It’s that time of the year again…

Sometimes I like to think of my life as a brightly colored package, wrapped up in the most gorgeous hues, and filled with an assortment of different colors, textures and materials. I pull out new things everyday – there’s spontaneity, surprises, joys, heartbreaks, laughter and tears and a deep silence too, not the foreboding kind, but the silence that in my mind is a light pastel green, the kind that makes you want to listen in a little bit more and revel in the sheer tranquility of it.

The package is large and completely randomly shaped – but it is beautiful. The colours are bright in places and completely sober in some others, yet, the result isn’t confusion. The cacophony is harmonious somehow – interesting, joyful even. The imperfections, the flaws, even the one garish colour that stands out from the side – surprisingly – all come together to form this very unique and striking looking package I call life.

It is packed with the experiences I get to live through, the people I can call my own and love wholeheartedly, the relationships that form the quintessential web upon which the whole package stands – and very importantly, it contains the lessons that have been (and will be) completely indispensible in my journey. As I conclude another year on the earth today, I examine this mix and feel extremely grateful and privileged for the life that I have been given.

For those who know me personally will know that it is not just around my birthday that I feel reflective, but it has become a sort of habit to formally recount some realizations on important dates just to point out things to myself that I feel like I have understood and would like to remember.

So here are some of the most important truths that have started making sense and that I would like to live by and remember. Perhaps this blog might be around far longer than my innings and if the girls come across it someday, it might bring a smile to their faces and they might just understand the person I was that bit better.

I may have jotted down these points before (and more eloquently) but then, that is the beauty of having a personal blog – I can do so once again, and unapologetically too! 🙂

  1. Acceptance and Contentment
    There is something completely mind-blowing that happens when you accept the hand that’s been dealt out to you. Without fanfare or drama or complaint – you accept who you are, who the people around you are, and the life that you live and work with it – not against it. Once you get past that stage of acceptance, something overwhelmingly beautiful called Contentment finds its way inside your heart and soul, and once that happens, the only way to go is up. There is a catch though. Acceptance must be wholehearted. You know that little cranny in your heart that still questions the decree and you pretend it doesn’t exist? Yeah, that one, that too, wash it away with the rain that is contentment. And when you’re deeply content, gratitude is but natural, right?

  2. The intention matters
    So you might not have done all that you are capable of, and you might not have made the impact that you dearly wanted to, or left the legacy that you so desired to, but remember it is the intention that counts for something. The burning desire to make that difference, that, in and of itself, will guide you. Don’t lose hope or give up that easily. Let that fire burn. It will lead to something good. Don’t dismiss the power of a sincere intention.
  3. Know Thyself
    Think of life as being on a grand game show that you need to get through and get to the other end. Let’s say you’re watching this game show – and Participant A has a huge pool to cross. What if Participant A doesn’t know swimming? What would you advise? I’d say that Participant A get on with it and use any extra time to learn those skills so he can safely cross the pool. Another thing – maybe the participant is a very able jumper and might want to take the route with more jumps than pools.
    The only way they’d take these decisions correctly is if they are aware of their strengths and areas of development. Point I’m trying to make is – know who you are – the great, the good, and the not so great – and work around your strengths and weaknesses. Develop yourself, but knowing yourself first is essential.
  4. Forgive
    I know it sounds clichéd, but yeah, forgive, forget and move on. And do so with real compassion and cleanse from within. And remember, the person most deserving of that kindness is you. And you’re worthy of love and forgiveness from yourself.
  5. Give it time
    This is one of those things that I’ve learnt with experience – things don’t happen immediately. They don’t fall into place as we snap our fingers. Often the process of things sorting out can be long and tedious. It’s okay. Give it another day, another week, maybe another year. And sometimes they don’t work out as you’d initially wanted them to. That’s okay too. When you give it enough time, you realize not everything matters that much. And that brings me to my next point.
  6. Not everything matters
    Most things, most losses, most reactions, most possessions, most ego-hurting episodes don’t really matter. Always focus on that which truly counts in the grand scheme of things and learn to become a decent judge of that. What actually matters is how happy Allah swt is with you. Where you end up in the next life matters. Relationships matter. How kind and compassionate you are and how people don’t get hurt with your actions or words matters. Whether or not you’re happy with yourself matters. I’m starting to figure out that when my eyes are on the prize, things that once seemed to matter so much just fall by the wayside. Focus.
  7. Take the first step
    Yes, brilliant, you’ve got that lovely intention. Back it up with some kind of action. All it takes is that small first step. Don’t be afraid to take that step.

That wraps it up friends. There are probably many more things, but these are the ones that spring to mind for now. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing that you haven’t read before but all the same, things I’m starting to understand and hope to remember as I move on in this journey.

Who knows when the story ends?

Hidden lessons in a plate of fruit

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Image credit: shutterstock

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/hidden-lessons-in-a-plate-of-fruit-1.77506896 (02.03.21)


My Dad could cut fruit beautifully, perfectly and without wasting any of the fleshy bits, he could carve out a watermelon, peel and slice an orange within seconds, or go from a prickly pineapple to inviting slices – and present it on a plate so elegantly you’d be tempted to eat it all up even if you’d just had dinner. And he did this with a smile on his face, humming a tune, turning the fruit and the knife in his hands rather like an expert magician and impressing us with his dexterity, and knowing he was doing it ‘just right’. That, my friends, was when I began learning about excellence, but I just didn’t know it yet. 

So what exactly is excellence? Excellence is when we give things their due, when we pursue something like it should be pursued; mindfully, joyfully and earnestly. The exact opposite of excellence is mediocrity – mediocrity is when you shuffle through life being strictly ordinary and you couldn’t care less. Excellence is when you don’t settle, when you do something – anything – with a desire to make it count. One might think excellence is achieved only if the end product is beautiful. I think differently. 

Excellence is achieved when our thoughts and intentions are pure, when we do things for the right reasons, and we do them because we really care. The pursuit of excellence is usually born out of commitment to a higher purpose or a bigger goal and every step taken on that journey keeping the ‘eyes on the prize’ is in fact, excellence. It’s setting your own world alight, it’s knowing what you want, why you want it and it is taking meaningful, devoted steps towards it.

We typically associate excellence with some people – have you noticed? People who are generally good at something will most likely be good at everything they do, and people who are sloppy will most likely be careless or sloppy at all tasks. I’m not saying that excellence is simply an attention to detail, or a pursuit of perfection, in fact it is far greater. Excellence is an attitude of resilience, of grit, of staying focused, of believing in your goals, in yourself and then daring to be seen because you gave it your best.

This is an attitude or a trait I desperately want to acquire – I want to be someone who’s relationships – every single one of them – is cultivated with care, respect, a fulfilling of duty, sincerity, selflessness, unconditional love and therefore, excellence. I want to be someone who leaves that kind of an impact on the world, someone who lives this life making every second on the earth count. I want to have excellence in the way I use my time, in the way I parent or have conversations, in the way I do everyday tasks because I deserve nothing but excellence from me.

Here’s another thought. Excellence is failure. Yes, you read that right. Excellence is not necessarily beautiful and perfect like my Dad’s plate of fruit, and especially not in the beginning. Those that get to excellence are those who face failure chin up, with a tear and a smile that says: “I’m good enough. I CAN try one more time.”

Sometimes, it’s the process that becomes even more delightful than the outcome. Excellence is not the destination, it is the journey – and because the journey is so meaningful the end invariably becomes wonderful. It is the journey undertaken with a clear vision, with a heart that is filled with sincerity.

The pursuit of excellence can be draining, and there will be days when we mess up and are tied into mediocrity and it seems like there’s no way to get out of the rut we’re stuck in. On those days, it is essential to remember that you can still have thoughts and aspirations that are great, and these will then translate into an excellent reality. Some days, that first step, that painful phone call, or that realization which you’ve been running from could be excellence.

I didn’t realize it then, but those plates of fruit had hidden lessons. While I did learn to cut fruit and present it nicely too – I only wish I can internalize the bigger and more important lesson of excellence in every aspect of my life. 

Chai and I – Part 3 (Oh Mugs!)

I’d asked about loyal readers in the last blog and I’m happy to state that I have at least 4. Two of them are me, because I read every blog at least twice to ensure that it isn’t a complete waste of time, and the third is my computer which by default reads everything. The fourth is a dear friend who must peruse everything I write – not by choice but by force (I know, I understand her plight too. She’s probably nodding vigorously over her chai as she reads this).

Which brings me to the topic at hand – it is once more, that rich brown liquid that could keep me up all night (literally, haha). We’re not done talking about Chai people. I realize this is the third part in the Chai series and I wouldn’t have written it unless I felt there is genuinely just so much to be said! For those that are curious here’s Chai and I – Part 1 and Chai and I – Part 2.

You must have heard about ‘judging a book by its cover’ but have you ever heard about judging the chai by its mug? That’s me. Let me explain. So I like to think I’m a minimalist. I don’t own a lot of bags and the only smart bags I have are gifts from people who are tired of seeing my old, battered canvas bag. I wear the same tired-looking sneakers for years and I try and make my devices last forever, long after their accessories run out of the market (this thing I’m typing on is a 2011 Macbook). I rarely invest in furniture or crockery and every time a Certain Someone wants to buy something I pipe up with: “Yes, but do we really need it? Is this necessary?” and if the Certain Someone doesn’t care or doesn’t listen and buys it anyway, I ensure that I drop snide hints about the ‘extra’ purchase for years. It’s strangely satisfying.

But I digress, don’t I? So I, the minimalist-wannabe, I err, have a little secret. Mugs. I love mugs. I guess you could say I buy mugs when no one is looking. I stare at mugs when we go shopping and fall in love with them and pick them up sneakily and put them in the shopping cart. When we’re at the counter and the mug will be found in my trolley, the Certain Someone will give me ‘The Look’. I am known to return the favor with equal enthusiasm without wasting precious time while the lady at the counter looks on encouragingly, interested in the drama unfolding before her very eyes. Then that Certain Someone will invariably say –“Oh but don’t we have enough mugs at home? Is this really NECESSARY?”

This certain person is also likely to indignantly mutter something that sounds suspiciously like ‘hypocrisy’ while I quickly pay for the purchase and act as though I really, really need that lovely mug because my last one ‘feels all wrong’ and this baby looked ‘right’.

So, what is it about mugs? What is it about looking right? I think it is safe to say we are all on the same page about the fact that chai and coffee mean a lot to me. Chai and I have sort of been like Ross and Rachel over the years (sometimes on, sometimes off) but the truth is that I love chai (coffee too – I’m promiscuous like that). How satisfying the experience is depends largely on the mug. If you give me a super karak chai in a teeny tiny pretty little china cup and I drink it, I will feel cheated. Like someone bought me a lovely dress but cut off the sleeves or something. Give me my chai in a cup that’s too wide and I will feel like something is utterly wrong with the chai itself and will want to have another one just to be sure (but that would mean too much caffeine – and we all know what that does!) Give me chai in a mug that’s too heavy and I will surreptitiously give you mean looks the whole time as though to say “I want to enjoy the chai’s personality – not feel overwhelmed by the mug, and now my arm hurts!” And if you bring the chai in a mug that’s a very dark color, that too won’t work because now I can’t appreciate the real color of the chai – the dark and dinghy din surrounding it overawes it.

image credit: pixabay

The perfect mug is tall, slim and sexy-looking. Never too white and never too dark but just a neutral color that brings out the hues and flavor of the chai. This tall mug is neither too narrow nor too wide (although I prefer it to be slightly wider from the top and narrow down as we descend). It fits nicely in the hand and has a comfortable handle. It may look like there’s a lot of chai inside it but it’s actually juuuuust the right quantity in there — not so less that you take like a sip and you’re done and left twiddling your thumbs at the lack of chai in your life, and not so much that you think: I’ve been sipping this thing for hours! WHEN does it end?! The mug could sometimes say something wacky like a quote or something, but that doesn’t really matter. I’m not picky about mugs am I? Not me!

Just looking at this tall mug full of chai or coffee takes half the pain away — I am known to look at my mugs, sniff at them (aroma!) and take pictures of them rather like a loving parent or partner. It’s a glorious feeling, to have your fingers wrapped around your favorite beverage in your favorite mug on your favorite swing chair or couch – all seems well with the world in that one precious moment, doesn’t it? In fact, served in the right mug, even sad alternatives like green tea and herbal teas begin to look a tiny bit inviting.

At the moment however, I’m in a slight problem. This lovely tall mug that I’ve loved for years has chipped; I think my dishwasher is quite talented at doing that. But that means the search for the perfect mug continues. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s this sale on this home store and I think I know just what I need. And while I’m at it, could I get it in two colors? I mean, how do I know if I will ever find the right mug again…? And mugs matter, right? Just don’t tell him!

Chai and I — Part 2

All good things in life that are unhealthy and lots of fun (meaning you should keep away from them or consume them in limited quantities) such as chocolate, coke, coffee, cinnamon rolls, cake, chips, cookies, cigaret —well, you get my point – these things all seem to begin with a C. Chai (tea, but I prefer to call it Chai) also begins with C. It had to. Obviously.

For the uninitiated, I wrote an article titled Chai and I some ten years ago. Loyal readers (are there any? Can you please get in touch? Do you lot actually exist?) might remember that piece where I spoke about how I can’t function without my morning caffeine and how I am hopelessly addicted to caffeine after consuming it ‘every alternate Sunday’.  I also cited research stating how awesome chai is. Ten years later, things look very different.

The love affair has become decidedly troublesome and the relationship has soured. The beverage that I counted on to get me through the day has now become a guilty pleasure – something I look at with glassy eyes and say “No, thanks, I’m good, I don’t want Chai,” in a small, miserable voice if someone asks “Would you like a cuppa?”

Image result for chai
Image credit: https://www.acouplecooks.com/masala-chai/

The problem, dear friends, is that I am highly sensitive to caffeine. For those who know me personally will agree that I am a ball of nervous energy, perpetually excited, over the top, larger than life WITHOUT any caffeine at all in my system. When I was younger I could take it better – but now, as soon as I consume caffeine, I get ‘high’. Like really high.

So a person who is already fairly ‘high’ gets another dose and hits the ceiling. In goes the chai and I become dangerously talkative, crack all the inappropriate jokes you can imagine and generally feel like a million dollars, and then some. I also feel like I can cook, clean and take a class on the side – while calling my aunt in Pakistan and belting out a tune just because. I had mentioned that I can think and write over chai – that’s still true, but sometimes, the caffeine hits me so hard that I actually get jittery and have to run to the loo every few minutes because the diuretic takes effect too. But yes, any kind of creative work on chocolate, chai and coffee is precious.

One could argue that I could simply have decaf or ‘low-power’ chai, but that would be a disgrace. Give me Chai with Zafran or Malbari Masala Chai or desi chaska Pakistani doodh patti and I’ll love you but if you hand me some watery concoction pretending to be chai I shall feel personally offended. My daughter suggested I could go for coffee instead and I rolled my eyes so that they disappeared into my eyebrows for a good five seconds. COFFEE!! Why would anyone even mention that in my presence? It’s like talking about meat in front of a lion that’s on a diet from his favourite food. If chai does all this to me, imagine what coffee might do? A good strong brew, Caffe Nero (one of the best coffees in Dubai, in my opinion) oh my God, here I come…. Sigh.

So as I was saying, the caffeine sensitivity doesn’t end there. Taken anywhere after 3pm the chai (or more obviously coffee) will affect me so strongly I will be unable to sleep at night and will be goggling around the room like an idiot in bed at 10 pm wondering why the bedside lamp is so beautiful and if I could write on all the beautiful colours and hues and how they are made and if I could hold the rays of light in my hand … I think you get my point. So that leaves me with only one option. Cut back on the caffeine.

Dear reader, it breaks my heart into a million little pieces as I inform you, that I, Mehmudah Rehman, the one who happily gulped down her morning chai like a life-giving elixir, has all but given it up. Mornings now begin with a sober cup of green tea (low caffeine) with lemon and chai is reserved for days when I think I will really need it – if I’ve had a bad night, or if I am under the weather, or if the craving gets too bad. Sometimes I’ll have it three days in a row and feel like I ‘cheated’ because the morning high will last well into the evening – so much so that sometimes I’m unable to relax even for an afternoon nap! As for coffee, if it was possible to fall in love after the first heartbreak and get more severely heartbroken again, that’s what our relationship is like. The aroma, the flavor, the high, the LOVE, the froth, the artisan stuff – oh dear – I should stop writing. I want to sleep tonight. Cheers. Keep chugging this stuff people. While you still can. Meanwhile, I will go brew my self a non-caffeinated chamomile tea and pretend to love it.

Every little step counts

So, sometimes we do stuff, and it’s like we didn’t do it at all. It feels like you made a gargantuan effort, with no yield. It can dishearten you, it can make you feel like “What does it matter if I do it or not, anyway?”

So this is a note to self (and my readers) that don’t give up. Every little bit, every little drop counts. Every act of worship, every act of kindness, every tear, every time you fixed your intentions, every time you gave thanks and for sure, every time you did something for the sake of Allah, is noted, seen and written down.

You might not get a receipt for it but just know in your heart that HE DOES SEE IT!!! And He will allow you to find that which you are seeking. So seeker of love, seeker of truth, seeker of a happy ending, seek! It’s your effort that counts. The effort IS the result. That is the answer to your prayers.

Sometimes results don’t come through immediately. Remember, He is the master of timing. Things will begin to manifest when they’re meant to. Trust me on this one.

Signing off with one of my favourite duas from the Quran:

رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِىْ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِىْ الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَّقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
اے ہمارے رب! ہمیں دنیا میں بھی بھلائی دے اور آخرت میں بھی بھلائی عطا فرما اور ہمیں آگ کے عذاب سے بچا۔
Our Lord! Give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.(Al-Baqarah:201)
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِىْ الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِىْ الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَّقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Our Lord! Give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good and protect us from the punishment of the Fire. (Al-Baqarah:201)

Last year was the best one of my life

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/last-year-was-the-best-one-of-my-life-1.76373157

Illustration 2020 looking back

There could be plenty of ways by which I could remember 2020. I could remember it by the pain and helplessness of seeing my father unwell and his subsequent passing, I could remember it by the fracture of my foot and the agony of not being able to walk, and I could of course remember it by the fateful pandemic that took over all our lives.

I could even remember it by some of the most challenging struggles I have ever faced on a personal level, and difficult questions I have had to ask myself. While the opening of this piece feels contradictory to the title, please bear with me. 2020 really has been the best year of my life so far. Let me explain.

It is true that I lost my father (and that void shall never be filled) but I also realised what a beautiful legacy and what lovely memories he left behind, and what a life he lived. I realised how much of him lives on in me, and ironically, in this year of social distancing, I found some of the most precious souls I am lucky to call friends and mentors.

2020 for me was a year of not just realisations, but actualisations. If the last three years were the onset of a journey, 2020 helped me catch a glimpse of the destination. 2020 was all about learning (formally, due to a parenting course I enrolled in) and informally too, because life happened and lemons, lessons and blessings all tumbled forth.

The fracture had seemed like the end of the world; a bathroom trip meant a laborious struggle with my hated metal poles and while the upper body workout was excellent, my morale wasn’t. Slowly but surely I began to accept what had happened (without questioning fate) and then I began feeling gratitude for the arms that did work, for the hands that carried me everywhere, even for the crutches that bore my weight without a whimper.

Standing on my own two feet again without a cast or a boot felt like a blessing I cannot quite encompass in words — I’m eternally grateful for the tears that expressed my feelings.

Emanating from heart and radiating outward

Another very important change that 2020 marks for me is the realisation that happiness does not depend on our circumstances; in fact, it is a state of mind, a feeling that emanates from the heart and radiates outward into the world.

I had consumed quite a bit of literature on positive thinking but it was this year that I learnt to be truly content and grateful, and found a sort of sanctuary within myself that softened my heart and made it aware of the blessings I had previously overlooked.

Where I had earlier doctored happy thoughts inside my head in order to attract goodness I now find myself being optimistic and content from within because I truly feel there could be no other way to be. I am debating whether contentment or clarity is more important — but the truth is that 2020 has offered both in very satisfying quantities.

Yes, the pandemic has been alarming, but it’s also made me focused on what actually matters and how short life really is and that I should try and make every moment count.

I’ve never been a compulsive shopper (malls make me palpitate with stress) but this year was instrumental in helping me figure out the difference between needs and wants. I now think hard before heading out to the mall — the mad consumerism culture has finally been questioned.

I do need to buy groceries but I can certainly do without dinners at fancy places and a new dress. If we focus on our needs and use our funds in a beneficial way — rather than just feeding our never-ending wants, surely, this will translate into a life better lived.

In 2021 I shall take a moment to cherish the wonderful year that 2020 was for me, the lessons it taught, the insights it offered, the relationships it rescued, the people I gained, and most importantly, the finding of that one person who hitherto had been pretty elusive. Myself.

Notes on a beautiful foggy morning

Originally written for https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/notes-on-a-beautiful-foggy-morning-1.74473820

Published 11/10/20

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Image for illustrative purposes only. Credit: gulfnews.com

I looked into his glowing, beautiful eyes and instantly felt transported into another world. They were magical, they were captivating. His perfect, muscular body glistened in the early morning sun and I felt a sense of awe and wonder. I wanted to be near him, I wanted to understand him, trust him and I wanted him to trust me too, but I felt shy, hesitant.

His mop of dark, unruly hair looked just a tad bit wild, but it suited him. Hesitantly, I walked closer to him, wondering: could I possibly ride him? Black Moon, they called him. This gorgeous horse stood in front of me and I cautiously gave him my hand to smell. He took a couple of sniffs and looked at me intently, as though trying to figure me out.

My first horse-riding lesson was so much more than just that. It was the realisation that getting out of one’s comfort zone is almost always rewarding and that denim skinnies don’t exactly fall into the ‘comfortable pants’ group. So I should tell you that I am mortally afraid of animals.

I think it all started with seeing my cousin being chased (and bitten) by a stray, rabid dog when I was 7 years old. She was terrified and how the dog howled, and sprinted after her, like a being possessed. From that time on, anything larger than an ant makes me highly uncomfortable, be it cats, dogs, bugs, goats or as we will talk about today, horses.

Another thing I should tell you is that I have poor balance. As a baby I am told that I took very long to get walking, I can’t rollerblade or ice-skate to save my life and the yoga poses that require balance and coordination? I usually find myself in a heap on the floor if I try those positions.

Horse riding, as you know, is a skill which requires plenty of balance and fitness, both of which I lack. But I went and signed up for the classes anyway, because though I may be terrified of horses, I am also incredibly attracted to them. I wanted to try something different, a new experience that would make me appreciate nature and take me away from the boring monotony of life.

So here I was, flushed and nervous and looking at Black Moon with wonderment and a longing to be able to ride him. The next 45 minutes were the most delightful minutes anyone ever spent on a saddle, an unreal experience on a beautiful, foggy Dubai morning.

It wasn’t just about learning to ride a horse, it was a negation of about a 100 stereotypes — I am fine with animals (I stroked and patted my horse and lived to tell the tale) and my balance isn’t quite as bad as I thought it was and no, I don’t need to be at my ideal weight in order to ride a horse and it’s OK to learn new things even if you’re not a school-going kid. I also realised that getting on and off the horse is more challenging than I thought and a kind, understanding and qualified instructor is such a blessing.

Black Moon may have looked wild, but he was gentle and trusting and at a mere click of my tongue he would start walking again, or stop if I pulled the reins. Another thing I realised is that horse riding isn’t just about mounting a horse and letting it do all the work, it is a skill that requires the rider to actively use their muscles, in fact it is quite a workout. The average person can burn about 250-400 calories per hour horseback riding at a slow speed.

The joy we receive from being closer to nature, and in particular in interacting with animals, is in it’s own league and I feel like I’ve waited too long to get over my fears and get on the horse. What’s holding you back? What’s the one thing that makes you uncomfortable but you secretly wish you could do it? Perhaps now is the time to take the bull by the horns.

— Mehmudah Rehman is a Dubai-based freelance writer

How old are you? On the correct side of 35…

Originally written for https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/how-old-are-you-on-the-correct-side-of-35-1.73649865

birthday party, cake

On the wrong  correct side of 35

I will complete 35 years on the earth in about two days, and by the time this is in print, I would probably be done and dusted with the message receiving and gift opening that typically happens on the 7th of September every year. Now, I do realize that I am violating a lot of protocols here. Women don’t usually tell their age, much less project it in the national newspaper, and many don’t think reaching the riper side of 35 is a cause of celebration, reflection and achievement. But when have I ever been the sedate follower – I think a lot of what defines me is to not really care about what others might think and do it anyway if I believe in it strongly enough.

For starters, I’m genuinely happy I’ve made it thus far. As a child and even as young adult, I always imagined I wouldn’t make it past the age of 33 – somehow I always thought a tragic accident would kill me. Thanks and gratitude is due, I am safe and well and still around to share some important reflections on my story thus far.

Professor of Psychology Jeffrey Arnett was influential in identifying something called ‘emerging adulthood’ the age between 18-29 when you are still vulnerable and impressionable but because of the way life is, your experiences start to become greatly varied. Many of us are thrown headlong into life at this stage (without the protective comfort of our parents and early mentors) and inevitably experience significant failures and successes in this stage of life. These years have a great impact on who we become as adults. Most people consider early childhood and teenage as the most important building blocks of a person’s personality (and that holds true) however, this age too, has its very sharp learning curves and helps us build critical values and beliefs that last a lifetime.  

Why it is important to identify this information is because a decade earlier my mindset was that of a victim. I was reactive to what people and circumstances were doling out, I had taken away my own control upon myself. I felt hurt, frustrated, disenchanted by life, and was expected to learn my lessons and act on them before I could even process what was happening. You must have heard of the term ‘Hurt people, hurt people’. Because I was unaware of my own emotions, and life was happening as it is meant to happen, I did not develop that quintessential quality of empathy, something I feel all meaningful relationships require.

They say that time is the best healer, I would argue that time is the best teacher too. Today, I am clearer about my purpose in life than I have ever been, I truly value and enjoy the different roles that I have been assigned, both personally and professionally, and most importantly, I have forgiven, both my rash younger self and the people who needed to be forgiven, whether or not they asked for forgiveness. The contentment that I feel is probably because I’ve been able to actively practice gratitude. I have also accepted and understood the unique person that I am, and with all my imperfections, I like and respect the person that I have become. This is not to say that I have become complacent – there’s a lot of learning and self-improvement that I want to do, and many goals that still need achieving.

Yes, the heavy dinner on the weekend, and the occasional indulgence with dessert tends to stick around my waistline much longer than it did when I was younger, and yes the bags under my eyes look ever puffier in the mornings, and the hair is losing vitality and color, but I feel comfortable in my own skin, muffin tops, and all. I feel just as curious as I did when I was a child and I’m grateful for having developed a genuine empathy with has enhanced just about every relationship I have and invited friendships that mean so much to me. I’m a little bit wiser than I was and I’m able to process negative events and emotions in a much healthier way. It’s not like negative events don’t take place anymore, I’m just much less of an emotional wreck and far more positive when that happens. The quote that age is just a number rings very true – and the sexiest thing ever – is confidence.

Choosing between multitasking and mindfulness

Originally published here: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/choosing-between-multitasking-and-mindfulness-1.73166194

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Can you multitask? Most people I know do some sort of multitasking in their lives. Indeed, we live in a day and age where are constantly busy (not necessarily productive) and multitasking seems like the obvious way to save our time.

The super mom should whip up a perfect soufflé at the same time as she is teaching her children math, and oh, she must have been answering work emails the entire time too — all the while looking gorgeous with not a hair out of place. The mere thought of this appalls me. I’d be giant mess if I tried any of that.

There’s a certain pleasure in being in the moment. For me, I don’t really know another way. When I’m in the kitchen, and I’m enjoying how therapeutically my butter and sugar get whisked together and how lovely my eggs look when I add them to the mixture, I can barely think of anything else.

I open my phone with the sole purpose of finishing my audiobook, but I’m just caught up in WhatsApp groups and messages, and before I know it, I’m browsing my LinkedIn and someone shared a post about this amazing little school in Africa … you get the picture

– Mehmudah Rehman

Focus gives me mental clarity and the task at hand ceases to become just a mundane chore, it transforms into an experience. Instead of feeling tired, I feel genuinely happy and refreshed, flushed with a sense of accomplishment.

I like doing things one by one, fully engaged and aware, almost meditative. I like to find the joy in whatever I am doing, get lost in it, learn from it and appreciate why I did it.

Bombarded by a million distractions

For a person like me who thrives in this kind of concentration, being bombarded by a million distractions affects my mental well-being. I am now realising that someone like me must learn to manage their own peace of mind and practice mindfulness very consciously, or suffer having it taken away gleefully by the myriad distractions we constantly face.

Let me give you a typical scenario. I open my phone with the sole purpose of finishing my audiobook, but I’m just caught up in WhatsApp groups and messages, and before I know it, I’m browsing my LinkedIn and someone shared a post about this amazing little school in Africa … you get the picture.

The biggest culprit for me is probably email, which because it is of a professional nature, feels somewhat urgent, although in reality most of the email we receive is neither urgent nor important (taking a leaf from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits).

There’s that email saying that an invoice hasn’t been cleared and that one asking me for the lesson plans, and because I hyperventilate if I have too many pending tasks, I feel obliged to reply straight away. My audiobook sits waiting patiently and my mind zooms from one app to the other.

Deep sense of joy and pleasure

The above obviously is not ideal and I am working towards bringing more mindfulness and focus into my life, because when done with intent and clarity, anything we do brings about a deep sense of joy and pleasure.

For me, it is just about eliminating distractions and knowing when to postpone things and when not to open a certain app. Similarly when I am sitting, playing or talking with the girls, or reading a book to my little one, it completely destroys the experience for them if I look over their shoulders into my phone.

And when we do have that focus, we tend to do well in whatever we are doing. That obviously, is the beginning of excellence, which when becomes a habit, leads one to greatness.

Being present in the moment and doing a task efficiently the first time also saves a good deal of time. As I gradually move towards healthier habits and a more conscious usage of the 24 hours allotted to me in a single day, I am realising that paradigm shifts are brought about by just implementing small doable habits on a daily basis.

And because multitasking was never my thing anyway, let me start with eliminating distractions, being fully aware of what I’m doing and doing things like they make sense to me, one at a time.

Corona thoughts

faith

My fingers feel a little bit unfamiliar today, yet typing on the laptop has been something that I have done incessantly for the past many years. Perhaps it feels a little strange because I haven’t written on the blog for a long, long time. There was no time. No time to breathe deeply, or think, or even do a self-analysis. There was just the mad rush of meeting deadlines, doing the school runs and somehow making sure everyone was fed and watered and that uniforms didn’t sit in the laundry hamper for too long.

Now as my children attempt e-learning and I (unsuccessfully) try to tutor my little one, pretending to be a wonder mom, I can’t quite wrap my head around everything that’s been happening. To say it’s been surreal would be a start. Sometimes I smile too much because I want to be positive and happy and spread good vibes around the house, sometimes I feel utterly depressed (almost despondent) and wonder if anything I’m doing even makes a difference.

There’s a mountain of dishes at the sink and a half-finished cake batter sits on the counter, some of it splattered across the cooker. Crammed inside the fridge are a lot of grocery supplies to last us for more than a week (hopefully) and nestled on top are yellowed, over-priced flowers I’m hiding from my daughter. It’s her birthday you see, and I want it to be special, as special as it can be in the circumstances. I think wistfully of the hired help that would come in and make my house look less like a war zone. War zone. That’s exactly what it feels like right now.

I see my husband off to work I wonder how can he go? Is it safe? And who knows how long the job will last? And is it even under my control? The realization that so little is under my control dawns on me and I look upwards in a silent prayer. I fumble with my phone and realize that yet another friend has just lost her job. As I scroll to my newsfeed I look away – the number of people infected by the virus is spiraling completely out of control. People are struggling and suffering around the world. I look outside the window and the road is eerily silent. Then a garbage truck shows up and a man dressed to the nines in protective gear empties the dump out into the truck. I bite my lip and think – that in fact is real risk and he’s doing it without a complaint. Why have I never been thankful? Is now the time to start?

I often think back to Mom, and her indomitable spirit and her ability to give thanks in the hardest of moments. She passed away without witnessing these strange and uncertain times. I wonder what she would have said if she were here. She would have asked me to take stock of myself, of my life. She would have asked me to realize all the blessings I am surrounded with. She would have told me to appreciate the roof I have over my head and enjoy the little things my children get excited about. She would have called my depression nonsense and she would have told me to get more productive and stop wasting time. Gosh, I realize I miss my Mom. It’s been years since we lost her but it never gets easier.

As I finish the cake batter and ensure that the oven is hot enough I stop for a moment and think to myself – if there was ever a chance to prove myself, it is now. A voice inside me says something along the lines of “I’m done!” but then, as a lovely smell wafts from the oven I feel as though I might get through this after all. It isn’t about living a perfect life in a perfect world – it’s about being the best you can be in a world that tests you. It’s easy to have faith when paychecks are fat and life is exactly as you want it to be, but isn’t now the time to truly submit to the will of my Lord? Isn’t this the time to ask forgiveness and give thanks and realize that the world is but a test?

“Surprise!” We all say together as she walks down the stairs. The icing has gone completely runny and I have to admit my cakes usually look much nicer. But it doesn’t matter. She’s so happy. She loves the card I wrote. The Pringles are hugely welcome too. It isn’t a giant celebration or anything but it’s definitely very special. “Thanks Mom! The cake is delicious! And how on earth did you manage to buy the flowers?” I steal a look upwards and stifle a tear as I finally, say thanks.