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#neem

I was thinking of how Covid might make everyone a carrier of the disease very soon. I am not sure of this but it is a train of thought.

It took me back to the time when I made multiple visits to the US from India with both my kids in tow. We had plans to settle down in India (after living in the US for some years) and had my one kid in a school in Hyderabad. We had to go back for some paperwork, unexpectedly the fingerprinting for a green card, which you don’t give up easily. During one such visit from Hyderabad there was a health issue and my kids’ pediatrician, a south Asian, forced the TB test due to the fact that we had stayed in India past the 6 month period. We did go ahead with it and have since exposed my kid to it.

And in this context I am left wondering which country -US, India, has more points from me for taking care of its citizenry then? Back then I would have thought India lost out because I recall emergency two hospitalizations- one with dengue and another with high fever. But I also recall a good pediatrician who I could walk up to or ride to on a bike with my father-in-law. I recall how I was on the brink of breakdown for being dependent on a system that works depending on who you know in the hospitals. Or who you are related to. It is a blessing I am not willing to trade for anything. It comes with the structure I belong to. It is part of my circle of people, my community. Or a really tall brother who would loudly get the doctors to dispense a test because a cousin suggested it or get the staff to dispense the doctor’s/cousins’ orders.

I know my family in the US is safe. There are no riots, looting or civic disturbance. But it is faced by others I know of. It is the same structure I will not be thankless for. For the choices we made when we could.

One is left to get worked up at the small day-to-day difficulties while the big picture reveals a malaise of those in the margins.

The migrants in India still walking home, the blacks in US. The systemic torture is still systemic torture across the global south and the north.

One is left to deal with the minutiae of the moment. Just be in the moment that I hear all the time! Of the maid who will come and clean up or not. Of the right tadka in the dal, the horrific imli instead of the tomato, the cold tea. Not to mention the number of meals one prepares to devour and satiate.

Malini Waghray

Azadirachta Indica or Neem

The world of nature closely connects with the world of humans, it does and it should. Nature as an essential element of the world around us is being taken over by the artificial infrastructure but when it does connect, one is able to emote to the beauty of it. Nature and nurture- the two wor(l)ds collide as we engage in discussing health that encompasses social, natural, emotional and mental wellbeing.The taste of the bitter neem leaves or fruits of the plant azadirachta indica leave a revolting experience on the senses. It also has incredible healing qualities that have a function of setting us at ground-zero of our tastes or the lowest level of it. This taste of the bitter awakens us to an interesting thought. This bitterness of neem as opposed to the pleasurable foods that have the flavors of sugar, salt and butter aplenty, not to mention the proteins and fresh vegetation that keeps one in a pleasurable state: this is a contradiction to take on.

The state of the senses is similar -the pleasures of materiality, to that of the emotional, the non-material- one juxtaposes the good from the ugly, the success from the failures and learning on the way.

Malini

Our self-isolation and connection

Early in 2020, for millions of humans the concept of social distancing during a pandemic wasn’t conceivable.  In fact, it’s still hard to visualize this in populous cities. But now, this reality has set in for the whole world!   Our self-isolation stretched out, will take its toll.   

Our relationship to the environment, describes our sense of space.  Humans have their sense of space. But a sense of space or territory is felt by a leopard and a dog too.  

Today, all planetary citizens are experiencing what it means to live in a constricted (sense of) space.  At this poignant time, can we think about our impacts on the other living species?

It’s not my intention for my dear reader to wallow in this thought.  But, I think this is a good time to weigh our sense of space with other species, and our role in the Universe. Let’s look at our bodies and then the relationship we have with the environment. 

Donna Haraway in her work, “When species exist” clearly states this fact – that any living thing is a composite of multiple other living things.  She says, “I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm. I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates.”

What if we can think like Donna Haraway?  And really know for ourselves that we need others (human and non-human alike) to survive!?  Not to only feel secure, but to thrive. 

We depend on so many biological systems to function well and flourish as humans.  This is at the human scale. At the public scale, our environmental ecosystems similarly, are composed of thousands of other species, each with their biological systems – all contributing to the equilibrium of the soil, atmosphere and water of the larger ecosystem in which all live. Let’s just think about the waste that humans create: plastic, chemical run-off, carbon emissions, garbage, oil spills, slag, and livestock waste (often filled with food material not natural to their bodies, antibiotics and hormones).  This kind of waste is so hard to dispose of without sullying the Earth. Going on to something more dangerous – nuclear waste! Everyone born after 1963 has radioactive matter in their teeth.  A fourth of a million tonnes of radioactive need storage and annually, 12,000 tonnes are added to this. If we bury it deep, future generations curious like us, are bound to excavate it, no matter how many warnings are put up in as many languages as possible.  Dumping this in the deep ocean is a worse idea. 

Contrast waste created in nature.  All waste in nature is some other living being’s habitat/growth enhancer/food.  Waste isn’t wasted in nature!   And natural habitats remain ever-fresh for all species to thrive.  

The point I am getting at is, human-animals need other species within us and without us, to flourish. 

We seek respite from our perfect, hygienic, hyperactive, human-filled cities and head off on vacation – to nature that is more “whole.”  We get our recreation, our unwind and our inspiration from nature. 

The more a thing is maintained whole, the more it flourishes and helps others to flourish.  This is why we seek out nature, untouched, whole and pristine! We must attempt to contemplate what this flourishing implies. We cannot treat Mother Nature like a garbage bin; nor can we only take from Her. 

Restoring and preserving nature is our most fundamental goal.  Without all the species that make up an ecosystem, the ecosystem isn’t restored and it isn’t nature.

I ask us all to share these thoughts with young children, as we ourselves contemplate how we might be better ancestors.  Let our children grow up understanding that humans are indeed mighty; but, all individual species have might and each has an important role to play in human and non-human ecosystems. 

I work with and for animals.  My ask is this, let our children observe ants…. and rodents too!  These are amazing creatures that can surpass human achievements.  They have social constructs and emotions and power – all of which come into play in their societies.  Allow children to spend their time observing all big and small creatures. Little spiders have a lot to teach us all.  Iconic creatures like elephants and rhinos and sharks do not make up the planet. 

Let’s help our children observe just about any other species.  Observing just one group of species, will teach them about our/human connection to nature.  The importance of butterflies and bees and bugs and larger creatures will simply be revealed without formal education.    More importantly, our children will incrementally comprehend our profound dependence on nature for human flourishing.  When they gain this understanding, they will begin to care and then do their parts to protect Mother Nature in Her Glory!   

In future write-ups, I’ll share more on hands-on education and humane gardens and deterrence of pesky critters non-lethally.  

Let’s all take this time as an opportunity to connect with Mother Nature – not in some far away place, but from within our own backyards.

Priya Tallam is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, wife and mom of two young adults. She is trained as an Architect and Urban Planner and at local government analyzed data to develop and apply sound policy for the health of the environment and people. In 2018, she established a non-profit centered on species and habitat conservation- vspca.org. She is an animal activist and advocate who encourages a plant-based lifestyle. Priya is currently researching the intersection of animals and design, aiming to demonstrate safe co-existence of humans and animals. One of the goals of this endeavor is to further human-animal flourishing in an urbanized world. Another goal is to encourage the stewardship of the planet. To this end, she promotes pedagogy to encourage ‘cosmic education,’ – working from the universe to the parts– genes, life-forms, ecosystems, individual cultures, history, geography. This is principally based on Maria Montessori’s work, but prepares young kids to learn by being inserted into real-life scientific research or natural living.

The Signs Are Everywhere

About 5 years ago my brother-in-law passed away.  And it was sad.  And tragic. And heartbreaking.  But it was also enlightening.  And inspiring.  And unbelievable.

I know that sounds strange but let me tell you why.

Shortly after my brother-in-law passed, my son, who was ten at the time, had to pick a number for his baseball team.  Typically, he would have picked a number like 2 or 5 or 15.  But that year he picked 61.  This seemed very random and very unlike him.  We asked how and why he made that choice.  He had no explanation other than to say, “I don’t know, it just felt right”.  It just felt right, another unusual thing for a 10-year-old boy to say, but we let it go

It wasn’t long after that conversation that I learned 61 had a very special meaning and a meaning that would follow me for a long time to come.  1961 was the year my brother-in-law was born.  1961. 61.  That 61 that my son seemed to randomly pick maybe wasn’t so random after all.  

I started to see 61 everywhere I went.  On license plates.  The temperature gauge in my car. The percentage on my phone.  Even the unexpected ‘inspected by’ slip you find in a pocket showed up in my sons suit jacket with the number 61. 61. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I went. 61 was following me. Or was 61 trying to tell me something?

It became a running joke with me and my family.  Oh, there is 61 again.  We would all look to the sky and say, “thank you Uncle” or “there’s Uncle again”.  It seemed funny at first, but to me it was beginning to mean so much more.

I began to research numerology and its’ significance.  Was there something to the meaning of numbers in general and 61 specifically?  I learned that the number 61 symbolizes family and introspection.  It is a number symbolizing harmony and balance.  People who resonate with the number 61 are nurturing and caring for their family members and friends.  They have a protective nature.  They are idealists as well.  Ok.  I can get down with that.  I can see how 61 would pertain to me personally, but how did it pertain to my brother-in-law passing?  And what was I supposed to do with it?

I began thinking hard about 61 and tried to make some connections between me, 61 and my family.  Was my brother-in-law telling me he was watching over us and that he was trying to harmonize and balance the family?  Was he telling me that he was watching over my husband to whom he was very close and who to this day still feels heartbroken by his passing?  Was he nurturing him from afar?  Was I just making this up and it was all a coincidence?  Or was he just fooling around to see how gullible I was and laughing at me from the other side?  All these scenarios made sense, especially the making fun of me part.  I could just imagine him getting a kick out of my fretting and wondering.  He was a great jokester in that way.

But then the unthinkable happened.  Or if not the unthinkable, the truly weird and crazy.  Around the time I started to really see 61 everywhere my husband was making some difficult and big steps to changing the course of his life and his career.  My husband is a trained chef.  A very talented chef, who spent years prior to attending culinary school as a successful stock trader. 

My husband made the career shift later in his life and he paid the price for this change both financially and emotionally.  But creating food was his passion and I was fully supportive.  So was his brother. Very much.  His brother was known to scarf down my husbands’ food before it would even hit the plate.  None of us stood a chance at getting a full helping when he was around.  And it was something that simultaneously annoyed and delighted my husband.  So when my husband started this second career his brother became his biggest fan. 

Not surprisingly my husband had to start at the bottom of his new career working first as a sous chef in a small French restaurant.  Later he became the chef at a small but popular catering company.  While he gained a lot of experience there it did not allow him to grow in the way he wanted yet his options were limited at the time.  It wasn’t until he did a lot of soul searching and knew in his heart that his situation wasn’t working that he finally made a change.  That decision came in the form of investors who approached him to help them open a corporate café.  He would be in charge of constructing, executing, designing and managing this new place.  He was very excited.  It seemed like to opportunity of a lifetime.

And then as is often the nature of this type of business it didn’t quite work out the way he had wanted and he had to part ways with the original partners.  Again, he did a lot of soul searching when he stumbled upon a realtor who knew a café owner who was looking to sell his business. 

Yes, a random realtor looking to sell a random business for a random owner.  A well-established highly regarded business in a great location with already established customers.  Was this a happy accident? Was it a coincidence? Or was it, as I would later find out, maybe a divine intervention?

Now you may be wondering why this background information is important.  Here comes the best part of the story.  My husband, who notoriously pursues all opportunities, good or bad, jumped at the chance to potentially own his own café, design his own food and run his own staff.  But who knew if this was a good opportunity or a bad one?  Who knew if he would be able to handle this all on his own with no partners to help him make decisions?  Who knew? 

I’ll tell you who knew.  61 knew.  My husband’s brother knew.  And how do I know this?  Because this opportunity presented itself after his brother passed, shortly after 61 started showing up everywhere. 

AND because the doors opened on my husband’s new café on 6/1.  Yes, 6/1.  The 61 that I saw everywhere I went.  The 61 that was trying to get my attention and tell me something important, to follow the path that led to his brothers’ success.

My husband is happy.  And his business is thriving.  And if that is not a sign of the divine, if that is not a sign that the other world is looking out for us, if that is not a sign that the connection my husband had with his brother remains, then I don’t know what is. 

And that has made me feel through all the sadness, through all the tragedy and heartbreak that the signs are there waiting for us to see, to feel enlightened, to feel inspired and ultimately to believe.  And with a little belief maybe you can find your own 61, too.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Dying to move On-ward

Dying as far as we understand is transformation for the dead; but, also for some of us living.  My Dad lived wisely. Now he teaches me posthumously. Yes, my Dad is no more. His death did not wait for me.  It happened. He’s gone forever; vanished into space when I least expected it. How can you expect it of a joyful, fairly healthy and determinedly active person?  A person so alive at every moment?

Life and death come in a bundle. We can’t have one without the other. Every day, we carry a chance of dying within. However, this prospect is somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds.  Whether the stoics tell us “memento mori” or when death happens in our circles, we don’t process how we will cope if it happened to us and our most-beloved.  

My regret: I fiercely wish I had loved my Dad more. Now that he is gone, I wish to show him how truly beloved he was.   

Sadly, it is through death that Dad remains my true teacher. Why had I waited for him to pass on in order to realize the deep wisdom from his death? Now through regret and reflection, I am applying Dad’s wisdom onto my loved ones, to my planet and our future. 

Most days since his passing on September 12, 2019, I have woken up to the rock on my chest and some days moving or thinking feels like choking.  

I grew up knowing my Dad mainly through my mother. I habituated myself not to look at him whole. This defined our relationship until 2016, when he left to go home to India. He came to live with me when my children arrived on the planet, 22 years ago. This was an ‘arrangement’ I was content with but actually, truly blessed with! It seemed to work out for all concerned: my parents who couldn’t stay together, my husband who loved my Dad, and my children, who continue to adore him. Dad lived with us for 18 years being himself – happy, helpful, joyful, kind, resourceful, engaged with kids, family and community. He kept himself busy cooking, shopping, chauffeuring, sharing, participating in all, without interfering. We lived together enjoying his happy presence, but I didn’t really make efforts to explore my views of him that were colored by my past nurture. It appears that I love both my parents but, I loved Dad less. 

Now my Dad is gone. For ever and ever.  

I struggle daily knowing that I loved Dad less than he deserved. Often, I remained un-acknowledging of his true giving to my family.  It was taken for granted by the busy-ness of life, work, career, and being self-absorbed. My children flowered in his love and Indian guidance. I remember him gently telling my son at my lighting god’s lamp, “don’t accept nor reject what mommy says.  Just be. And think for yourself. Understand it’s how mommy grew up.”   

When Dad left to head back to India, my relationship with him started flowering.  I missed his loving presence and his need for family. He wanted my mother and brother home. I could relate to this now when he is not with us anymore.  We talked every day. He gave me life-lines that I hold close and live by. 

‘Trust yourself.’  

‘Forgive yourself and others, Ma.’ 

‘Don’t dwell in the past; you won’t arrive into your future.’ 

‘Life is swift; remain awake.’ 

And this big one: ‘Don’t put yourself down!’

I started to see him now as my Dad.  My guy, holding strong with my best interests in mind. 

I saw that despite all the mud-slinging that he had faced his whole life, and the severe isolation from his own family, he did not let any of it define nor stop him from living his everyday life joyfully.  He had blossomed in his later life; every day, every moment he was full of joy and wonder. He loved every spider in our home. He gave every child and child-at-heart, gadgets galore. Money poured out of his savings to help people start a business or help them stand up.  He read books by the thousands and shared them when relevant. Through his blog, he wrote to thousands of people “random thoughts” of wisdom. My school friends and acquaintances were on his email list. He had 7000 followers on Speaking Tree. He talked to me, kids, my husband, his siblings, every day!  And this man would type with one finger, and joyful with 25% of a functioning heart.

I planned to visit him September 25, 2019 and stay with him for a couple months, exploring my non-profit work in India. The news of his sudden death following our conversation for 1.5 hours on the morning of September 12, 2019, knocked me out.

When I was able bid him my last goodbye, I knew that I didn’t know him as well as I could have.  My habit of being suspicious of him, based upon my childhood coaching, had created a palpable distance between us that I was not yet gotten over with.   I decided to go meet his friends who had been the bane of our (my Dad’s) family’s existence. My Mother had misconstrued from her own pain, that these friends of his “took” needlessly from him; we were to always to watch out for them, as they would “hurt” us by being friendly with him.  

What I learnt from meeting his friends is beyond precious for me. The only basis for his friendships was decency, love, sharing and giving.  Dad had cultivated real families beyond his own. His isolation in several senses from his own family, had him seek and shower affection to all he would meet.  And this hadn’t lessened his love for his blood family! Every one of his friends had great empathy for us/children and my mother. 

I am getting to know the true meaning of friendship. My circle of love has opened wide.  My family is bigger now. With my father’s friends, we share shoulders and mourn him. We all have lost our best friend at the same time.   

So how does one move on from such deep regret that cannot be changed except by time travel into the past with the wisdom we gain following death,, and correcting the error in our thinking? At least in my thinking?!   I can’t move on. But, I can move on-ward with my Dad in me.  He is the fossil imprinted in my heart of everything past that I cherish and carry.   I awake now to the questions, “how can I be his good child to the ideal ancestor he was to all who loved him?”  “WWDD/ What would Dad do?” 

Here is how, based on my Dad’s wisdom: 

–   Show all the living great tenderness and compassion.  They need it now. Not when they are gone. Time and space are relative in all parts of the cosmos.  But our time and space is now!

–   Open up to (your) humanity.  We have a role in the ecosystem as a member-species. 

–   Spread the legacy of a good person.  Visit and serve the vulnerable, weak, terminally-ill, orphans, the depressed, the voiceless.

–   Don’t conflate death onto religion, medicine, politics, ideology or relationships.  Don’t wait for deep wisdom that comes following death. Don’t wait to learn from dying.  Understand death from within the soul. We all have the ability to do so, now! 

–   See the future now, instead of when someone has passed.  Everyone we love is within us – in our habits, our children, our strengths and weaknesses, our character, in all our layers.   Even if the mind is foggy, they are always there. Our future is now. Our future with them/your loved ones, is now. 

To my one and only Dad, “I love you.”  I am moving on-ward with you.

Cheers!

Priya Tallam is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, wife and mom of two young adults. She is trained as an Architect and Urban Planner and at local government analyzed data to develop and apply sound policy for the health of the environment and people. In 2018, she established a non-profit centered on species and habitat conservation- vspca.org. She is an animal activist and advocate who encourages a plant-based lifestyle. Priya is currently researching the intersection of animals and design, aiming to demonstrate safe co-existence of humans and animals. One of the goals of this endeavor is to further human-animal flourishing in an urbanized world. Another goal is to encourage the stewardship of the planet. To this end, she promotes pedagogy to encourage ‘cosmic education,’ – working from the universe to the parts– genes, life-forms, ecosystems, individual cultures, history, geography. This is principally based on Maria Montessori’s work, but prepares young kids to learn by being inserted into real-life scientific research or natural living.

The Healing Power of Talking and Listening

Imagine picking up the phone and making an appointment.  Imagine talking to the other person and giving them a brief description of your life in order to assess your needs.

Then imagine days later walking into that persons’ office.  It is dimly lit with a small but comfy looking couch, unique Chinese prints on the walls, symbols signifying peace, love, serenity and joy.  The woman you spoke to greets you with a hearty and friendly hello and shakes your hand firmly.  She asks you to have a seat.  There will be some paperwork to complete and some money to exchange but that will come a little later during your time together.  Imagine taking a deep breath, glancing around and looking her in the eyes.  Imagine her smiling warmly and asking you “what brings you here today?” and “how can I help you”.

Now imagine swallowing hard and looking for the words to start.  There is so much to say, so much history, so many details.  Where do you begin?  She looks at you and says “begin wherever you like.  I will decipher the rest and ask questions so you can clarify your experience for me.”  You breathe a sigh of relief.  Imagine thinking, “okay, I am not alone in this.  It may feel weird and scary, but at least I am not alone”.

And you start to talk.  You talk about the past, your relationship with your mother, your siblings, your friends.  You talk about high school and college, post college and work life.  You talk about your spouse and their family, your spouses’ friends and job.  You talk about your children.  You talk about your feelings of anger and rage, happiness and joy.  You talk about comparing yourself to others and how damaging that feels, but you just can’t stop looking at Facebook and Instagram.  You talk about the state of the world and global warming, things that worry you, but there are so many other things to worry about. 

And she sits and she listens.  She nods with validation and asks you to continue.  So, you do.  For 45 minutes that seem like nothing, you continue. 

And as you continue the discomfort seems to melt away.  Okay this isn’t so bad and it’s really nothing like the movies.  You are not laying on a couch.  She talks back when there is silence.  She laughs at your jokes, smiles with encouragement.  There is no blank slate here.  It is two people, one talking the other listening.  Imagine what that feels like.  To talk while someone else is listening.  No unwanted interruptions.  No judgements.  No preconceived notions.  No history together.  Just one person talking and the other listening.  And you feel the power in this.  Although you may have been skeptical before you entered the room you feel a lightness and relief that you have not experienced before.  And you want to see more of where this unique process can take you, what you can learn and how you can feel more content in your life.  And you understand the healing power of talking and listening. 

This is what I imagine my clients experience when they meet me for the first time for therapy.

Now imagine walking to the door of your office and firmly shaking a new persons’ hand.  You have some brief history that you gathered over the phone, basic information you need just to make sure you are the right person for the job and you can meet this new persons’ needs.  And you ask them to sit on your comfy couch with a warning that it sinks in fast so sit slowly.  And you wonder what preconceived notions do they come here with?  What tv therapists have they watched that have raised their expectations? You wonder are they nervous to uncover their stories and change their self-perceptions?  And you think “I hope they are not too scared”.  Do they feel comfortable in your tiny office with the Chinese symbols and the books on psychotherapy strewn about?  You hope their nerves don’t get in the way.  You do your best to normalize their expectations and you ask them “what brings you here today?” and “how can I help you?”

They begin to relay their story but express concern that there is too much information and they don’t know where to begin.  So, you say “begin wherever you like.  I will decipher the rest and ask questions so you can clarify your experience for me.”  And they begin where they begin and you do as you say you would.

Your mind wanders a bit as the information comes out which is okay.  You may lose track sometimes of what they are saying because you are human.  But you are also making room to focus not just on the words but on the feeling in the room, the energy you pick up from this new person.  Is it sadness you feel?  Or anger?  Fear and anxiety?  And these feelings inform your work and how you respond to this new persons’ words.

And you listen as they tell you their story.  You listen to their past, the relationship with their mother, their siblings, their friends.  You listen as they talk about high school and college, post college and work life.  You listen as they talk about their spouse and their family, their friends and job.  You listen as they talk about their children.  They talk about feelings of anger and rage, happiness and joy.  They talk about comparing themselves to others and how damaging that feels, but they just can’t stop looking at Facebook and Instagram.  They talk about the state of the world and global warming, things that worry them, but there are so many other things to worry about.  And you sit and listen.  You nod with validation and ask them to continue.  So, they do.  For 45 minutes that seem like nothing, they continue. 

And you look on with encouragement if you see them stumble.  You feel grateful that they are trusting you with their story because disclosing personal information can be so risky and hard.  And you ask for clarification and more examples so you get a clearer picture of what they are trying to describe.  You don’t offer solutions or advice although sometimes this is what they want and sometimes that is what you want to give, too.  But you listen closely and carefully as you guide them along to the answers they know are there but just need the objective outsider to reinterpret and reframe their understanding.  And you ask at the end of the session, “how did that feel for you?”  And, more often than not, they reply “that felt good.  It felt really good to say all of that, to be heard, to have you listen”.

And still after 25 years of doing this type of work, it never ceases to amaze me the healing power of talking and listening.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Third Culture

Every time I visit India, I am reminded of the feelings, smells, and sounds which make up my perception of my parents’ childhood home: waking up to the sound of the street vendors shouting to sell vegetables and rushing out of bed to have piping hot chai with my grandparents; hearing the loud and bustling traffic of Hyderabad and the sound of the soft but steady rhythm of the ceiling fan.

However, these memories belong to my parents, and I barely get a taste of them during the few weeks of my visits. 

Despite the fact that India is my parents’ home, I feel as though I am a foreigner not only there, but also in the US. When crossing the busy streets of Hyderabad, my mom will instinctively grab my hand, as if I have suddenly returned to being a clueless four-year-old. And while I am in India, I’m forced to carry around bottled water everywhere I go because my body is not accustomed to the water my grandparents drink. 

And it isn’t much different back in the US. People at school will discuss their parents’ craze for the band Queen, but until a few years ago, I had no clue what this “Queen” was. I only knew of my parents’ favorite Hindi film singer: Kishore Kumar. When my first baby tooth fell out, my parents were confused as to why I was demanding money from some “Tooth Fairy”, but when Rakhi (a Hindu Holiday) comes around, I gladly accept large amounts of money and gifts from my brother. 

These minor differences soon became more and more prominent as the years went on, and because of that, I had a growing fear of the idea of feeling separate from others. I hated that my family was different than those of my friends in New Jersey, but also from my relatives in India. But now I’ve come to realize that despite the fact that I may feel like an outsider in these two countries, I have something that a lot of people from either of these places will never have: the experience of what is known as “Third Culture”. 

“Third Culture” is not the idea of being foreign and separated to what exists around you, but rather is the idea of being immersed in two deeply contrasting cultures and creating your own mix of the two. When my family and I learned how to connect the two rather than to point out the differences, we were able to create traditions of our own that encapsulate both cultures. 

Thanksgiving with my cousins in Chicago is one of my favorite instances of third culture. Instead of a traditional American turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, we have mutton biryani, paneer, and tandoori chicken. Yet, we dress up in simple American clothing while listening to my cousin’s mixed playlist of obscure Western rap and Bollywood music from our Google Home speaker. We then go around the table saying something we are thankful for, usually involving one of the parents cheesily quoting an Urdu poem and the kids shaking our heads and laughing in response.

This is my third culture. It may be completely different from another Indian American kid, but that’s the beauty of it. It differs from person to person. You are able to learn from one another, allowing you to broaden your own third culture. If it weren’t for my initial disappointment for my inability to relate to my relatives and friends, I would have never even considered what it might be like to create something so unique with my family.

Naina Waghray is a jersey girl and junior in Montgomery High School. She loves to sing. Her other passion is running that she enjoys with her buddies at school all through the year in the central Jersey countryside.

Awakenings at the Red Barn

The day was surreal. I was once again driving with my good friend and spiritual guide on another unknown adventure to continue to explore our energy healing selves.  I go blindly with my friend without asking questions because I trust her and am curious about where this journey will take me. But this journey seemed particularly suspicious.  It even had a name. Awakenings at the Red Barn. Awakenings? At a Red Barn? I am imagining horses and hay bales. But I trust that my friend would not steer me wrong and I go along for the ride.

When we get to the Red Barn it is actually a red barn, but not like I thought.  No horses, no hay bales. In fact, it is a barn on a magnificent property rubbing up against one of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen.  A regular home. No voodoo dolls or magic potions. Just a normal, regular home. When we get there my friend and I mingle around for a while and I overhear people discussing their various experiences with energy work and all matters related to healing their souls.  I tend to become very intimidated in these types of situations and revert to what I know best, the role of quiet observer. And in that role, I quietly participate in the days’ activities which included a guided meditation. I follow the instructions of the jin shin jitsu instructor.  I listen intently to the discussion on soothing yoga practices. I am skeptical as I work my way through the sessions trying to immerse myself in the faith and power, but ultimately question why I am even here and when it will be time to go.

Then the Medium approached the front of the room.  Yes, a Medium. I know what you are thinking. Because I was probably thinking the same thing.  A person who has the power to speak to your loved ones on the “other side”? The other side. This can’t be real.  People do not speak to people or get spoken to by people on the other side. It just doesn’t happen. It must be a hoax. 

But it made me start to think.  And being a visual person, I started to wonder what the other side might look like.  Does it have the classic pearly gates? Are there angels floating and waiting to take your hand to approach G-d?  Or is the other side where you walk down the yellow brick road covered in your favorite ice cream flavors and rub elbows with famous people?

Now I don’t know what you think about the “other side”, but as far as I was concerned, I have never had a strong pull towards faith, religion or anything that claims to be mystical.  Probably the reason I need to be on this journey in the first place. So that I can have more faith.

So the Medium approaches the front of the room, takes a few deep breaths and starts to divulge details of the various (shall we call them Ghosts?) as they enter the room.  There is a woman behind me who meets up with her mother-in-law, another whose best friend died suddenly, a third whose death was mysterious but wanted the guest to relay to his family that he was fine.  All very irrational seeming and a little but creepy. I wondered, is this was some kind of setup? Although at the same time I was secretly hoping someone would come talk to me too. I wondered in a peripheral sort of way who that would even be?  My mother-in-law who had passed the year before? Or my grandmother who my own mother says has come to her in the middle of the night and sat on her bed? But I dismissed this as silly, this isn’t real. And no one would want to speak to me anyway.

I wasn’t even really listening when I heard the Medium ask if anyone claimed the “white collar man dressed in a suit doubling over in pain pointing to his abdomen”.  Since, if anyone was going to come to me, I was expecting to hear from the “older woman who always painted her nails to match a special occasion” I didn’t immediately react.  I sat still, stunned and a little bit afraid as she continued to describe his laugh, his intense love for his wife, his specific observations about other relatives. He spoke to the Medium about one he called the handyman, someone who could fix anything and found great pleasure in helping in this way.  He spoke of Army Colonel who was recently diagnosed with a disease and knew that at the time he was stable. This could be for no one else but me. The details were too specific and the descriptions too rich. I sheepishly claimed him as my own raising my hand to say, “I think he may be mine?” The Medium continued reporting that he was safe and happy and well, laughing like he always did, making jokes that only she could hear but that only he would make.  And then the crazy part happened. As if having a dead person speak through a stranger in front of a room filled with strangers isn’t crazy enough the ACTUAL crazy part happened.

The doorbell began to ring.

Now let me give you some background about the doorbell.  My then 6-year-old was given a toy doorbell by her uncle one holiday.  It was battery operated, hooked up with a single wire with a button you press to make it ring.  Simple, straightforward children’s toy, no fuss, no muss. And it hung outside her door. Only if you rang the bell could you enter the room and those who didn’t were sure to experience her wrath.  Anyway, the doorbell seemed to have a mind of its’ own. It would ring whenever it wanted. While I was cleaning her room. While I was brushing my teeth. While the whole family was downstairs eating dinner nowhere near the doorbell.  Right, you heard me. It would ring when. We. Were. Nowhere. Near. The. Doorbell. We joked, oh hahaha our house must be haunted. Hahaha we have a ghost. Oh hahaha I am ripping that damn doorbell out of the wall and throwing it in the garbage.  Which is what I did. I couldn’t take the random ringing anymore.

Now sitting in the Red Barn my ripping the damn doorbell out of the wall has literally come back to haunt me.  My Medium (as in my mind she has now become mine because we have now established a mysterious and unbreakable bond) tells me he is jangling something.  Could it be keys, she says? Or is it wind chimes, she wonders? In that moment I knew. It was neither keys nor wind chimes and the message to me was perfectly clear.  He was ringing my doorbell all along and letting me know I should let him in.

I learned a lot that day.  I learned to relax my mind in meditation.  I learned to channel my anxiety through jin shin jitsu.  But most importantly I learned about belief and faith. And with a little faith you may find out who is ringing your doorbell from the other side.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

Releasing Negative Energy

My first experience with energy work came about 5 years ago.  At the time, a good friend had begun her journey to spiritual awareness and she explained that her Energy Healer would clear my blockages and I would feel happier, lighter, less negative and overwhelmed.  In listening to her I became intrigued by all the feelings she was having, all the wisdom she was gaining and all these cool people she was meeting.  So, when she asked if I wanted to see her Energy Healer, Judy, I jumped at the chance.  But, as usual I didn’t ask many questions, which seems to be my style and allows me to be open in my own way to the process and fully see what happens next.

In my imaginings of what I was to encounter I pictured Judy in a long caftan with a white head scarf, dread locks, playing soft melodic tones in the background and her office smelling slightly of patchouli oil.  I thought her space would be dark and musty, that I would be sitting cross legged on the floor and somehow, she would be chanting oohhmmm over and over. 

I could not have been more wrong.

Judy’s “office” is in fact a light, airy space with lots of windows, painted a soothing baby blue with minimalist furniture, crystals lined along the windowsills, two chairs, some yoga blankets and what looked like a massage table, for the purpose of what I was to shortly find out.  Judy is a perfectly normal looking woman, dressed in everyday normal clothes.  A sweet-faced woman she looks younger than she probably is with a lilting sing songy voice that immediately makes you feel welcome.  She greets me with the biggest hug, as if she has known me for lifetimes.  And in an eerie, incomprehensible way, she does.

I enter the room after taking off my shoes and Judy asks me to sit.  I say okay and take my seat.  I am incredibly uncomfortable.  I don’t know where to look.  I don’t know where to put my hands.   Do I cross my legs?  Is my phone off? Where is my water?  My mouth is getting really dry and I can feel myself starting to sweat.  I hope I put on enough deodorant.  What am I doing?  Why am I here?

And then Judy started to talk.  Ahh, the sound of her voice is like cotton balls, soft and warm covering me with a sense of security and I think, whatever happens in this process it will be alright.  I sink into her Adirondack chair and let her guide me through the process.  First, she explains that upon hearing my name she meditated and connected with my energy in order to get a read on what was going on with me.  I listened carefully trying not to let my cynical, skeptical brain take over.  She explains about energy cords and our irrefutable connection to every person that we contact.  She explained that we can hold on to the energies from other people and when these energies are too overwhelming or negative they can become a part of us and ultimately need to be released.  And by releasing this negative energy we become closer to our higher selves and our spiritual guides.  What. Is. She. Talking. About?  This is a bunch of hoohaa, malarky, silly voodoo.  How can we all be interconnected?  And how by thinking about my name never having met me before can she know me, I mean really know me.  But I will trust the situation.  I will trust that my friend has not wasted my time.  I will trust in the power of Judy.

She explains a bunch of other things about past lives, higher selves, master programs.  Nothing that made any sense.  And then she asked me lay down on the table.  A table, she explained, that was similar to a massage table but that she would only be lightly touching me to release my negative energies.  Okay, really?  What is she made of, magic?  How on earth could her “light touches” release all my negative energies?  I think to myself this is going to be hard.  And weird.  And disturbing.  But I will continue to trust in the power that is Judy.

She begins her work.  I hear her taking a deep deep breath, the kind of breath you would imagine a seasoned yogi to take, a breath so deep you can almost hear her lungs expand.  She smells faintly of mint tea.  A sweet pungent smell.  But wait, I am supposed to be concentrating on relaxing, not on what Judy just drank. I take my own deep breath, not as deep as Judy’s as I don’t think I could ever achieve that level of depth.  And. I. Try. To. Relax.  This is hard.  My mind is spinning.  Where are my kids?  Are they having a good day?  What clients am I seeing tonight?  What will I make for dinner?  Did I pick up the dogs’ medicine?  The strain of thoughts keeps coming as I try to stop the flood tide and concentrate on what I am doing.  What am I doing exactly?

And. Then.  It.  Happens.  Judy is at my head.  And all I feel is a searing pain in my forehead, directly over my right eye, a little off center.  A. Searing. Pain.  Almost blinding, except that my eyes are closed.  Do I open my eyes, I think? Is she balancing a tire iron on my head?  Do I tell her to stop?  What am I supposed to do?

And then it stops.  Just as quickly as it started, it was now over. I open my eyes.  Judy tells me to breathe deeply, to continue to relax and to rise from the table when I am ready.  I was ready immediately.  I was also a little scared.  What WAS that?

Judy asked me how I felt and I explained about the searing pain and asked if she had balanced a vile on my head.  And she explained in her calm and loving way that she released my energies at that moment in time and felt all my negativity built up in my head.  She also explained a whole bunch of other stuff.  None of which I can remember now.

And I felt released.  I felt lighter and freer and better able to see.  I also felt drained and confused and curious.  How had she done that?  And where would I go from here?

It was just the first step on my journey to better well-being and an expansion of my internal and external knowledge of the world around me.   It was neither hard, nor weird (well maybe a little weird) or disturbing (well the jury is still out on that one) but I did it and it was fascinating.  If I wasn’t a Judy believer then, I am surely a Judy believer now.  And I want more.

Stacie Goldstein, LCSW, is a social worker, psychotherapist, wife and mom of two teenage children.  She has been in private practice in Northern NJ for the past 15 years working primarily with teens and adults around issues including anxiety and depression, life transitions, and parenting concerns.  Stacie has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and group practice.  She has also taught Social Work at the Masters level for the University of Southern California as an Adjunct Professor.  Stacie’s professional point of view incorporates a variety of techniques and styles including meditation and mindfulness to help her clients carve a path to living less stressful and more content lives.

How to Defeat Your Dementors

Harry Potter fans know who these are but for the rest of you…dementors are horrible, spectral magical creatures, hooded and robed, who feed on negative human emotions. According to the Harry Potter lexicon dementors drain ‘peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them,’ …they create a chill mist which permeates everything …They drain a wizard of its powers if left with them too long. The dementor sucks out the victim’s soul, leaving them an empty shell, alive but completely, irretrievably “gone.”

We all have our dementors, negative people who suck our energy and drain us. Some are just acquaintances, one can escape or put up barriers to protect oneself. But when they are close family and friends, bosses or employees, sometimes it’s hard to have barriers. Sometimes it’s someone we “should” love (a parent or an in-law), sometimes it’s someone we have to be around. The negativity can be subtle- criticism or comments about your weight, your cooking or heaven forbid, how you raise your children. I have a friend who deals with one such dementor and it takes the form of self deprecation where the person is so negative about herself and it falls to you to build them up, offer constant and exhausting support.

Anyone who removes your positive energy or directs negative energy at you is a dementor.

http://Harry Potter dementor from You Tube

So how do you proceed if you lack a magic spell. It’s not easy but can be done. First, you identify your dementors; it’s hard because sometimes you love them and need them. But remember you are not eliminating them (unless you can and want them out of your life). If you care for them, keep them, but isolate the negative spirit. You need to counteract that with a good dose of positive people to balance the negative. One dementor might require 5 awesome positive people (uplifters).

Limit time with negative energy, cut short your time with them and have a list of positive activities you can do with them if you have to spend time together. Add on extra good activities on your own (engaging with friends, hobbies, silly shows, things that give you pleasure) to balance the negative stuff.

Sometimes your own thoughts are the dementors and these are the hardest to identify. But it can be done by being  brutally honest. Do you look in the mirror and say “ I don’t like how I look”, “I’m so stupid”, “ I screwed up”, “ “I’m no good”?

Make a list of your your uplifters, the amazing people in your life. If you don’t have enough go find them. They are everywhere. I made a friend at the gym who is one of the most positive people I know. She had to have open heart surgery and walked out 4 days later. She says cardiac rehab is a blast. I can’t possibly feel sorry for myself around her! I paint regularly with a group of women I met at a watercolor class through the local recreation department. They don’t need to be only deep friendships though those are awesome too. I met a really interesting lady at a batik class I took. She used to be a nurse and now does political graphic art. I want to get to know her, I took her card and plan to get in touch one of these days.

I’ve had a couple of truly horrible dementors that took me into dark negative places and it took me a long time to learn to isolate them.

And it’s the uplifters (people and activities) that helped me survive these.

And try picturing the negative people as hooded dementors… it might make you smile and remind you that you can deal with them.

References/ Definitions

https://www.hp-lexicon.org/creature/dark-creatures/dementors/

https://accidentalcreative.com/teams/people-factor/

Svapna Sabnis is a pediatrician, mom and a wife. She is in private practice and is Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics Medical College of Wisconsin and Clinical Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is an immunization advocate and Director of Immunize Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council on Immunization Practices.

She loves to teach medical students and residents, was awarded the Best Doctors in America 2010- 2019. She is coauthor of a textbook –Pediatric Decision Making Strategies. She likes to garden and dabbles in watercolors in her free time. She’s still trying to have it all and achieve balance in her life.

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