Bringing Zen back…

I’ve been blog quiet lately because I’m at a crossroads. As Lil Wayne said so eloquently (that I simply couldn’t say it any better myself), I admittedly “just built a house on I Don’t Give a F*ck Avenue.” I am officially less than a year away from ending the most challenging professional experience of my life and as I wrap up projects that I started on the day I arrived 2 years ago, I realize that I’m emotionally spent and absolutely burnt out. Being invested in being drained is a business I’ve gotten all too used to.

Unfortunately, now that I’m trying to shift energy to other things I’ve neglected, I’m finding myself stalled and ill equipped. With one foot out the door of my day job and the other not coming to terms with the emotion of doing ethnographic field work, I feel stuck. After brainstorming ways to get unstuck in my last trip to South Africa, I’ve taken on a few new activities to manage my energy and get my Zen back.

I started guided meditation. It’s been a long time since I have had a regular yoga practice. And while I was anxious to get back into the yoga scene in Mozambique, I wasn’t physically ready after a recent surgery. So, I settled for guided meditation thinking I’d find a new group to get mindful with. Instead, it’s one on one meditation with a very cool thespian who is helping me connect with the elements, reunite with my inner child and interpret the images that come to me from my meditation sessions. Kinda hokey, I know, but also very powerful. Tonight, for example, we worked on 3 meditations: Kingdom, Light and Fire. In the interest of time, I’ll summarize just one. My kingdom’s castle ended up being El Mina castle in Cape Coast, Ghana (a Portuguese constructed slave fort that I visited in 2005, just as I started researching the African Diaspora in Brazil) and when I was given robes and a crown to greet my people, I was wearing my doctoral graduation cap and gown (and red Christian Louboutin pumps). When I greeted them, what I was actually seeing from the windows of the top floor was the view from Maputo’s Fortaleza, hence a view of the Port of Maputo, Maputo Bay and the Indian Ocean beyond. In so many ways, my value comes from my research and being an academic who questions African identities and presents them in all their nuance. Pretty powerful and illuminating actually – my illusions of grandeur are just within reach!


chat mug by vectored life

Chat mug by Vectored Life

I reserve the right to have no filter. It takes a lot of energy to try to perceive what other people want to hear and then modify speech and content to soothe them. I find that by 9am every morning I’m fresh out of that energy. So, while I was always pretty blunt, these days I reserve the right to have word vomit and forgive myself for it later. Using my energy to appease others feels like a poor use of the little energy I’ve got, but it’s totally freaking people out to get honest answers to their semi-rhetorical questions. Just today, a friend shared with me the great news of her expecting a new baby. I was delighted for her and congratulated her profusely! But, she kept talking… And then she launched into the only logical conversation from there, which is of course asking what I’m doing with my uterus. So, I gave her the no filtered version of what my reproductive organs have been doing lately and shared that I’ve been pregnant before – most recently this year. It ended in miscarriage, but it was a pregnancy nonetheless. All sorts of awkwardness ensued later, b/c I think she thought I wanted consoling. That was a really weird assumption held solely on her part, but I moved on to other more meaningful conversations and back to work. Could I have avoided the overshare? Maybe. But, it’s no secret and it brings me no shame to speak my truth. Frankly, the more I talk about my experiences the more I realize how common they actually are. So, why give the easy answer? This is just one example of my delivering a heavy dose of honesty lately to people who I knew weren’t looking for it. The best I can do is to preface every conversation with fair warnings, like “I really don’t think you want to hear what I have to say,” OR “I’m not human before 10am so if you want to talk now, it’s on you,” OR, my favorite “Do you actually want an answer to that question?” Because, for me, small talk is draining and I’m out here living real life to the fullest.


I concentrate on legacy, not success. I’m really into podcasts these days and my absolute favorite is “Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Show.” It’s pretty nerdy stuff on organizational development and productivity hacks, as told by various people who have concentrated on energy management, as well as professional & personal development. One of the most profound was episode TPS102 on Essentialism with Greg McKeown. And the most powerful part was his focus on a 100-year vision. Yes, you heard me right. Eff your 5-year plan. To hell with your 10 year projections. McKeown thinks it really helps people to get away from the urgent minutiae to focus on what it takes to build a legacy that lives on 100 years after we are no more. Fatalistic, I know, but it’s been very transformative for me. Thinking about what mark I want to leave on the world, not just which minor tasks I want to complete today, gives me great inspiration to trudge forward and thrive, not just survive. It’s motivation to get through and past the small stuff, so I can refocus on what matters most to me really and what will matter most for generations to come. Profound right?


So, these are my confessions of trying to bring my Zen back – YEAH! (a la J.Timberlake). If you have other relaxation, balance, mindfulness and/or centering techniques to share, offer them in the comments, because word vomit really isn’t very sustainable…

Every good turn…

“Finally in the plane. after a very intense last day! Will be back soon…keep in touch. Lots of love, r” read her 4am text, as if I knew she was leaving at all.  Last I heard, she’d gotten her visa extended, and I was pretty sure she’d be sticking around, at least through the summer. But, clearly, if she’s “in the plane” she’s either headed back to Réunion or France proper. She’s definitely NOT staying in Delhi (Indian translation: she has left Delhi itself). We hadn’t any chance to say goodbye, and I wonder why she didn’t force the issue of having tea before she left.

I thought that throughout the course of the day the mental kerfuffle caused by waking up to the departure of one of my very first friends here in Delhi would slowly abate. But, as I furiously pushed grammatically correct papers back to Washington, sometime around 10am I got a call from Syeda. “I don’t think I can come up there right now, because I’m still at my desk. I’ve been here since 3 in the morning and I’m still not done checking out,” she said, with her usual nervous laughter. Sometimes I wanted to shake her or defend her when she used that “I laugh to keep from crying” tone. But, she, one of my very best friends here in Delhi, was going back home and vowed only to return for jewelry shopping.  And what use is making that trip when I know her ring size, her favorite jeweler, and her over the top South Asian preferences?

Yea, she’s never coming back.

And so, Thursday was a day of formidable goodbyes and reconciliation with the migrations of Delhi. Making friends is hard here, because most people don’t intend to stay. Like in DC, or any nation’s capital I suppose, the population that is not native is nomadic. In reality, that means that my Thursday was the equivalent of a big bag of balls. And I kept thinking, “I knew I should have just gone to Baghdad!”

Then I remembered the email that I red flagged from the day before. “The keys to D1/9 are ready for pick up.” FUCK!

It was 4:59pm. I had to get the keys to the new lady’s house from an office that closed at 5:30pm. I had to get her groceries. Go to the airport at 12am. Pick her up. Take her home. Make sure her keys worked. Get her 3 bags to the top of a third floor walk up. Show her how to turn on the air conditioners. [I forgot to show her the water distiller.] And go home. Go to sleep. Wake up. Pick her up for work. Take her to her office. Go to mine. And push more paper. All I could think was, ‘if she’s lame – this will be the worst 24 hours ever.’

They say when one door closes, two windows open. Thus far, this week has been a one for one scenario. Maybe my other two are on back order? The new lady was pretty cool – and it doesn’t hurt to make a friend in the health unit. Around my mom’s age. Southern, with lots of time in New Orleans and Texas. A talker, but not in an obnoxious way. Her first time abroad – second career. And curious.

So, it was my turn to be somebody’s first friend. I spent all Saturday dragging her from self-soothing shopping site to self-soothing shopping site. I’m sure she has a horrible impression of my spending habits, but a great understanding of where to go for those who consider suicide when Delhi is enuf. We went to all of Syeda’s old haunts: the jeweler in Le Meridien, the sari shop in Sarojini Nagar Market, the DLF Emporio – which now has a Christian Louboutin (fast forward to 3:15) store!, and Smokehouse Grill for dinner. And after I dropped the new lady off at home, I remembered that an old college chum had arrived in town too.

I’m not sure how, but I dragged him out of his flat clear across town, and we made it to a farm house party only 10 minutes from my house – though it felt a world away. An interesting collage of expats, diplomats, lesbians, (closet) gays, locals, nomads, Africans, Europeans, beer and sheeshah made for quite the evening.

And aside from all the happy thoughts swarming in my head about how I wasn’t in Delhi alone after all, all my selfish ass could think about was, “these two newbies are sooo lucky they found me, or else their time here in Delhi would suck big balls.” C’mon, on your first day in Delhi you go to the DLF Emporio and the jeweler in Le Meridien?? It took me months to find this stuff! Or this farm house pool party near Mehrauli?? That was my first time going, and this guy I haven’t seen in 6 years just plops down in Delhi for 12 hours and gets a super awesome invite to come with?  Dude, my life is awesome! And they reaped the benefits of the mushroom cloud of awesomeness that surrounds narcissistic ole’ me.

But every good turn deserves another. And my two bygone besties really showed me around town as much as they could too. After all, R. had shown me Boheme in Hauz Khas, after we met at a Belgian diplomat’s house party that we’d both crashed. And Syeda really pushed me, professionally and personally, to go out on a limb for myself. And I felt like I owed it to them to make sure that this new duo had the best time possible. After all, we’re in Delhi, and sh!t doesn’t just happen – life here can be sh!t. But, there are times, like last night, when I look up in the sky and I can actually see the stars through the smog and it’s a pretty awe-inspiring moment.

And this is all against the backdrop of having been here when my grandfather was laid to rest back home. I didn’t make the funeral this week. And I really haven’t talked about it – perhaps because I fully intend to act like it’s not really the case until I have a breakdown. (Don’t judge me.)

But, all the coming and going really had me thinking about how our days are always numbered. Not because we have to worry about passing on, but because life is too exciting to sit still and wait for experiences to come. People like me chase the next moment, and that means learning to be ok with saying ‘see you later,’ when you know it’s really ‘goodbye.’

Perhaps that’s the same flexibility it takes to convert a 4am g’bye text message into tour guide inspiration. It’s the leading by example aspect of just enjoying every day and watching others around you reflect the same or choose another circle where their miseries have an audience. It’s the out-of-wedlock child born of 2 principles: being who you are and paying it forward.  While I have very specific plans to pay forward my grandfather’s legacy, this whole Delhi bit is a high-speed revolving door that I will just have to get used to.

Watch my red bottoms spin!