“Mistakes” are actually the unexpected beautiful quirks that transform your planned semi-copy into You

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Painting this taught me again how sometimes “mistakes” are actually the unexpected beautiful quirks that transform your planned semi-copy into You.

That butterfly in the middle was a mistake. I accidentally applied too much black paint when I tried to replicate a very complex, intricate, and elegant design by somebody else. I thought I screwed up the painting and I gave up on it because I was disappointed. (“I paint to feel happy and relaxed, you dumb canvas. Not to feel like a failure again. Eff art! I want pizza.”)

I came back a little while later in that all blobbed up, brainless, relaxed-I-can’t-possibly-screw-up-my-life-any-more-so-let’s-eff-up-more-and-have-fun-with-it playful state, and lo-and-behold, hideous black blob trying to be somebody else began metamorphosing into butterfly.

But I didn’t notice what was happening because I was so absorbed in my blobby, brainless, happy state just playing away. Suddenly failure metamorphosed into playful, inspired experimentation.

The ceramic paint marker I abandoned after using it on a series of failed Christmas gifts (failed, because I forgot to dry each mug in the oven after and so the designs washed off after the first contact with water) I realized I could use to draw the intricate interior.

The supplies I received as gifts from two “failed” relationships added the sparkle and the color. My sister’s love on a day I felt anxious and sad added the gold (Sharpie pen paint).

The desire for validation created the black blob, but it also led to surrender when I once more failed to make up for past scars on my self-esteem by trying to be the perfect somebody else.

And as I stepped back to view the result – tired, bloated, but happy – I saw how long- ago heartbreaks and disappointments sought a canvas to create beauty instead of more pain via self-destruction.

I guess this piece taught me on an even deeper level that it’s not the canvas – the finished outcome – but the story behind it that creates the meaning, far more valuable of a thing than how perfect the piece turned out to be. And it’s that, to be honest, the story – the art’s story, your story, my story – that is why I doodle, why I write, why I do anything.

And when I remember it’s about the bigger story of me – us- the why and what did it all mean…I guess failure and success can’t really apply.

Now onto the next mind f***. I mean, piece.

Painting Away Pain

Painting another canvas as a form of meditation. I’m trying to teach myself to focus on the process vs outcome – to relax and enjoy the journey – as I create both art and my life. So many self-critical thoughts emerge but once the brush hits the canvas, my mind goes blank and surrenders. Painting away old pain, you could say.

Visit my Etsy shop to view more designs like these and buy when the canvas is done: https://www.etsy.com/shop/HerSoulExpression. You can also email me at hersoulexpression@gmail.com if you wish to make a purchase.

From my soul to yours,

Sheena

Making the Struggle Count for Something Beautiful

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Today I felt quite soft and vulnerable so I doodled on a seashell and my hand for a few minutes. Still felt sad after but at least the pain was used to make beauty. I was glad for that. Because sometimes that’s all we can ask of life. That even if happiness is impossible to permanently hold onto, just make the struggle count for something beautiful. No matter how small.

And so today I am sad and scared and uncertain. But these little doodles, insignificant to all but my soul, saved the day. Because while I’m not happy, it meant something – namely that there’s more to life than being happy. There’s meaning, there’s beauty.

Maybe that’s enough.

You Can Be Indian And Not Hindu: An Agnostic Indian’s Thoughts: Brown Girl Magazine

http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2014/08/can-indian-hindu-agnostic-indians-thoughts/
India: A land of many identities, not just one

I read an otherwise well-written piece arguing Urban outfitters indulged in cultural appropriation when they chose to sell products featuring Lord Ganesh. While I agree that their actions were insensitive to Hinduism as a religion, I had qualms with BG Saumya’s assertion that this was cultural appropriation.

I am Indian, but don’t feel offended by Urban Outfitter’s actions for one crucial but simple fact: while I grew up Hindu, I rejected organized religion as a teenager and describe myself as an agnostic theist now. Thus, is it still considered culturally insensitive if one doesn’t identify as Hindu? I, as a non-religious Indian, don’t feel my culture has been insulted because religion has nothing to do with my cultural identity as an Indian.

I’ll even go one step further and state that I don’t think any Indian, Hindu or not, should feel that Indian culture has been attacked, because I don’t think we should even be associating any religion with our cultural identities in the first place.

I’m sure such an idea sounds counter-intuitive. Realizing it or not, we have all been sold an idea of Indians as being synonymous with Hinduism. When non-Indians think of India, they often think of the ashrams and spirituality. Think back to most of the Indian social events you have gone to. Likely right along the Bollywood music and saris,  pictures of Hindu deities or other Hindu symbols were present.

So why is this problematic and needs to be changed? Well, just like the West doesn’t have the right to define and dominate my culture, why should a single religious group? So much so that they impose their values onto me by linking religious symbols to my cultural identity as an Indian? It’s just as wrong for Indian-Hindus to do it as it is for American-Christians to force their way of life and iconography onto the rest of us.

This is especially significant as India is technically supposed to be a secular country, while Hinduism is supposed to be a religion at its core that promotes peace. Yet, when the majority of Indians fuse these two together to create their personal identities, it has often led to the demeaning of both the Indian constitution and the religion.

For example, such a strong association between Hinduism and Indian identity has largely contributed to oppression of non-religious and religious minorities, like Muslims. This is an especially poignant point to consider given this year’s election of Indian Prime Minister Hindu nationalist Narenda Modi, the same former Gujarat chief minister who refused to apologize for the 2002 Gujarat Riots. The riots, the worst in Indian history, led to the death of more than a thousand Indian fathers, wives, and children. Their crime? Being Muslim.

Now, at this point, some might argue that with such a heavily entrenched fusion of identities, it is not possible to construct a culture that is still very much Indian without also being very much Hindu. After all, Hinduism has played an important role in India’s development.

I argue, however, that it not only is very much possible – India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, after all, was agnostic – but needed to represent the voices of all Indians, not just Hindus. Certainly Hinduism has heavily influenced Indian culture, but the fusion of Indian and Hindu identity is not fixed and is constantly changing in its relationship with each other.

For example, a brief look at Hinduism’s early and modern history reflects this well. It was actually the Mughals, or Muslims, who invented the term “Hindu” to identify the citizens of the invaded country. AsAjita Kamal explains, Indians created what is now known as Hinduism to protect their existing culture:

To the Indians, Islam was an alien ideology which was capable of replacing all local knowledge and culture with it’s own self-contained narrative. Their response was the formation of a reactionary element against Islam from within the Indian community (this happened by cultural evolution over many generations, as well as by concerted efforts of individuals and groups). This part-organic, part-organized movement adopted the label conferred on it by this enemy. Hinduism was born.”

‘Hinduism’ in its modern form was born from colonial times. Like the Mughal invaders, White colonialists ironically generalized and labeled all Indians as “Hindus,” and consequently those Indians fighting for freedom adopted the term with the religion as a tool to unite Indians against the British.

Ajita Kamal continues:

The entire early history of India had become synonymous with a religious ideology by the time India gained independence from Britain.”

Clearly the relationship between Hindu and the Indian identity is not a rigid one. It’s one we must divorce from each other if we want our culture and country to progress and become a more truer representative of all Indian voices.

There are a number of ways we could do this; Indian media outlets abroad and in the U.S. could perhaps represent Hinduism less, and report more on other aspects of our culture that are not tied to religion. They could give a voice to Indian atheists or other Indian religious minorities. At home, we could hold Indian social events that are not predominantly influenced by Hinduism, thus symbolically opening the doors for other religious and non-religious Indians to attend and feel accepted.

Peace through becoming, not fighting: India’s Independence Day

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Gandhi used to sit and study in this area as a young student. I like to just reflect here with a coffee sometimes, pondering not necessarily him – he was both a deeply loved and controversial man, and I don’t like to put people on pedestals – but his ideas and what he represents: non-violence. Peace. Grace confronting the worst of humanity. And winning.

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world” floats through my mind, as does an “eye for eye makes the whole world blind”. Especially poignant and ironic words given that across this very street, a bus was bombed that fateful day July 7, 2005 by Al Qaeda.

For me, India’s Independence Day is more than just another holiday. It stands out from America’s Independence Day because August 15, 1947 doesn’t commemorate a battle between good and evil, like how the American Revolution eventually led to independence from the colonizer.

India’s Independence Day is a day that symbolizes the triumph of humanity over our darker, broken shadow sides. There was literally no resistance. It was simply the surrender, the embodiment of peace rather than the ironic fighting for it, that helped melt away “evil.”

Peace helping wash away the walls that harden us as humans, leading to liberation. Achieving peace through becoming, not fighting.

Peace as the way to peace.

Words for both the inner and outer world to ponder.

Happy Independence Day, India.

Going Beyond India is Weird

I recently read a post on Thought Catalog titled, How India Changed Us.” In short, the article featured the travel perspectives of two young Americans who recently bicycled across India. Their account was condescending; an eloquently expressed unoriginal piece at best. I can’t even count the amount of times they recounted how traveling in India made them feel “lucky to be American.” While I don’t believe the duo were intentionally being racist they unwittingly approached a sensitive matter in, as one commentator put it, a “less than enlightened manner.”

What surprised me most was not their depiction of India, but the response of many other Indians to the article. A few were upset. Many were not. If anything, they were complimentary -– and critical of those who had issues with the piece. One individual stated:“I think a lot of the time people fall into the trap of immediately branding something as racist if it doesn’t fit into his/her idea of what is appropriate. I understand that, but I really hope we can move past that.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of writing. Nor is it the first time I’ve seen a positive response to it from fellow South Asians. Sadly, I think that sometimes South Asians get so excited about being represented in a media outlet, they ignore the fact the depiction may not be entirely accurate or balanced. Or maybe, like the writers, they’re not even aware of it themselves.

When you’re a Westerner writing about a country like India in public, or a region like the Middle East or Africa, you have a responsibility to be careful given the historical context.

Instead of offering something “interesting” or “original,” readers were offered the same overdone, condescending, Orientalist, being-in-India-made-me-appreciate-amazing-America cliché. It offered a very superficial image of India. The same image we’ve seen time and time again. It was disappointing, especially from a website that claims, “You’re going to discover stories, ideas, and voices here that you won’t find in the mainstream media.”

Why do I resent the image of India portrayed in “How India Changed Us”? Because it ignores the myriad, complex reasons for India’s status quo. India, like many former colonies, finds itself mired in social inequality and poverty for many reasons, some internal but also external. Corrupt governments. A colonial legacy. Unfair international trade practices, which contribute to farmer suicides by organizations dominated by — or at least traced to — the United States, such as the World Trade Organization. These are just a few examples.

But none of these issues are even touched upon in this article. It simply parrots the same old, “Indians are backwards,” “India is weird” trope we see time and time again. While nobody expects these two young bicyclists to offer 10 paragraphs narrating the various back stories behind India’s many troubles, the fact that the article was published in its current form continues a troubling precedent.

The dialogue seen in “How India Changed Us” is particularly significant today. It adopts the kind of approach that breeds First World resentment. For Americans to present themselves as morally superior, when we have helped install authoritarian governments and have contributed to many of the problems in the developing world smacks of hypocrisy.

Now, I’m sure the writers didn’t intentionally mean to insult. They probably just wanted to talk about their radical bicycling trip. But because the post appears on a public site, Thought Catalog, and only serves the purpose of reinforcing American stereotypes regarding countries like India, it’s irresponsible to share yet another article like this one without at least offering a balanced counter-narrative. Every story has two sides. And this one is lacking.

I published this here: http://theaerogram.com/going-beyond-india-is-weird/

Let Go – Glimpses of Doodles I am Working On


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Every time I create one of these doodles, I feel like I am lifted into this stunningly beautiful space where I am deeply in touch with my feminine, the Indian in me, my playful inner child. My thoughts go silent and my heart takes over. The more I delve into this space, it’s like a cleansing and I can see who I am – a spiritual practice more powerful for me than meditation even. Somehow, my doodles are helping me metamorphose from caterpillar to butterfly.

That is pretty funny to me as these are feelings I searched again and again for in philosophy and spiritual books and teachers – really, in every domain of my life – yet somehow I am finding them by allowing myself to simply…doodle. I constantly ask myself questions like: How do I re-connect with my true self and intuition? Live a life that is calm, free, creative, playful and not stressed and like it belongs to somebody else? Joyful and fulfilled? Feminine and passionate?

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Then like a serious student and adult, I’d grab at every serious book or teacher on the subject I could find, or work, relationships, etc…I’d get mad at myself when my focus would stray elsewhere to the doodles on my journal. and other seemingly unimportant tasks. “Pay attention! This is serious work to help you connect with your true self, understand life, and embrace your purpose etc…” I’d sternly command to myself, only to find myself resisting even more. Until it dawned me a few months ago that this voice of resistance was not the problem but the solution – this is the voice of my inner child and true self screaming at me to get real and surrender.

So I started to allow myself to doodle and just “resist”. And I realized: How do I become playful? Drop the control. How do I listen to my intuition? Drop the control. How do I live a life of passion? Simple – just let yourself. You are already full of passion. People tell me that all the time. See it. Feel. Accept it.

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There is no need for so much serious speculation all the time – just play and live. I am realizing more and more nowadays it’s the adult in me that sometimes is more of hindrance to my life and happiness than anything. It’s the inner kid in me that is my true self and vibrant and beautiful – she has something gorgeous to express and she shined magnificently when she was younger, before certain painful experiences and the superficial world’s limiting beliefs got in the way. From my doodles, I am learning that the more I get aligned with her and listen to her, the more my life flows.

Funny how it is the  most seemingly insignificant, tiny things that are often the catalyst for great transformation if only we’d slow down and awaken to it.

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Gandhi and Idealization

I just read an article  discussing how Gandhi likely sexually abused young girls. It eninforced for me my belief that is is extremely dangerous to idealize. We end up ignoring anything that might tarnish our fantasy, reject critical thinking, and unintentionally create the space for abuse of power to occur. This is as true for political and religious figures as it is for celebrities. 

I still find Gandhi’s non-violent fight for India’s independence admirable – people, like life, are not black and white, good or bad – but his questionable past exploiting young girls must be acknowledged. Many Indians consider Gandhi to be the nation’s father, so it sets a dangerous precedent to ignore these wrongdoings. If India wishes to make progress in ending violence against women, it must start holding all of its powerful male politicians, gurus, and other leaders accountable. (Fyi, I am a Gujarati Indian – like Gandhi – from a Hindu background, although I now identify as an agnostic theist.)

And I’d add, this applies to every revered historical figure and country. We can’t just ignore unpleasant facts when it deviates from the popular narrative; we’re no longer re-counting history but reciting a fairy tale when we do. We must investigate these figures and countries critically, taking in their positive but also negative contributions. Jefferson, the great aristocratic American Founding Father, owned slaves – in fact, all of the Founding Fathers did. Mother Theresa was homophobic. Abraham Lincoln was a racist; closer inspection reveals the civil war was fought to preserve the Union, not for ideological reasons – just like most wars. (The Southern economy was strong due to slavery; Lincoln sought to weaken it to insure the rebellious South, angry over Northern taxes, would not leave the Union.)

The purpose of mentioning these people isn’t to prove they’re bad; it’s simply to show people, whether they are Mother Teresa or Gandhi, are human. It’s possible to be and do good and bad at the same time. When you label a figure as one or the other, however, you begin to look at history from a narrow lens that blinds you to the whole truth. And too often that comes at a price for the powerless few.