On Discussions and Dialogues.

While speaking to a friend last evening, the topic of meditation and yoga came up.I mentioned to him that I had restarted practicing meditation last week. As soon as I told him that, he immediately brushed it off, and went on to say that meditation and yoga were useless and he did not believe it added any value.

 As we talked more about it, he asked more questions and I could sense that those questions were more from a place of ridicule or to hold on to his opinion or give a counter argument , than from a place of curiosity to know or understand more than what he already knew and felt about this topic. 

I responded to his questions by sharing my experience, my current awareness to to the one million thoughts scrambling in my head, moving and intermingling faster than light, and how I was slowly but surely beginning to experience more and more moments of space between those thoughts. And how that felt like floating in space but yet rooted to the earth.

Funnily enough, he had more ridiculing comments like, “so basically you go into this hypnotic space ? How do you come back from there ? And what’s the point of getting a just few moments of space in 24 hours of a day? The rest of the day is filled up with thoughts anyway. What difference will a few moments make ? And later he concluded that .. he had a list of things not to explore in life, yoga and meditation were on that list. 

Side note – right now I am contemplating on whether to shift the intent of this writing to meditation and my dance with it or stick to my original topic.

Anyway to yesterday ..

So, this went on for a while. He held on to his point of view, and I was surprised at how he could be so closed about meditation and yoga. From the pedestal that I was sitting on, I even told him how I was so disappointed in him and his views and that, this was not what I had expected of him. I felt as though he had ended up labeling something as negative without personally exploring it. I have fierce and strong arguments when it comes to categorizing things (whether a thing, feeling, thought perspective, action, deed, person) as right/ wrong or good/bad I can see a hundred of shades of grey between white and black. 

So back to my friend … the more he held on to his anti yoga / meditation view, the more I pushed and tried to convince him otherwise. In fact the visual I have in my head is of dragging him out of his house, pulling at his feet, while he kicked and screamed, holding on to anything and everything to keep him from being pulled away from what was home to him. 

At the end of it, he said ” You win, you are right, I give up”. I am convinced that it was my debating skills that made him say that, not because he got any new insights from the conversation or discussion we had. 😊

That is when I realized I was being no different. I too was being adamant about my view and on convincing him about it, not to mention ridiculing him for the position he was holding.

Why do we hold our perspectives so strongly as though that is THE right way ? More so why is there the need make someone else buy into our point of view ? And why do we only accept whose views are similar to ours ? And why do differences make us feel defensive ? And finally why do we label, define, categorize and everything we encounter into boxes. What can’t we just let things be ?

The key is to shift from discussions to dialogues. When we approach from the perspective of discussions, we are discussing about a particular topic, the focus is out there, so each of us feels like it’s our responsibility and duty to share our views and opinion on it, And if this happens to be group discussions, the popular and stronger opinion gets precedence. It has its own benefits in different contexts like planning etc  but sometimes the ‘heart’ element gets missed out. 

 On the other hand when we have dialogues, they happen between people. Even though there is a topic, the meaning of a dialogue is sharing between people, hence we listen for more, we are curious about what people say or do, why they do what they do, what had them come to a certain conclusion etc. In a dialogue we suspend our view, regardless of whether we agree to what’s being said or not, we stay open and curious. A dialogue gives room and space for differences. 

David Bohm introduced the concept of a dialogue, stating that a dialogue can be considered as a free flow of meaning between people in communication, in the sense of a stream that flows between banks.These “banks” are understood as representing the various points of view of the participants.

…it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated. – David Bohm

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi

Sheena Yusuf 

19 August, 2017

The Question of Sexual Abuse

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A few months ago, I held an informal workshop with a group of young girls between the ages of 16 and 18. Our initial concerns were about gender equality… how restricting and frustrating it is to be judged and to constantly live under double standards. They felt given that they had more responsibilities at home as compared to boys their age, their every action was under scrutiny and this affected their sense of self esteem. But as we talked ,we realized there were other things that had taken more from them…. had in fact robbed them of their sense of self worth.Very important and untalked about events in their lives…child molestation …sexual abuse.

We had suddenly arrived at a very important space . Something that was crying out to be released poured out into the room that day. What followed was a series of revelations that were painful and often laden with shame.

After the initial anxiety and awkwardness of addressing such deeply personal and hidden  secrets passed …they started sharing little and big stories… of being touched, of being spoken to inappropriately, of being molested.. Having been a victim of sexual abuse and molestation myself it was easy to identify with them and let the stories pour out…

Riya shared  how she was inappropriately touched by a male acquaintance of the family. It was not like he touched her anywhere “significant” but she felt the touch was inappropriate and did not know how to deal with it. She said that it had happened a couple of times in the past when he had visited her family. A casual touch on the hand,  a caress on the back or shoulder, which seemed harmless in itself but she just wasn’t comfortable … it did not feel right…yet she couldn’t trust her instincts. And she thought it was rude to walk away. Eventually when the touches became more frequent, she told her father who said “you must be imagining it … we know him very well”.

Sarah said her favorite teacher spoke to her inappropriately and kept finding excuses to be alone with her. When she had told him that she was not comfortable, and requested that he not speak to her in such a manner,  he hadn’t been pleased. His entire demeanor had changed and  he had begun to treat her differently in class,  paying her less attention. Her grades had begun to drop. He had had made more attempts to cajole her as she constantly refused to be alone with him, she went from being favorite student to not being acknowledged in class at all. She was dealing with feelings of inadequacy …with no power to right the situation.

Maria’s uncle took her and her friends for a picnic in a park.  Being the only adult around , he took the opportunity to touch her private parts . This was in a public place!  When she tried to resist, to get up from his lap, he held her down firmly and continued to abuse her. This had happened when she was  seven years old!  She did not think of screaming. When she told her mother , she was told to just forget about it .. . don’t think about it !!!  She discreetly avoided being alone with her uncle but otherwise maintained normal relationships with her abuser!

Susannah sat through a whole movie holding her father’s friend’s penis in her hand. Her parents sat alongside . She was eight! She knew it was wrong but didn’t know what to do. It was her father’s dear friend.

There was another horrifying story that one participant shared about her friend. Asma’s father came back an hour earlier before her mother so he could spend “quality time “ with her. It was only after being abused for almost three years that she realized what was going on .When she eventually tried to kill herself is when her mother realized her husband had been having sex with their daughter.

The common thread in all these stories is that, all these abusers were people, who the girls are already familiar with. Simply put… they are male adult family members like uncles, friends of parents, cousins, teachers and sometimes even servants or chauffeurs. In fact they are mostly people from the family’s trusted inner circle who are also playing roles as caretakers. I personally know a lot of women who were abused by teachers who came to teach them religious studies while they were young .This is a sickening abuse of trust.

Another common theme is that many of the girls had spoken to their parents or guardians about the incidents, and had not gotten any appropriate, responsible responses, that had made them feel heard or validated. Some insisted “you are imagining things”,while others shushed them and told them to ignore it and to move on as if nothing had happened and there are even a few who blamed the children for inviting this unwanted attention!

Which means no action was taken to remove them from the situation and that they probably had to go on interacting with their abusers as though nothing was really wrong.

The parents probably felt awkward or unsure about dealing with the situation as the abuser was known to them, and confronting would mean upsetting the equilibrium… a system (friendship, family, work)  that is already in place so they felt safer believing that nothing happened, or even if it did, it was best to ignore it. And there was probably a lot of shame involved too.

I could go on and share more painful stories that I have heard over the years but I think my point is already made here. This is something that is happening more often than we think it is and it is more serious than we like to believe it to be. We are in denial .We bury our heads in the sand so that we don’t have to deal with the gravity of this issue.

Coming back to the conversation with the girls, the mere sharing of similar experiences was a big catharsis in itself. They realized everyone had suffered and had been silent. Now their suffering was shared. Also, the group sharing organically educated each other on how to set boundaries in similar situations.

We decided to go deeper into the issue of silence…why do most abused girls keep it a secret?

When you are abused you lose your sense of security. Something in your world is not right Did you cause it? By consenting to the act out of lack of understanding or fear, did you do something wrong? You are not old enough to judge. And when you have picked up your courage to tell your parents and have not been heard, you shut the incident out of your mind so  your world is normal again…till you are abused again.

Some were threatened and so did not speak up. Sometimes,  there was a fear of losing the love and attention of someone they loved, so they continued giving in to it even though they felt uncomfortable. And here the abuse had lasted over longer periods.

So how do we stop this happening? That was our next question.

How to say No! What is wrong? What feels wrong is wrong we decided. We human beings are born with an innate sense of right and wrong beyond individual cultural understandings. We need to hear ourselves… our inner voices. If a touch feels wrong…it is wrong.

We  practiced voicing out how we would handle the situation if it happened again . It is one thing to recognize something as inappropriate and another to voice it out and set our boundaries with people. It was great to hear our own voices out loud, out of our bodies saying NO and even asking for help.We also did some role-play, enacted individual scenarios and changed our responses to them. Sometimes we decided it was better to move away from compromising situations at the sense of danger. We made a call to inform our parents and guardians and make ourselves heard. Sarah decided to tell her parents and to enlist their support to go to the principal, Leila to reiterate to her father her misgivings .

This turned out to be such a powerful conversation that I decided to share the experience so that even those who did not attend the workshop might benefit.

So that… Other silences can be broken.

What follows next is a series of messages with titles indicating the category/categories you might belong to. You may read only what is relevant to you, as it is a long read, but my hope and wish is that you take the time to read all of them.

If you are a molester/abuser

You have abused your power/position /status to violate another human being, even worse if it is a child, for your personal gratification. You might hide from the world because you haven’t been exposed yet , but you know who you are. Shame on you !  You are a coward!  Through your actions you have taken the power away from another and even scarred them for life. You probably have a family you love.  I wonder if is this an experience you want for your children or loved ones? There is no excuse for what you have done. My personal wish is that you get caught, confronted, shamed and punished to the extent that you don’t even dream of molesting another child/person. And at the same time my humanity urges you to  get help. You were probably abused or molested early on in life and are doing the same thing to another in order to  reclaim that sense of power that was taken away from you. Please get help !

If you are a parent or guardian

Do take this issue seriously.  It is your responsibility as a parent to protect your children. When you stand up for children and show them that you will do your best to protect them,  you empower them stand up for themselves. Your child needs to feel safe with you  and  trust that you’ve got their back.

Please educate your children early on, what kind of touch is okay and what is not, so that they are aware of it in advance and can catch it early. Teach them about body parts and what parts are not allowed to be touched by others. Be specific, don’t be vague.

Teach your children to set appropriate boundaries with people, physical space boundaries and body boundaries. Help them voice it out loud.

If they come to you sharing such experiences, don’t turn a blind eye to it, address it, do take them seriously.

If you are feeling uncomfortable about something or find yourself avoiding it, get curious, explore what is behind it. What is causing you to do that ?

Encourage your children to share their experiences without blaming or shaming them. No, they did not do anything to invite this experience, It is not because of something they said or did, or the clothes they wore. Please get that !  I have heard the story of a young boy who was forced by two older boys of the neighborhood to open and pull down  his pants. He did not want to do it but they had threatened to hurt him if he did not, so he gave in. He was afraid to tell his parents about it because he thought that they would also find out about what he did and would be angry at him. We need to provide the space for our children to share anything, even things that they are ashamed of.

Encourage them to not keep body secrets with other adults, especially when they are told not to tell you about being touched or played with inappropriately.

It is important to play out different scenarios for your child, to explain the different kind of situations where it might happen (rather than just tell them, ‘don’t let anyone touch you’. A child might not be able to understand the intent of it, so expand it for them Besides being touched,  warn your children also about being made to touch others.

Be vigilant about potential abusers and molesters even if they are close family and friends, especially people from the inner circle who have access to your children.

All of this is relevant for your sons as well, not just your daughters, they are equally vulnerable to molestation and sexual abuse.

Since most abusers of girls are men, fathers please get more involved and initiate conversations about this with your girls and boys. You play a very vital role here because you are a man.

Teach your boys to respect girls and treat them right. Model that for them, practice what you preach. They need to respect a woman’s physical space and not treat a woman like a piece of meat. I used that term consciously here because I recently heard a man refer to a woman passing by as a  ‘beautiful piece of meat’. How derogatory is that ?

Finally, please don’t go so overboard with caution that you child starts building a wall against the opposite sex in the fear of molestation and abuse. They need to learn how to have healthy relationships, set healthy boundaries and not be on constant fear of danger.

We need to love our children and respect them so that they feel secure about who they are. We need to keep  doing things that boost their self esteem and self worth. We need to encourage them to stand up for themselves in any situation.

 Some Warning Signs
Grades starting to drop .
They refuse to go out or  be alone with a particular person, it could be a care giver, someone you inherently trust.

Unnatural  = unexplained bouts of emotion, moodiness.

Causing physical harm to themselves .

If you are a victim / potential victim of sexual abuse
I am really sorry that you had to go through this. I am sorry that you feel/felt powerless in the situation. I feel for you. I am here if you want help with this. It is not your fault, even if you couldn’t walk away from the situation or stop it. It did not happen because of something you said or did or because of the clothes you wore. Acknowledging the fact that you have been or are being  abused is a brave enough step, now you can begin to address this by getting help.

You are good enough, perfect the way you are and you don’t need to do anything to win anyone’s attention/care/affection/love. Please reach out and get help. Speak to your parents, speak to anyone responsible, speak to a social worker, speak to the authorities. Speak up and get help. There is no shame in exposing someone violating you even if they are close to you. This is your fundamental right as a human being. Protect yourself !

Please know that any kind of touch or interaction that you are not comfortable with, however normal it looks on the outside can be categorized as inappropriate. And that is a good enough reason to set a boundary. It is as simple as that!

When you are young you might feel powerless against an adult and might find it hard to speak up and say No or confront the person openly. Thats okay. If thats the case with you, do the next best thing, make excuses to leave the situation without a confrontation. The key is to protect yourself and find anyway that works for you.

Sometimes you might not necessarily be physically forced, but be coerced into situations like this, which  is even worse because there is emotional manipulation involved.  These are hard ones to tackle if you are feeling vulnerable or emotionally fragile. Please watch out for that.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel something is not right or someone is too close for comfort and yet you feel there is no tangible reason to question it, err on the side of caution, trust your gut and act on it. If you are not able to confront or be assertive, make excuses to leave the situation.

Sexual abusers and molesters are actually cowards on the inside, even though they might seem controlling or dominating on the outside. They take advantage of people who seem weak, vulnerable, timid.

Watch out for emotional manipulators, who manipulate you into believing that you owe them, for something (favor, help support ) they have done for you. They might make you feel guilty or ungrateful for not  giving in to them You do not owe your body to anyone even if they have given you the moon. My friend Anna shared her experience of a helping professional who offered her marriage counseling sessions for the couple but used that opportunity to try and manipulate her into having sex with him. She managed  to wriggle her way out of it, even though she couldn’t confront him.

Watch out for such situations with people in positions of power, who you look up to and respect. In such cases, your guards are automatically down and you might not even register or recognize something as sexual abuse until after something has happened.

Finally, my hope is that you do not let these events in your life  bring you down, rather to use them as learning opportunities to discover ways to set clear boundaries.

If you are an adult survivor of child sexual abuse

I am really sorry that you had the experience. I have been there too. And I want to say this to you once again. It wasn’t your fault !

As an adult you might have worked through some of the impact this has had on you, or you can clearly see your struggles in life now (related to the abuse) and are getting help addressing them. Or you might be one of those people who feel that you were one of the lucky ones who did not get impacted by the abuse. And my response to that is, you are in complete denial. Sexual abuse can impact our psyche in  so many different ways and we might not be  even aware that it might be the root cause of some of the challenges in our lives.

When you are sexually abused as a child, you lose the sense to discern what kind of touch is appropriate and not. More so, when children are abused while they are really young, added to the fact that it was not addressed, they probably end up misinterpreting the experience as something normal.

One of the biggest challenges is that one loses one’s sense of boundaries. They were violated at such an impressionable age that their boundaries got created from their experience with the abusers or the response of their caregivers/parents. It wasn’t their personal boundary,  so the ability to respond to violation is weakened.

When a  child who has been abused is asked to ignore it and continue as through nothing has happened, he or she  loses their capacity to react appropriately in similar situation in the future. Reaction time to violated boundaries might also be slow. One might know that  they feel uncomfortable about something but delay or avoid reacting for the fear of creating trouble or being rude. And the response might also be meek and timid as opposed to being strong and assertive.

One might hold a warped and unhealthy perspective towards intimacy and sex, either in avoidance of it or over by obsessing about it. One might also struggle with creating intimacy in their life where there is lack of trust towards men,  intimacy, relationships or  anything that either triggers a past experience.A  close friend recently told me the story of friend of hers, who was sexually molested for many years since she was 8 years old. As an adult now, she cannot be on her own, she is addicted to having relationships and using sex in order to feel good about oneself.

Lack of self esteem and self worth are the one of the biggest by-products of sexual abuse, One does not respect and value oneself  enough to make healthy choices. One might also associate or identify one’s self worth by giving into another wants and needs, for validation of self, to be liked and appreciated even at the cost of themselves.

It is natural to shame/blame oneself, and feel guilty and unclean about the abuse and/or hold resentment towards the people who were supposed to protect us when we needed them the most.

And sometimes the victim himself/herself begins to sexually molest  or abuse others, as a form of revenge for his/her experience or to reclaim sense of power and control that was taken away from them in the past.

And there are probably many more other ways it has impacted you, What I have done is compile all the information I have collected from the stories of women and children I have worked with over the last 6-8 years who had been sexually molested or abused. This is so that you can check to see if you resonated with them.

Yes, you were sexually abused and molested, it has had a deep impact on you where you feel like  you lost a part of you. I want to remind you to not let your circumstances define you. Create from here, create your new present.  It is a lot of work t it is possible to heal and move on. And you are going to be okay. Do trust that. Please get the help of a social worker, mental health professional or coach to help you process this so that you are able to life and healthy and peaceful life.

If you have never been  sexually abused.

You are one of the lucky ones !  I am happy for you. And I sincerely wish that you do not have that experience. Because you do not know what is like you might not really know  or understand  the extent of the impact of it on someone who was abused. You might be immune to it all and end up being indifferent or judgmental towards victims of sexual abuse and molestation.  They say that a person is the sum total of all their experiences. If hear of a friend/partner/family member/acquaintance/stranger who is/was being abused, do remember that you they are is also a result of their experience.  Blaming and shaming a victim of sexual molestation is similar to blaming a victim of rape. They need your compassion and understanding. Being a bystander to sexual abuse, being aware of it and not taking action to protect the victim is equivalent to being party to the crime.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse and molestation looking to bring perspective and understanding to what happened so that you can reclaim your life, please feel free to contact me. I am a certified life coach accredited by The International Coach Federation. You can contact me at sheenayusuf@gmail.com.

Living with Serenity and Grace

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The serenity prayer goes like this – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

I have had a little fridge magnet of this prayer for a few years now. It would grab my attention from time to time. It is one thing to appreciate this as a philosophy for life or put in up on a wall (real or Facebook) as a reminder, but it is a whole different ball game to surrender to it  when life hits you where it hurts.

Over the last year I have been grappling with a few events in my life. When I look back, I can see now that I had been (still am, at times) trying to play God, trying to control outcomes and circumstances, sometimes even kicking and screaming in non acceptance of some painful or unpleasant elements of my life.  I was stuck in the “why” of things. — Why did it happen? Why couldn’t they do different?  Why couldn’t it be different? Why now,?   Why at all? Why me? and so on. If you don’t already know, such thoughts can only take you down one path, a downward spiral.

Trying to fight something that already is can suck the life out of our soul. It is tiresome and draining, like swimming against the tide. I can take a class on that !

During moments of clarity I can see it for what it is. I have no control over another, how they act, what they do or say, I have no control over losing loved ones to death or leaving,  I have no control over the physical form I was born with , I have no control over natural disasters and so on. What I do have control over is my responses to them and how I choose to let it impact my life. Note to self : Accepting what is or surrendering to what is, is not passive resignation. It is a more proactive and creative approach to life and making things work for it despite the challenges.

If I am making the right assumption, it is not the events that bother us so much, its more about  the fatalistic stories we tell ourselves about them that sets off the panic, and bring our control freak selves into full action. I lost my job therefore……, I lost my husband therefore ………, or  I have lost the capacity to use my limbs,  therefore…, my face is scarred… therefore……, I have cancer…therefore. We can keep making up these stories about events that happen in our life.  At the end it is about whether you can do something about it or not. Do you have the courage to change the things you CAN change. More so,  do you have the courage and strength to LET GO of the things you cannot?

Last evening, I was having conversation with a friend living with cancer about the numerous physical challenges he had been facing over the years, the ever increasing symptoms,  the different tests and treatments, side effects from them etc . I have seen him function, he does not make the cancer all of his life and yet it is a part of his life. He does not fight what is, he goes with the flow. He now seems to have more and more debilitating side effects from his treatment, which has impacted his day to day life in a significant manner and yet he seems to manage it with enough grace. This is why I wrote about him as someone living with cancer and not suffering from cancer. I guess perspective is that the fine line that defines how we do life.

So, coming back to the serenity prayer and one of the agreements from “The Four Agreements,” (Always do your best) my wish for you and I is that we have the serenity and grace to accept what we cannot change and do our best to change the things we can, the wisdom to know the difference and let life flow through us.

Sheena Yusuf

Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com
http://www.sheenayusuf.com

June 12, 2017

LIFE AS IT ALREADY IS

Assumptions are a strange phenomenon. The nature of it is such that over time, we lose our ability to differentiate between assumptions and truth. They have such a powerful impact on our perspectives on the world, and on life itself. I recently had an experience that just affirmed that once again.

A few weeks ago, I was at a railway station in Goa waiting to take the train back home to Kerala after a week-long break. I am a bit of a ‘stickler’ or a little obsessive compulsive, especially while traveling on public transport.

In this state of mind, I am perpetually paying a little too much attention to my surroundings, to my hands, what I am touching, constantly worrying about cleanliness and hygiene.

So, we were at the station early and had more than an hour to kill as our train was running late too. My son Aman and I found a place to sit down and wait. He would go back and forth to the shop close by to pick up chocolates or snacks for the journey. My own attention was spent on all that was around me. I could see stray dogs walking on the platform, I saw that some passengers were friendly to them while some pushed them away.I had got myself comfortable with dogs very recently, and didn’t want to take any chances with stray dogs– something you find everywhere you look in Goa.

Walking or waiting all around me were hundreds of people who hailed from various walks of life. It was  around seven in the evening. There was a woman brushing her teeth a few metres to my right and when I saw her walk up to the tracks to clean her mouth, I wondered to myself why she couldn’t she have used to washroom instead.

My son, impatient after a while of trying to make conversation with me, disappeared once again to buy a bottle of water and more snacks.

As I was waiting for him, I saw a man crawling on the floor in front of me. He was using his hands and folded legs to move around. All could think about was how unhygienic the place was as the platform was wet and dirty from the rains. I felt sorry for him and also noticed my feeling of discomfort watching him.

Next thing I knew, a bunch of kids found the empty spot where Aman had been sitting. Three girls and a little boy squished into the space next to me and I found the proximity extremely uncomfortable. I found myself a bit irritated as they had taken my son’s place. The girls arm was brushing my arm and their bags were close to mine. I looked up to see their mother standing beside them as she had no place to sit.

The girl sitting next to me looked like she was twelve years old. Her sister, who was much younger, sat on her lap fidgeting around, making uncomfortable amounts of physical contact with me. If this was at an airport, I think I would have been less bothered. I even contemplated walking away to find another seat but I couldn’t find any.

As I sat there, I noticed the wall of separation had already built between them and myself. It was like I felt I was better than them; that they were somehow less than me. This unconscious conclusion I had already come to, which I immediately realised, was a product of all the assumptions I had made at first glance. The kind of clothes they were wearing, their appearance, their bags, my pre-conceived notions and a few other factors had constructed this assumption before I had even looked at them properly.

Something then urged me to pick up a conversation with the girl. I asked her where they were from, where they were travelling to, and the conversation began.  A conversation that made those invisible walls crumble and open up my heart.

Her name was Sana. She was thirteen, studying in the seventh grade. She explained that her family was going to get on a train to Lucknow to visit her grandfather who was ill. They lived in Goa and was taking a month off from school to make this trip. Her father was from Lucknow and mother, somewhere in Karnataka. She said when she was young and her parents were travelling, they happened to pass by Goa and decided to set up base there.

I then found out that the man who I had seen crawling on the floor earlier was her father. He had contracted polio as a child and was paralysed from the waist, down.  He was the sole breadwinner of the family and he earned his living as a tattoo artist.

A little later in the conversation, she told me that her sister sitting on her lap had Down syndrome. She also had a hole in her heart and had severe epileptic attacks, hence couldn’t be operated upon. My heart just broke hearing their story.

Sana told me that she was supposed to be in the eighth grade, but lost a year as she missed a lot of school when her sister was sick. She also introduced me  to the rest of her siblings who slowly joined into the conversation. The girl who was ill, Mallika, really liked to call herself Mallika didi (older sister). She had the sweetest smile. The family told us that she very intelligent even though she couldn’t communicate much.

In a short while, we were all exchanging jokes and riddles with each other. Among all the assumptions I had made, one was that they couldn’t understand or speak english. They would comfortably explain, in English, certain Hindi words that I didn’t understand. The little boy was taking pictures of us on his mother’s mobile. These kids were so confident and sure of themselves.

As I looked into their eyes, I found all their faces were glowing and with so much life. There was a different energy around them. The glow, energy had already been there earlier, but I was seeing it just now because I had opened myself to see them.

When it was time to part, we exchanged numbers. I asked the mother to send me the little girl’s medical reports to forward to my doctor friends to see if there was anything we could do to help them. After a bit of hesitation, as I didn’t want to embarrass them,  I gave Sana Eidi (a customary practise where elders give children money or gifts during Eid) to be distributed among all her siblings. I felt sad walking away from them. I had made a heart connection and I could see it in their eyes too. We agreed to keep in touch and parted ways.

The next morning, I received a message from her, thanking me for the gift and wishing us a great journey. Since then we have communicated a few times over the phone. I am not sure how things will pan out in the future, whether our paths will cross in the future or not. All I know is that when I met them, I was fully present with them.

If I had shut myself off based on all my assumptions, I would have missed the gift that life presented to me. I would have missed this beautiful experience with the girls and what they taught me. I walked away feeling richer, fuller, bigger  than I was before I met them.

Coming back to assumptions, as human beings we are assuming machines. With this machine working round the clock, we are constantly forming assumptions of everything that we see or experience. It would be interesting to step back and observe our  assumptions about people or situations.

What are your assumptions about people of colour, white people, slow drivers, fast drivers,  women drivers, people who appear religious based on their attire, people who are old, young people, sick people, people who are have a lot of money, those who don’t, people who struggle with anger,  depression, the high achievers, the drifters, people who are over weight, introverts. extroverts, homemakers, unemployed, homeless, failure, success?

I once read something along the same lines. I don’t remember the source, but here it is: ‘When two people interact, it’s not just a simple interaction between two people; each bring in a whole load of assumptions based on their fears and negative experiences from their past. For every voice that’s spoken there are five other voices in the head influencing it. ‘

This means that we do not experience our present just as it is. To a large extent it is colored by our past. Most of us, even as adults play these old tapes over and over again and come to broken conclusions about our present experiences.

If we just pause and observe life, people and  situations just as they are, not coloured by our past or future, what we create for ourselves will truly be liberating because we will the see  beauty and perfection of life as it already is !

fullsizerender-2

Sheena Yusuf

Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com
http://www.sheenayusuf.com

October 2, 2016

 

Its your serve!

Have you been in a challenging circumstance with someone wishing something were different about it?  Wishing they acted differently?

Do you catch yourself thinking, ’If only he or she were more loving, more understanding or loving,  less critical,  more forgiving…..things would be better” ?

I write about this today, as I sit in non-acceptance of a particular conversation with a dear friend which did not go as well as I expected. As I sit here, I can think of a hundred things she could have said or done different, that would have made that interaction less painful for me. I wish I was treated with more kindness, more compassion, more value and  respect. The more I stay in this place of expectation, the more resentful I get.

Earlier this evening, in a conversation with another friend, I heard him share an experience of his, of how he had not felt supported by his friends when he needed them the most. He had been going through the most traumatic period of his life and he felt alone and abandoned. He spoke of the same feelings of anger, resentment and also  entitlement.  He said, they never measured up to his expectation of them, His internal judgement was, “they ought to know or  do different” He also spoke of the insights he had gained after months of accumulating anger and how he was finding a way to make peace with it.

Before we go about making the wanting & needing wrong, because it only leads to unmet  expectations, lets get something straight. Most all of what we feel entitled to in our relationships with others, is something that we most definitely deserve. We thrive on that, it nourishes us but we look for it in the wrong places.

We are all needy for acceptance, understanding, love, compassion, respect, freedom,  space, forgiveness, being witnessed, and much more. The reason we demand that from another is because we feel the lack within ourselves. Trying to fill ourselves by others is like each of us walking about with empty glasses, expecting to be filled by the other.

To truly fill ourselves, we have to go to the source to receive these divine qualities.  For some of us that source is God, for some, Universe, Nature etc. Our relationship with the world is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves & our relationship with the source.

A Question to ask ourselves is, are we giving ourselves that same, love, respect, space, understanding, compassion etc that we are expecting or yearning from another ?

This reminds me yet another story of a client who shared an experience of how she had been treated poorly by her boyfriend. I love the analogy she used to describe it. She said she saw herself standing under his window while he threw garbage down at her. She cried and pleaded him to stop and she continued doing so, and yet did not move. She stood there, screaming at him, and making him the bad guy for treating her so and yet continued to stand there. It took her a while to see how she had been treating herself exactly  or even worse than how had been with her. She hadn’t realised until then that she hadn’t been listening to her heart, and that  she had options now. She chose to move !

It took her a while to see what she had been doing to herself.Eventually, when she filled herself up with love & kindness, began to value and respect herself, she found her relationships  more intimate and trustworthy.

It’s not that life or people change suddenly and everything falls into place when we  love and accept ourselves for who we are. Our relationship with our elves is an ongoing lifelong commitment. What will shift though is our perception. Our acceptance of ourselves with all our fears and neediness, brings us to a humbling place of acceptance of others for they are just like us.

When reconnect to our hearts, we find our heart at peace in relationships and it dissolves the layers that get in the way of truly seeing and being the the present with another.

THE LOVE

When you find the love, you find yourself.
The secret is in the love.
You are the love, not another.
Everything is in the love,
and everyone needs the love.
If you find this, what more could you want?
When you know, what could you want?
When you have the knowledge of the love,
you feel peace in your heart.
The jewels are inside you.

~ Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal ar-Rafa’i ash-Shadhuli
Music of the Soul

 

Sheena Yusuf

Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

PO Box 72280, Dubai, UAE
Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com
http://www.sheenayusuf.com

May 4, 2016

 

To remember who you are, you need to forget who they told you to be.

A familiar conversation that I have been witness to, many a times over the years. It is in the context of arranged marriages. Typically (there are many exceptions now), the elders of boy’s family would visit the girl’s family, also to see and get a better idea about the girl. Once the families gave their approval, the boy and girl would meet.

As a young girl, I have heard many elders describe the  “approved” girl with pride to their family and friends as soft-spoken, sweet, not too talkative, a bit shy, fair (skinned), not too opinionated, educated but not too educated, responsible and the likes. These were the typical qualities that were acceptable and sometimes, even required.

Recently an acquaintance was describing her two daughters to me. She said that her younger daughter, the 11-year old, was quiet, obedient, grounded, understanding, while, her 16 year old was described as not as mature, childish, a bit of a rebel, definitely not soft spoken, in fact pretty outspoken. I don’t think she meant any harm. But I assume that she was speaking as though one was better than the other. I am sure you can guess who is the ‘nicer’ one.

As I heard her words I felt a rage brewing within me. I was feeling not only for the outspoken 16 year-year old girl, and me, but also for every girl and woman out there who has experienced the impact of this in the past and who still go through it today. I was reminded of the story of Goldilocks, where she described the bed as too hard, then as too soft or the porridge as too hot or too cold. It had to be just right.

It’s like a woman or a girl are being treated as objects. ‘She is a bit too loud’. a ‘bit to strong’, a ‘bit too dark’, a  bit too much always ‘She has to be just right’.

I know that beneath the rage, was really sadness and a deep empathy for the helplessness of anyone who falls victim to this ‘system’ that thrives even in our ‘modern age’.

I recall hearing a woman proudly proclaim that she had achieved a lot in her life because her husband “allowed” her to do the things she wanted. She considered herself lucky and felt extremely grateful for this. I felt happy for her and also noted she didn’t say that he ‘encouraged’ or ‘supported’ her, she used the word ‘allowed’. For all you know, her husband might have been encouraging and supportive. I am referring to her inherent belief that it is a privilege to receive the support or encouragement and that it isn’t something that is a given.

Another account is from a friend, whose angry husband who couldn’t find one of his shirts while getting ready for work, told her that the main reason he got married was so that his wife would cook and take care of all his needs.

There is one about a mother-in-law, who called her daughter-in-law selfish because her son was over-weight. She felt that the wife didn’t care for her son enough to cook healthy meals for him, or to help him lose weight. There was no onus or responsibility on him.

The one that saddened me the most was the account of a conversation between a mother and her daughter. It was about the latter’s broken marriage. The mother’s first reaction was to ask the daughter what she had done to ‘displease’ her husband and create a situation. She was more concerned about what people were going to say or think. Sadly, what got left out in this process was compassion, the empathy of a woman feeling the pain of another woman, regardless of the circumstances.

A year or so ago, I read a book on Co-dependency. The following is a description I am borrowing from one of the websites on the same topic.

“Experts say it’s a pattern of behaviour in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity… One key sign is when your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy someone else’s needs.”

As long as we keep following it blindly, we as a society are breeding co-dependent women, whose self worth and identity are linked to the their roles as a wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, homemaker, etc. If these women didn’t bend over backwards to meet the expected demands, they were considered as not good enough. As long as we are not re-visiting these beliefs and perspectives, we are not empowering our women.

Initially, I thought religion was hugely contributing to this. But now I can see that it’s the culture, and our history that play a big part, that may or may not get meshed or collapsed with religion. We have been following a custom for so long that it’s probably hard to separate the two now.

We human beings have a need to belong. A lot of us will try our best to fit in.

Those who are appreciated for being nice, sweet, soft-spoken will consciously or unconsciously try and fit into that role just so that we are accepted, while those who are put down or belittled for being too outspoken or opinionated will form a belief that who they are isn’t good enough. We might tone ourselves down. Then there are some who rebel because they feel oppressed; they do what they want, and lot of the time, its impulsive reactions to different things.

No matter what group we fall into, what ends up happening is that we grow into women not being really in touch with ourselves – our values, our strengths, what we want to stand for, who we are really beneath the facade.

The lucky ones are those, who didn’t grow up being influenced by these beliefs and expectations or the ones who consciously try to overcome them, they know they are worthy. They are confident and self-assured.

Let this be labelled as the words of yet another feminist. I am sure, as much as women are victim to these cultural influences, men have been impacted too. In this particular writing, I am focusing on the impact on women because I can  feel and understand that a bit more.

I am a humanist. I stand for mutual respect, value, appreciation, fairness, most of all, meaningful and conscious relationships.

A woman can be strong and at yet vulnerable, powerful but also sensitive, outspoken as well as respectful, loud and yet graceful, assertive as well as compassionate. As long as we have the space to be what we naturally are, as opposed to what we ought to be.

If we want to teach our daughters something, let’s teach them to trust themselves and believe they are worthy, that they are enough, show them how to respect and stand up for themselves, to care for & protect themselves, teach them how to set healthy boundaries so they don’t get trampled, show them how to love themselves and that it’s not selfish to do so, encourage them to speak their mind, to ask for what they need, what they want in order to feed their soul.

To remember who you are, you need to forget who they told you to be


Sheena Yusuf
Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
Professional Photographer

PO Box 72280, Dubai, UAE
Email: sheenayusuf@gmail.com
http://www.sheenayusuf.com

 

March 6, 2016

 

 

A different kind of gardening.

gardening

A very dear friend of mine told me this funny story a few days ago. It was about one time when she was trying to convince her husband, in a non-intimidating way, that the both of them needed to work on their relationship.  She knew that coming on too strong would completely shut him off to the idea, so she decided that she would avoid using textbook terms like  ‘communication’, ‘intimacy’, etc. To most subtly, and efficiently, put the message across to him, she brought in the analogy of the plant in their living room.

She pointed to the plant and told him, “Imagine this plant as our relationship.  The both of us went and bought it together, and now we have it in our home. If we don’t care for it, it will surely die. The plant needs sunlight, water and nourishment.  So, its up to us to take on that job, if we want to keep the plant healthy and alive”.

She thought she was doing a great job until she saw the puzzled look on this face. After what seemed like a long pause, he pointed to the plant and asked her, “Why do we have this plant here anyway? Whose idea was it to buy it? I don’t remember buying this plant!”

That was the end of that conversation. It just flew over his head. I don’t think she went that route again.

Jokes apart, I have often compared a relationship to a garden. When two people come together it’s like growing a garden together. A beautiful garden, that brings joy to their heart, with large beautiful trees, birds, bees, bright beautiful flowers and anything or everything they want in their garden. 

Initially, the garden is so beautiful! It’s all nice and pretty and caring for it feels like a walk in the park. There is the chemistry, romance, connection and everything that keeps the garden alive.

In a lot of relationships, after a period of time, life starts kicking in, work, responsibilities, children, obligations, illnesses, crises, distractions, expectations, ego, etc., get in the way of tending to the garden. Before we know it, the garden begins to wither away, since it is no longer a priority. With its over-grown weeds and untrimmed leaves, the garden looks abandoned and dead from the lack of attention. Maybe the two people involved expected the other to take care of it. Or, they just foolishly assumed that it would magically remain beautiful like that forever.

Eventually it reaches a point where your garden is no longer recognisable. Some just suck it up and live with it unhappily. Sometimes it seems easier to give it up than to work on it. What would have started out as fear, avoidance, laziness, lack of commitment, overwhelm, lack of time, or lack of responsibility has now resulted in this huge, huge mess!

For one, we are not the same people we were, when we started out the relationship. We evolve and transform as time goes by. Familiarity creeps in and we also take the other for granted, which is kind of like a life sentence because there is no room for the ‘new’. What we love in someone is our idea of them and not really who they are or who they capable of being.

When we don’t connect to our relationships or if we don’t work on getting to discover each other, we might soon get to that place where we would have grown in different directions into strangers who don’t recognise each other.

Crazy thing is, we assume relationships are like a one time investment. Once it’s all done or made, we assume we can sit back and cash in the rewards for the rest of our lives. I don’t believe it works like that.

I have a personal curiosity about why people get into committed relationships. Do you choose them because you really want to be in a relationship consciously or are you following or conforming to default social construct? I see many people continue in their unhappy relationships without making any changes for years. By changes, I either mean change by working on it or by walking away.  I wonder why we are so hell-bent on maintaining our status quo.

Wouldn’t everyone want to be in a nurturing and loving relationship? If the basic need for every human being is unconditional love, why do we suffer and make people in our lives suffer too?

Okay, so coming back to my garden analogy, I think that all of us bring in our personal baggage into that garden; when we get into relationships. They include our limiting beliefs, fears, blocks, perceptions, attitudes, our view of the world, etc., and we function from there. We accept and hold our baggage as the truth, and are not really tolerant to the other. That like saying “my mess is better than your mess”.  We don’t accept and celebrate differences in each other. It almost becomes a mission to make the other just like us, agree to us, or accept your views. And there lies the challenge.

Apathy and fear can also suck the life out of relationships. I have often seen people resigning or giving up, from a place of hopelessness and indifference. It kind of goes along the lines of- ‘What’s the point?, It’s not going to work anyway so why bother? Nothing will change.’ We enter the battle wearing pessimism on our sleeve. Truth is, we’ve lost even before it’s fought. How can we invite change when we step into anything believing that nothing will change?

The indifference and belief that nothing good is going to come out is actually a mask that hides our unwillingness in addressing something that’s hard and challenging for us. It’s far easier to justify with an excuse like that rather than admitting to ourselves that there is fear involved and we are scared. What we are not saying is “I don’t want to because I am afraid, I feel vulnerable and exposed.”

The only way to work around apathy is connect back to our dream or vision behind the situation or relationship, because they are more powerful than our fears that hold us back.

Strange feeling vulnerability is, for when we step into it, it literally feels like peeling layers off ourselves. There is awkwardness, pain, shame, doubt, fears etc., all we want to do is run away and hide. This I know from my experience! Once we let ourselves go through that process, something shifts within us in a deep and powerful way.

There are many of us who step courageously into it (not in the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway), giving up the need for perfection.

There are times we cross some edges, make big shifts and at other times we fail and fall flat on our face. Yet, we pick and dust ourselves off to begin again, knowing that we might never get it all right also knowing that’s not the goal.

I believe every person comes into our life as a teacher, a guru. We have plenty of lessons to learn from them. When we get stuck in our relationships, one question to ask ourselves is what lesson are we supposed to learn now, regardless of whether we choose to stay or leave. I have also heard that we choose our life partners or they get chosen for us because we have the most to learn from them hence might be triggered by them the most. So unless we look for those teachings we may continue to live our lives is misery and keep repeating those experiences until we learn our lessons. Sometimes our lessons are to let go and move on.

In many ways, our relationship with others is also a reflection of our relationship with ourselves!

At the end of it all, it comes down to creating deep, intimate, authentic, compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.

I feel that we are so used to these ‘textbook terms’ we’ve grown up hearing, that we’ve sometimes developed an indifference towards them. Here is a paragraph full of them and how they make sense to me. Another reminder to self as its hard to walk the talk but as long as we keep walking I will be fine !

It’s hard to truly ACCEPT &  UNCONDITIONALLY LOVE another unless we truly understand, love and accept all of ourselves- the good, bad, and ugly. 
How can we truly practice FORGIVENESS if we haven’t been humbled by our mistakes and truly forgiven ourselves for it? How can we build TRUST in our relationships without learning to trust and believe in ourselves? 
We begin to ACKNOWLEDGE & APPRECIATE another when are open to appreciating ourselves. Our RESPECT & VALUE  for another is a natural consequence of our respect and value for ourselves. . We can create JOY around us when we are grateful for what we have. True COMPASSION and KINDNESS towards our loved ones comes when we can tap into that compassion and kindness towards ourselves, amidst all our self-judgment and blame. We create that space of FREEDOM around us and for the people we love, when we have given ourselves full permission to be free.

When we are in right relationship with ourselves, we will be in right relationship with the world.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  -Rumi

With love, respect & gratitude

Sheena Yusuf
December 28, 2015

There is no other way but through.

An old, yet important lesson learnt yet again.

 Now before I begin this, I have to do a preamble: I have always been intolerant to the cold. It dries up my skin and slows down my mind, and thus, my body. This way, living in Dubai somewhat falls within my comfort zone.

On the extremely rare occasion, when I do venture out into the cold, like I did on my trip to Vermont two weeks ago, there’s always the (intense) additional preparation that goes into the packing- thermal wear, extra thermal wear, many, many layers of clothing, extra moisturizer and absolutely anything else that I can think of that would keep me warm. In Vermont, stepping out of the house, even for a walk to the car and back called for the invention of my ‘mini-ritual’, which existed only to, efficiently get on as many layers of clothes on me before walking out.

One day, during a stay over my friend Nancy’s home, I had a completely new experience. On the very first day, Nancy’s partner Elise (or now my good friend and soul sister Elise), invited me to join her in the sauna. This meant that I had to walk about a hundred feet out of the house, wrapped-up in a teeny-tiny towel. That’s right. a towel. No long socks that went up to my knee, no long johns over that, and trousers on top, no layers. Just a flimsy towel to facilitate my long hundred-foot journey to the sauna.

I agreed to this ‘suicide mission’ without batting an eyelid only because I love the sheer feeling of doing something new or different. I experience a reinvigoration of my soul when I do something that’s way out of my comfort zone, like a new me born from that point on.

As I stepped out with Elise toward the sauna, one of them (either Nancy or Elise) said something really significant that really made a big difference to the experience. She said, “It is going to be cold, there is no denying that, but it’s going to be fine when you get there. All you have to do is keep walking and reminding yourself to breathe”

As I walked through what I used to consider hell, I did just that. I trusted what she said. I took it one step at a time and focused on nothing else but my breathing. This did something special at that moment. In my breath, I found presence. All the chatter in my head about how it was too cold, and how I wasn’t someone who had a tolerance for the cold, started to quite down. My body also slowly loosened up to the breathing instead of trying to resist the cold. You know how they say- ‘What you resist, persists’? The moment I gave in and surrendered to the cold, it was okay. I was fine.

In fact, I even went a step further. While in the sauna when it got too hot, I used to step out in to the freezing cold to cool off for a few minutes. I did this a couple of times, going back and forth, until eventually I was able to tolerate the cold for a longer intervals of time and began to enjoy it. Soon it it felt like some kind of a thrill.

A few days back, while I was walking towards the check-in gate, just before flying to Minneapolis, I was tested once again. This time, I was alone. During what felt like my solo quest, I found myself resisting the cold again. My body was rapidly tightening-up, and this was when I was reminded of the golden words, “Keep walking, and keep breathing and you will be fine”. As I did that, I found myself ease into it.

Such is life. I’d known it all along but it hit a chord again today. The more we resist something that’s challenging, the harder it gets.

Thing is, when life actually gets hard, it does not feel like an adventure or an act of getting out of your comfort zone or like renewing yourself. All of that is the romanticized version of life when the going is easy. When the going gets tough it’s not even funny. It feels like you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and your bearings are all over the place. Every path seems hard. Everything seems uncertain. It feels like its too late to go back and too hard to go through.

It feels like that moment in the labor room just before a baby is born. I vividly recall my thoughts every time I had to go to that God-forsaken room. I hated being there. I thought it was crazy. I mean, I knew that it was going to be like that! How could I forget? I used to wish to have the ability to go back in time so that I didn’t have to be pregnant at that point of time. Funnily enough, even then, I was told to just focus on my breathing, which I reluctantly did. And then when I got to the other side, I was fine.

The message is loud and clear. Uncertainty is the only certain thing. The only way is through. There are no shortcuts. All we can do is stop resisting and just surrender. Surrender to the flow of what wants to happen.

And yes it helps to breathe and be present. And then maybe we learn can slowly shift perspectives to see all of it as adventure. Because it really is! And it does renew our soul and we do get reborn. And once we pass through, we will never be the same

In the end it will be all fine. If it is not fine, it’s not the bloody end.

 

With Love & Gratitude

Sheena Yusuf
December 20, 2015

To Lie or not to Lie

Truth-or-Lies

The most recent theme in my life revolves around the subject: Lies, whether it means lying to someone or being lied to. By lying, I also mean instances when we don’t completely express what we consider true.

I recently had a conversation with one of my sons about this and I remember telling him that choosing not to share or to keep something from someone in order to protect our space or privacy is different from a lie driven by FEAR of something.

We often get upset with children when they lie to us. Actually it’s not a great feeling when lied to, whether they are children or adults. But with children, I know we give them a hard time about it. We tell them we can’t trust them anymore because they lied to us and now, have to earn our trust back. We wonder what made them lie, wonder why they couldn’t be open and truthful.

It’s much easier said than done.

 I have always felt that hearing the hard truth was far easier than being lied to, even if it was going to be painful.

Now, after having experienced both sides of it, the lying and being lied to, I can see a different perspective towards it.

I feel that it is very important to observe ourselves and try and find out why we lie. ‘Fear’ would be the root cause of all lying. Fear of conflict, rejection, isolation,messy situations and of shame too. We feel that the truth won’t be accepted and to be accepted, we must lie.

While at the receiving end of a lie, it would be key to notice that we are experiencing this because we simply might not be willing to hear the truth. I am positive that most of us face situations where we do not want to ask certain questions because we are not ready to hear/accept the truth. There is a way that we might not be open to any other perspectives besides ours. We might not be open to change. And hence, we are presented with the lie which somehow keeps us ‘safe’ and maintains status quo.

The impact of deception is huge. It involves the breaking of trust. What usually follows is the game of  ‘blame,’ which is the most convenient and natural place to go to, because we get most gratification in putting the other in the wrong. Our ego can go on a wild ride with ‘blame’. We blame someone for not giving us the space to be open and transparent, and also get blamed for not being truthful. If there is a problem, someone must have created it, and hence, we must find someone to blame. We have a tendency to (almost hurriedly) classify something as right or wrong, or good or bad, before really digging a little deeper.

Truth? The phenomena of the ‘lie’ occurs because there is no space for truth in that relationship. No unconditional acceptance of each others’ perspectives and humanity, or any room for error. We don’t have compassion towards mistakes or consider vulnerability. We don’t leave room for imperfection- constantly expecting the best and nothing less from ourselves and from others. We don’t accept the negative parts to ourselves or the other, that we are human, that we err.  We don’t leave space for something new to evolve because of the fear of change. And so what we experience is a cover up of the truth.

If we only want to experience same-ness we might as well spend time with ourselves or find people who are similar to us. Isn’t it weird that many-a-time we are looking to change another’s perspective to match our own? And that we have no tolerance to diversity- to experience someone who does life differently from us?

If authenticity is what we are looking for, that’s a whole different ball game. Authenticity creates a space that’s real, open and transparent. It makes things messy, hard and complicated, but leaves room for things to flow without the need to control things for a certain outcome. It allows room for what wants to happen.

One good place to start would be to take personal responsibility for your part of that equation, to ask yourself what you did to contribute to the situation. To also help things go right rather than just focussing on what was wrong.

Fear is the biggest block that keeps us wrapped in layers. Fear of mess, uncertainty, conflict, change, being challenged, losing someone and much more. What we don’t realise is that in the pretext of keeping things together we are actually living a lie.

A powerful question to ask ourselves is, ” If I weren’t afraid of so-and-so, what would I do now? How different would I be?”

If all of this were a game, the rules are quite simple.

Rule no. 1-Treat others the same way you want them to treat you

Rule no. 2-Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.

Rule no. 3-The truth shall set you free.

Rule no. 4-Don’t get too hooked to the rules. Play from your heart!

 

With Love & Gratitude

Sheena Yusuf
December 8, 2015

A Dare to Challenge your Beliefs

This writing was inspired by a conversation I had with my son Alif. My older boys Aqil and Alif are dreaming into signing up for one of the ‘Ironman 70.3’ events in 2016. Lately, Alif has been trying to persuade his dad and me to sign up too. When I told him that I didn’t see myself as someone who was capable of it ( “it” being,  1.9 km of swimming, 90 km of cycling followed by a 21.1 km run, all under eight and a half hours),  he challenged me. He said it was all in my mind and that there were women who were in their 80’s still participating and competing in these races.

This got me thinking about my beliefs around that. For sure, I believe that I am not someone athletic, so I’ve never explored any sport related activity besides the occasional badminton and squash. From this perspective, I didn’t see myself ever signing up for a race, forget a triathlon! I believe that I am not built that way. I am still writing this is in the present-tense since I haven’t changed those beliefs yet.  As long as I hold on to them I will never step outside those imaginary boundaries.

Another interesting observation was how I caught myself and others making statements such as – “I am the kind of person who does……..”, or, “I am the kind of person who doesn’t……..” and how we strongly hold onto these statements.

I find this quite amusing. It’s almost like we are playing a certain role in life and we write a script on how we ought to behave, what kind of people we are, what we can’t tolerate, what we absolutely must have, how we speak and how we act. We  then go on to playing out those roles, without ever stopping to wonder where we got them from and why we are continuing doing it.

Most of who you and I are today are images that we’ve created based on our belief systems; the ones shaped from our childhood experiences and also the ones passed down from our parents, teachers, other authority figures, the environment, society, culture and of course, religion.

Listing some random beliefs:

Life is hard.
Religion is the cause of all problems in the world.
Men don’t cry.
Vulnerability is a sign of weakness.
I am not good enough.
Money is the root of all evil.
Books are a waste of time, nothing like real life experiences.
Expressing anger is bad.
Women are weak.
Depression is a mental illness.

Consider some of the gender roles too. Men have been generally associated with strength, aggression, dominance, power and women have traditionally been associated with passivity, nurture, care-taking and subordination.

From this perspective it would be useful to notice how we live our lives and we treat our children. Also, who we are in our relationships and what roles we taken on as men and women.

I wonder if we really understand this at a deeper level or realize what a huge impact these unexamined beliefs have on our lives. Some of our beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our being that we don’t ever think of questioning them. Some of them have been to our advantage, so we continue to nurture them. Most times we seem to blindly follow them because we have become immune to it over time.

We never questioned any of these beliefs as children because we were at an impressionable age, absorbing everything around us like a sponge. We accepted a lot of what we saw and experienced it as ‘the truth’, blindly following what was passed on to us, partly because we did not know any better, but also because we wanted to feel accepted and loved. Other times, we might have had painful experiences from adults who were supposed to be our role models. So, holding on to those beliefs also, in a way, protected us.

Have you, as an adult examined  any of the old beliefs you took on as a child, to check if they still hold true for you today ? You would be surprised to see that many of them have outlived its purpose.

Living our lives without re-examining our beliefs is like going on ride through a picturesque countryside with all the blinds pulled down, missing the beauty of nature, and the possibilities that await us.

It is likely that we might also be petrified exploring some of these beliefs ; unwrapping would mean creating confusion and uncertainty. It would question the identity we have created for ourselves and lived with until now.

Letting go of beliefs that don’t serve us anymore might feel like being lost at sea with no sight of the shore since we would be walking away from all things familiar and comfortable. But in order to go some place NEW, we have to let go of the old, we have to leave HOME.

What we discover through this journey is a sense of purpose connecting to our true essence-to live a conscious and intentional life.

This is my advice to you and I :-
Please don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t hold on too strongly to your beliefs or identity, leave room to explore, leave room for possibilities. Leave room for new versions of you to evolve every moment. Leave room for a LIFE that wants to be LIVED.

Ending with one of my favorite quotes by Dawna Markova

“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”
With Love & Gratitude

Sheena Yusuf
October 8, 2015