The Golden Fleece

There are some worlds where only age can grant you admission
Like wine that has lived
Infusing, diffusing, breathing
Growing richer, smoother, fuller
Till it is ready to be tasted, enjoyed, revealed.

There are some stories that need their incubation
Nurtured in all life’s juices
Finding its journey like salmon upstream
Programmed to leave,
So urgent the calling

Then floodgates open and memories surface
Tumbling, crashing or gently flowing
Emotions race to meet their expression
The arc of life, the replays, the circles
Why again and again and again

We face the same battles
We inherit the same aches
We bequeath the same wounds
We are being told again and again
In many relentless ways

To find the golden fleece,
We have to find the courage
To leave the safety of the shore

—Shaku Selvakumar February 2013

Bound for Distant Shores
Bound for Distant Shores

5 Lessons from Lanie

Lanie and Frisco by the garden faucet

Everybody loves Lanie.  It is true.  Come over to my neighborhood and ask someone where Lanie lives and they will point to my home.  She is part Border Collie, part Mountain Bernese and there is some Great Pyrenees there as well.  But Lanie is one hundred percent friendly.  So friendly that she loves to greet people by standing on her hind legs and giving folks a hug.

I read this anonymous quote recently and loved it “My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.

At this point, you might be rolling your eyes and saying “Get a grip, woman.  We have pets too and ours are very special and there is no need to write an entire blog post about her.”  So let me make my case, tell you what I have learnt and you tell me what you think (and this is my third post about Lanie).

1. Barking a lot gets you nowhere

So Lanie is all of 18 months old, with fur as black as the night and as white as snow.  I wrote a year back about our family training program where we went off to PetSmart to get the girl trained.  We were taught a whole bunch of commands and were given strict instructions on being strict.  We followed a few, then let our instincts take over.  What Lanie figured out early on was that it is not necessary to talk a lot or make a lot of noise.  She barks once when she wants to go out and she will bark once when she wants to come back inside.  She has us trained.  So I am trying to see how I can imitate that by telling my kids everything once.  It hasn’t worked so far but I haven’t given up hope.  Jokes aside, repetition, a loud voice and anger don’t work as effectively as being able to state something and stick by it.

2. Make the first move  

I don’t say this because I am biased which I am when it comes to Lanie but the fact is she is a beautiful dog.  But what draws people to her is not her looks but her friendly nature.  Lanie will go up to strangers and greet them.  She sits on the driveway and sunbathes.  Yes it is a dog’s life.  So full of hardship.  All that sunbathing, eating, sleeping, snoring….So that is what Lanie does, she waits for folks to walk past and then goes up to them right in front of our home and greets them.  She makes the first move and there have been times when the gesture has been rejected and Lanie also knows to stay away from those people as well.  But she doesn’t let rejection rule her basic love of people.  She now has regular friends (humans and furry ones) who will come by with treats for her.  This christmas, Lanie got little treat bags from our neighbors.

It is interesting how many of us are too shy or too intimidated to make the first move.  Our fear of rejection almost always prevents us from expressing what is on our mind.  Being stingy with compliments is one form.  Being reticent to say thanks is another.  In both cases, it doesn’t cost anything but the returns are multifold.  I am always surprised how we also judge others by their appearance alone and come to definitive conclusions.

3. Saying sorry like you mean it

Oh that dog knows how to apologize and when she does it, she makes sure you know how sorry she is.  Of course, that doesn’t mean she is not going to chew your favorite shoe again.  Dogs can’t talk back which is probably why we love them even more.  When Lanie is contrite she makes us feel like making amends immediately and then feeling guilty that we reprimanded her in the first place.

Sadly we don’t like that word too much.  We associate an apology with the loss of power.  Many times we don’t accept the error.  Many times we accept it but will not admit it.  Many times we say it half heartedly just as protocol so we can move on and out of the deep ditch.  Few are the times when we apologize like we mean it, take full accountability and hopefully try to make sure we don’t make the same mistake again.

4. Happiness is chasing a squirrel 

Sometimes when I work from home, I look out of my window and see Lanie playing with Frisco, the gorgeous Labrador next door.  They run around, play fight, argue over a toy and sometimes just sit down exhausted, content to just be in each other’s company.  That might last all of five minutes and immediately after, Frisco leaves to go back to his home and Lanie doesn’t spend time crying, she goes off to chase a squirrel or something else that has her attention.  This applies to all animals.  I wouldn’t state the overstated “live in the present” mantra but will say that they enjoy being in their skin.

Happiness is where you find it.   If you actively seek it in your everyday life, even when there are dark clouds hovering above, it is the torch you carry inside you that tells you that our moments flee all too fast.

5. There is only one of you.

Lanie doesn’t worry that she is not a Chihuahua or a mountain lion.  She leaves the neurosis to the human kind.  She doesn’t compare herself to other dogs or worry that they live in bigger houses or have designer collars.  Lanie does what she does best.  She wakes up, goes out, greets people, puts a smile on our face, eats her food, sleeps wherever she wants.  She knows how to show you how much she loves you.  She might have nightmares and she snores like an old man, but she is not worried about wrinkles or diets.  She doesn’t worry if you don’t like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.  She has no Klout score but see if she cares.  Lanie just is.

I was listening to David Whyte who says “Nature is unashamedly itself. A dog doesn’t question his identity. As human beings we have this extraordinary ability not only to not be ourselves but to pretend to be someone else and to hang a mask over our real identity.  We can even take it further and forget that we have masked ourselves and sadly over time, we become the mask itself.”

On stories and legacy

Islands of Memory. Picture courtesy Vladimir Kush:

Tell me a story that I can hold against my soul and hold on to it forever.

Sticky stories can be cautionary, exemplary, inspirational or even tragic. A good storyteller manages to communicate the essence without preaching. Very often the silence, the untold, the material left to your imagination is what absorbs and grabs your attention.  Most stories carry the essence of change as what started somewhere in time transforms the actors, the storyteller and the audience and leaves an indelible mark on the psyche.

When I was growing up I loved to listen to my grand aunt’s stories. We knew she added many layers to keep it rich but it enthralled us anyway. We loved it most when she talked about their days in British India. She had us spellbound when we listened to her father’s exploits, the exotic clothes, the jewelry and the lifestyle they led. Big houses, wide open fields, joint families and fates that were often decided by the elders. We would rush to corroborate the story with my Dad, who would absentmindedly say “Oh your Chinnama talks too much”

From my mom’s father, I learnt about the Partition days, when there was fighting and how Delhi was in turmoil with families torn apart and living in fear. We also heard the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, their dramas, and the cliff hangers which decided the balance between the three worlds.

Fast forward to the present day and I realize that we rely more and more on the idiot box and sadly have lost the art of story telling. The gathering, the passing of knowledge and wisdom from elder to the young. We live such harried, hurried lives, striving constantly to fight time that we have sacrificed the ritual of storytelling. That which is a key element of the rites of passage. That which provides children with a cultural and personal map which highlights critical bends, stop signs and detours. That which teaches that the future can be lit through the teachings of the past.

As poet David Antin says “Stories are different every time you tell them – they allow so many narratives.” Retelling is also a reminder to ourselves…not to forget that which should not be forgotten. The connection that there is mystery in this universe, that thread that binds us, helps our children appreciate community in a world that increasingly emphasizes individuality. The hero’s journey is never without allies.

Cantadora, Jungian poet and writer, Clarissa Pinkola Estes notes “The craft of questions, the craft of stories, the craft of the hands – all these are the making of something, and that something is soul. Anytime we feed soul, it guarantees increase.”

Dig deep enough and each family has a treasure trove of triumph, heartache, joy and love. There are black sheep, everyday heroes, love stories and adventures. “How uncle got kicked out of school for cheating on his exam” is as relevant as “How your grandfather migrated to America with $25 in his pocket”. Narration and interaction also helps them understand the principle of cause and effect.

Similarly, the myths that we have grown up hearing are still relevant in the digital age. When we were in India a little while back, I saw a statue of Ganesha with a laptop instead of the traditional book. We had a good laugh but it also brought home the fact there is nothing wrong in updating our myths.

As the visionary Joseph Campbell underlines “We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet”.

As we delve deeper into the stories, personal and multi cultural, we can truly understand that which binds us together is far stronger than that which isolates.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on why our stories matter.

Telling a true story about personal experience is not just a matter of being oneself, or even or finding oneself. It is also a matter of choosing  oneself. ~ Harriet Goldhor Lerner

Our stories matter… Your stories matter… For you never know how much of a difference they make and to whom. ~ Caroline Joy Adams

Everywhere, everyday, someone is changed, perhaps even saved, by words and stories. ~ Roxanne J. Coady

Star Wars has always struck a chord with people. There are issues of loyalty, of friendship, of good and evil… The theme came from stories and ideas that have been around for thousands of years. ~ George Lucas