. Nor is hatred. Nor is spite. Nor is any level of anger or frustration towards another living being. Instead, you only want for them to be happy and at peace.

Appreciation cultivates humility which tames the ego. Appreciation is about feeling joy at the observation of someone’s beautiful qualities. When you can see and appreciate someone’s qualities while identifying and introspecting on your own faults, it moves you away from the “look at me, look at how amazing and powerful and rich and popular I am!” It makes you humble, treat others with respect, and learn from their positive traits to help alleviate your own misgivings.

Compassion cultivates straightforwardness, which hampers deceit. Compassion is about wanting to take away the sorrow felt by others. Every single day we make up stories in our minds and through our words. We want to get ahead, so we plan and we scheme and we think of ways to show that we are better than others. Our scheming and lying causes so much harm to those around us. Instead, be straightforward. With love and care, say it like it is. Stop all the scheming and all the lying. Lets have more compassion for each other.

Equanimity cultivates contentment which overcomes greed. Equanimity is about not being swayed by our mood. It is about not being a victim to our own senses. It is about calming the greed and being content with what we have. Equanimity is about realising that we have more than enough, that we don’t need any more. The great soul L.M. Vora used to say in Gujarati “Chaalse, fawse, bhavse & gamse. Jem chhe, em.” which roughly translates to “It will do, it will fit, it will taste ok and I will be ok with it. It is, as it is.” He was not swayed by likes and dislikes. He adjusted to everything. He wouldn’t demand or ask for more. He was content with what life presented him with. Equanimity is about being calm in the face of life’s wavering situations.

With these four qualities of friendship, appreciation, compassion and equanimity, you are armed to face any fault that may arise within you, and as a result, lessen the mayhem as you move forward in life.

(Photo courtesy of Stuart Richards)

Water – thirst-quenching, body-purifying, life-enhancing water

Written by Suraj Shah.

We were helpless. We were hurting. We so desperately wanted to quench mum’s thirst, but we were not allowed to.

In September 2006, when mum was on her deathbed, there was one thing that she craved. You could see the sadness and anguish in her eyes.

The one thing that she asked for, above all else.
The one thing her own children wouldn’t give her at her time of greatest need.
The one thing that the doctors refused her, no matter how much she pleaded.

Water.

Her mouth was dry, her throat was sore, she was thirsty, and asked for just one thing to quench that thirst.

Water.

She was too weak to talk or to move. The tumours had affected her whole body. Mum would try to mouth some words but we couldn’t really understand her. Now I realise what she was trying to say:

Water… water… water…

We would use an alphabet sheet, where we would point to each of the letters of the alphabet, one by one, and mum would blink her eyes at the relevant letter so that we could construct words and sentences together.

W… A… T… E… R.

But the doctors refused it. They said that due to the state of her medical condition, any water she drank would go straight to her lungs, and that would be disastrous.

Helpless

So we were helpless. We were hurting. We so desperately wanted to quench mum’s thirst, but we were not allowed to. All we could do was to dip a swab in some water and then apply it gently on her lips and inside her mouth.

That wasn’t enough for her. That didn’t give her any real relief. She knew that we were all helpless. It’s just the way it was. We couldn’t do a thing about it.

We take water for granted

As I write this, sitting here on the sofa, with a tall glass of water placed on the windowsill, I realise just how much we take this simple life-enhancing liquid for granted.

All the coffees and teas and fizzy drinks and sugared ‘juices’ we consume… at the end of the day, the only thing that our bodies need, to stay hydrated, is water, and water-rich fruits and vegetables.

What holds us back from having enough water?

So why do we consume foods that are so dry and dead? Why do we consume drinks that dehydrate us rather than give us life. Why do we fill ourselves with toxins, rather than taking in the foods and drinks that purify our bodies?

It’s our sense of taste. Our need to consume and enjoy things that we think taste delicious. It’s our sense of touch. All the subtle textures we place in our mouth. It’s our sense of smell. The wonderful aromas we breathe in while preparing and devouring our foods.

So much happiness we derive from food and drink. More so, we receive so much happiness by indulging in good foods and delightful drinks.

The truth of our indulgence

But the truth is that these foods and drinks are temporary. They will not stay the same. They will not stay forever. They will change form. Foods and drinks will not keep bringing happiness forever. That happiness is temporary.

These external objects, that we think bring us happiness, are simply keeping us on the rollercoaster of ups and downs, likes and dislikes, greed and hate.

We are so caught up in indulging in tasty toxic foods. We don’t realise the truth behind it. That indulgence in things we consume every day are making us over-eat, over-drink, and over-indulge.

A better choice

In day-to-day life, lets choose:

  • Refreshing tap water over cold fizzy sugary drinks.
  • Hot water over coffees and teas.
  • Water-rich fruits and energy-giving nuts over crisps and fatty snacks.
  • Simple foods over complex meal plans.

Great links for getting more water in your diet

Any other links or suggestions you have for getting more goodness into our diet?

(Photo courtesy of artemisphoto)