It was 9 AM on the first day of grad school. I was sitting there, looking into my cup of soggy 60 second cinnamon-flavored Quaker oats just having finished a call with my enthusiastic and cheerful mother who swiftly reminded me of the importance of shamelessly piling mounds of almonds (badam) into any and every meal.
Each almond represented years of sacrifice, decades of generational beliefs about health and wellness, immigrant parental fears and hopes to have second generational children fulfill the 'American dream', and the integration of Eastern and Western medicinal practices.
How do we strike a balance? At what point does our way of being or what we consider healthy behaviors feel ‘good enough’? Eat healthy, but enjoy those fried samosas and decadent brownies for now, it's Diwali. Food is a cross-cultural and generational love language. Exercise your mind and body, but be sure to slow down, meditate, and take breaks...but not too many breaks (do you ever work if you take more than one break?).
There comes that pesky word…BOUNDARIES. I always imagined a long piece of caution tape during a forensic investigation (Forensic files anyone?), perhaps the glaringly red pen marks all over your geometry test you never studied for (but likely were confused regardless). It is tempting to think in black or white, to see ourselves as either healthy or not healthy. Eastern or Western in ways of thought. What happens if we broaden ourselves to simply be and feel so much more? To acknowledge and normalize the complexities and contradictory behaviors that is this life of ours? What does it look like to set boundaries with yourself? Societal expectations? Cultural expectations? Dare I add rainbow sprinkles and turmeric to my Quaker oats?
It’s Friday evening. You are absolutely thrilled to wear your shiny gold stilletos, paint your face with your favorite Nars make up (or any paint of that matter), and you’ve just worked tirelessly to re-stitch your favorite Sangeet (Indian wedding event) outfit with the local tailor who also happens to be your uncle’s fathers mother’s brother, who we endearingly call ‘Sam Uncle’ (his real name and DOB is a secret few are honored to know).
Upon arrival, you immediately and quite willingly head into judgment paradise, aka the bathroom where you and the aunties begin to seamlessly judge each others outfits while also helping each other fix pins for unruly duppatas (scarf for Indian outfits).
Hi beta (term of endearment), what is your name? What do you do? Are you married? In your mind, you begin to ask, she wore that outfit? Is that jewelry real gold? How much was it? Wait a second… are we both judging each other? Who wins? I’m still wearing the same stilletos and outfit I once, two hours earlier, was ecstatic to wear. How did my mind betray me so quickly?!
Our minds are like mini factories, perhaps a full time job. What makes us feel easily swayed or buy in to certain thoughts or emotions over others? As South Asians, we are traditionally collectivistic in our mindset for generations. What we choose to wear, eat, date, and career choice to name a few are influenced by family and friends in our immediate environment.
While a single blog post cannot cover years of cultural and familial traditions, perhaps we begin to explore the complex origins of such traditions. Could it be that the aunty in the bathroom is exploring her own experiences of wanting to pursue a career of choice and, for a number of reasons, was unable to? Could it be we are judging an aunty’s jewelry because we too have been in the exact position at an earlier wedding or felt the eyes on our garb?
Each of us is living in accordance with our subjective realities, which complicates things when we combine our individual realities with familial and societal beliefs about how we should think, feel, and behave.
The question remains – how we can we balance our sense of self while maintaining a close relationship with others without if feeling like a threat to our identity? The best of both worlds is not only possible but also considered psychologically optimal regardless of our age or life stage.
It’s the 5th of September and you have eagerly entered the world with absolutely no clue what you were getting yourself in to – after all you have been gently acquiescing to your mother’s needs for 9 months, kicking every so often to assure she and the rest of the world are aware at all hours of your awesome presence even before THE grand entrance (ok, perhaps the whole birthing process is a tad more complicated).
In the eyes of John Locke, we are born with a tabula rasa, otherwise known as a “blank slate” or how our mind functions before imprinting from the outside world. The age-old debate about how and what shapes our personalities is a contentious one for sure.
After nesting for some time in your mother’s womb, you enter this world called reality. A world where you enthusiastically attempt and re-attempt to tie your shoes at age three and are immediately rewarded with a forgiving smile and unconditional positive regard from loved ones and strangers alike, regardless of how many tries it takes to tie your sparkly little shoes. A world where, when you attempt to try a new skill or meet someone knew as an adult, many times you internalize the belief to get it right the first time or perhaps abandon ship if it does not go as planned repeatedly --- the fear of heartbreak, disappointment, expectations, and notorious “should” statements.
To complicate things, enter our dear and somewhat edgy friend, Tech N. Ology. Can we recall the first time we set hands on our first Nokia that weighed approximately 300 lbs? We had the luxury of calling people outside our homes and to call that device our very own, a feeling of material intimacy. As the life-altering 2019 pandemic hit us, and we isolated for long periods of time, we became increasingly reliant on our screens to connect with others.
Living in a day and age we all dreamt of where we can message each other freely, connect with others to our liking and convenience, how is it that more and more folks are expressing feelings of discontent and increased distress? We have gone from: the age of wired to wireless, writing letters to e-cards, and having to call to order food to clicking a button for a gourmet meal to our doorstep.
The freedom of choice and immediate gratification is a double-edge sword perhaps. While we crave and value our sense of autonomy, a clean slate where we desperately seek to control the outcomes of our life stories, there’s a part of us longing to connect with others in a socially meaningful way, a gray area, requiring much trial and error and sitting with sticky unknown. How do you say we respond the next time we see a stranger on the street tying their shoe?!