By Bulbul Mankani
Confessions of a former fast-life addict
|Less is more|
It is hard to map milestones on my way to the slow life. One comes up readily. As a kid growing up in Baltimore I remember tugging at my mom for a trip to New York and her firm reply was, “I don’t like fast cities.” Of course, since then New York became the epitome of all that I craved – high creative energy, on-the-edge living, and a certain maverick genius. Through teenage and the 20s, I was attracted to atypical arts and in a fuzzy illogical way, Mumbai became my home for 22 years.
Working in a cross section of media, I sampled life in the city to the maximum. Driven to achieve and enjoy, but always at the verge of promotions and success, I would sense the futility of it and seek something new. An interesting tension developed from this – I began to participate in my work with a sense of distance. I became more interested in knowing what made others tick, and what made me remain keenly dissatisfied. I returned to spiritual philosophy, meditation and chanting. It helped cope with my unease by numbing out the pain. After a decade of this ‘fly on the wall’ way of being in the city, I began to attract happiness. It started with meeting creative people living alternative lives and seeing the possibility of not being defined by one’s work. Moving to Madh Island helped me reconnect with nature and silence and it was here that my love for ‘slow’ really came alive.
Two decades of whirlwind living had messed up my digestive health. I knew lots about food and nutrition so I changed to organic and homestyle food in an effort to cleanse and detoxify. The old lifestyle would creep back and for years, I fluctuated between living foods that brought buoyancy, and heavy dead foods that just sank like lead in my stomach. My food polarity reflected my twin desires of wanting to rock in the fast lane and rest in the slow one. I chose the latter after many months of battling with both. Sometime in 2006, I began a ‘surrender’ process – just not thinking so much, not processing and analysing so much, not reading or watching television. I also attended a workshop with Satish Kumar (www.resurgence.org) which was a catalyst in my experiments to find meaning in my life. At 72, he had shining eyes and a presence that spoke of centredness.
He shared what a natural man is about, using his life as a metaphor. Many pennies dropped and I knew the road to fulfilment would include minimalism, a search for my authentic self, and a new approach to time.
Surrender itself is a powerful concept. It takes a huge weight off living. Surrendering to a higher source, means accepting that you are not what your ego would have you believe. That a higher order works through you, if you allow it to. The biggest truth I felt was that change is slow. Like nature at work, personal growth towards health is a slow, slow process. It unfolds with leisure but makes deep roots. One of the aspects of my surrender was that I stopped pushing myself towards work especially since I was no longer sure what I wanted to engage myself with. Sitting in the back garden of my mother’s Bhiwadi home, I was offered a book to author and rediscovered my love for writing. To fill in the hours I returned to another love – cooking, and healed my body with slow food and cooking styles.
The kitchen is a place of much learning, like the effect of mood on food. Small things like using ‘desi tamater’ over the usual red good lookers brought joy. So did the discovery of Navadanya and other organic food sources. Since I had never known food deprivation, I began a gratitude and acceptance exercise towards what I had. Blessing the kitchen, the raw foods, and the meals also creates a great shift in the energy and experience of eating. From wolfing down food in vast quantities, I now eat a little slower and certainly more appreciatively than before. Even after four years of awareness, I find my old habits return. Change is s..l..o..w but it is worth every thought and effort put in.
When making the final shift from Mumbai to Bhiwadi I was faced with the clutter of possessions. My mother’s home is small and it was such a relief to get rid of innumerable things and keep the essentials. Anyone who has done this knows how valuable this process is. It is like discovering who you really are and what really matters. I have pared my stuff down to four cupboards and may free one more in the coming months. As you question what is essential, it becomes a meditation into life. Minimalism is an enriching virtue.
My relationship with time is strange. The mind still thinks many steps ahead but the body is languid, almost lazy. I take great pleasure in the slow pace – I listen to music better, get new meaning from revisiting old books, savour food in a new way, travel with fresh perspectives. I wonder at the blur of those Mumbai days – those myriad parties, people, talks, trains, exhibitions, and film festivals – all that doing that has left a patchwork quilt of foggy memories. What was it all about? What was that need to sponge on life and activity? What drove me to work long and party hard? Was it a flowing with the crowd? I am learning to under commit – both to myself and others, giving me space and time to live in this new continuum.
The quantum jump in the journey to slow is the altering and heightening of awareness. It begins with self-awareness as opposed to self-absorption. While my self-image was of an empathetic sensitive person, it took the move to Bhiwadi to look after my mom to accept my intense preoccupation with my needs and aspirations. A small town offers the freedom to just be nobody. As the urban pressure wore off, it was replaced with a constant state of happiness. Every day the happiness continued. It was surprising – this unattached-to-any-event-or-mood happiness. It just hung around all the time. I really searched for reasons and the only one I find is my slower lifestyle and the effect of surrender and acceptance.
My favourite quote from Mahatma Gandhi is: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Bulbul Mankani is 48, single and works as a corporate trainer. She is author of The Bollywood Cookbook. She is currently working on her second book. Contact: www.restingintheslowlane.blogspot.com
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