Thoughts & Musings

AVA

You are me and I am you

We cannot bear life without a pen in our hand

We seek salvation in ink

Our hearts are barrels of boozy feeling substance and our vessels: words

I read your books and I cried on their pages

I rejoiced in your grand fucking evolution

And you scared me because I felt you so hard

And that’s when I knew

That we are fire

from the same flame.

https://www.instagram.com/vav.ava 

https://avapoet.wordpress.com/

http://vav-ava.com/

Thankyou 

Where I am

24

It’s a cold fucking evening.

I swallow the last of my mum’s dinner and run upstairs to change out of my work clothes into some leggings, a long sleeved top and a jumper. I look in the mirror. I’m digging the comfy vibe so I throw on a scarf and a pair of trainers too. Recently I’ve taken to actually dressing nicely so it’s good to just chill out. Actually it’s good to get out of the house at all. And on a weeknight. I’ve done well so far.

I go back downstairs and down the rest of my tea before jumping into my car and driving to The Meeting House. I’ve driven and walked past this building a million times on the way to the train station but I’ve never even been inside. I walk up the flat stone steps and inside. I feel a little doubtful… in fact I’m only just about sure I’m in the right place. Inside, the building is washed by the harsh whiteness of tube lights. The carpet is green and flat, and there are doors in all directions. I look tentatively at a few people sitting around, not entirely sure where I’m going. Then I see it. ‘Zen meditation 7.30- 9.45 Room 3’. Room 3 it is then.

I walk up a spiralled flight of stairs and straight into room 3 when I realise I’m still wearing my trainers and everyone else has taken their shoes off. ‘You knob end, Gowri’, I think, before quickly retreating outside the room. I nervously peek inside. A large, golden Buddha sits at the end of the room on a table with a lit candle. A few people bow and pray to it. An old gentleman with a white beard and kind eyes comes up to me and says ‘You must be Gowri. Thanks for getting in touch’. There’s some fumbling and fidgeting and the man, Paul comes out of the room with a younger, beautiful mixed race looking woman with cropped hair, black glasses and a gorgeous smile. I am treading the water between tense and relaxed. She introduces herself as Nicola. I give them both my best polite smile as they gather together some cushions, a small bench and some more cushions and take me downstairs to a big open room, away from everyone else.

“Have you ever done anything like this before?” asks Nicola. I cast my mind back to the Buddhist Centre in Moseley with its warm lighting, the giant gold buddha, the air humid with lemon and ginger tea and the array of navy cushions splayed across the wooden floor and the people of all backgrounds coming together yearning for peace. “I’ve done a six week meditation course back when I used to live in Birmingham”, I reply. I’m not sure if this makes me any more qualified or not.

She goes on to explain to me that here, they practise Zen buddhism which has a number of differences. “We don’t focus on the breath, we simply focus on sitting” she says, casting her eyes to the numerous adjuncts she has brought with her. I play around with them until I find a comfortable position on a chair. I’m taught how to hold my hands. I’m told when to bow with my hands in a prayer and I’m told that when we meditate we sit facing the wall with our eyes slightly open and looking down. At this point, my fight or flight response gets ready to kick in and scream at me to leave but my behind stays firmly on the chair. Must keep an open mind.

“Is everyone here buddhist?” I ask.
“Most people”, she replies “but not everyone”.
“And the meditations… are they guided?”
“No, no… we just sit in silence”, she smiles.
Run, Gowri.

I don’t run. Despite my fear and my reservations I’m taken in by the beautiful warmth that Nicola keeps exuding and wafting in my direction. Buddhists, for fuck’s sake, I think. Why are they all so nice?

I follow Nicola up the stairs. We wait outside the room where everyone else is, making small talk in whispers until we hear a chime. I walk in behind her. The room is dark, bar the single candle on the altar. Everyone’s seats face the wall. I find it weird to begin with, but I settle down into my space. Another chime. And everyone just… sits.

So I sit. At first I’m conscious of every breath I take. My mind wanders to all sorts of places until I look at the wall and see a bit of paint scratched off, exposing the brown wood of the skirting board. If I squint it looks a bit like Australia. I like the lighting here. Calm. What am I doing here? Focus, focus. I try to feel my feet on the ground, my legs and my thighs on the seat. I try to maintain my hands in the position Nicola said even though my thumbs keep drooping as my mind wanders off. I suddenly become aware of the fact that I’ve seriously lost practice at meditating. I also realise that unguided meditations are scary. But as the minutes tick by, I find myself relaxing. My spine curves a little. I begin to let go. The paint scratch looks more and more like a paint scratch. And another chime.

I stand. More bowing. Lights on.

I look at the room around me. It’s mainly older men, in their fifties. One guy has a head of brown hair and a charming smile, he’s perhaps a little younger. Paul is wearing robes in the corner of the room. “Tea?” he asks.

Finally, now that’s something that I can definitely do.

Tea is brewed. We sit around a table and chat. Paul plays a talk and everyone discusses it at the end. I look around, wondering how I found myself amongst this bunch of total strangers on my 24th birthday but feeling strangely at peace. From Nicola’s initial description, I thought this was going to be incredibly prescriptive. It certainly wasn’t the same as what I’d experienced before, but there was a gentle warmth in that room that came not from the radiators but from the loving energy of the humans inside it.

Suddenly, I felt content. I don’t know how much a part of my life this will ever become but I think how happy I am to have done something purely for me for the first time in a very long time. I think this is the best birthday gift I could’ve given myself.

A year ago on this very day I wrote a post called Birthday thanks.

I turn 24 today. It’s been the quietest birthday of my life, to the point where even I almost forgot that I was turning a year older. Right now, I could not feel more far removed from the gratitude filled, abundant force of energy who warmly put together that joyful little number linked above.

So much has changed. So much has changed. I mean, I know I keep banging on about how much has changed but really, so much has changed. But this post isn’t about how I perceived a life of awesomeness and seemingly landed in a shitpile. It’s about how to create sweetness out of the shitpile. And guys, I don’t know how the fuck I’m going to do that but something tells me that this is going somewhat in the right direction.

 

 

Thoughts & Musings

The steamiest nights

I don’t know if you guys are ready for this kind of post but if other writers can do it, so can I.

Brace yourselves. I’m about to reveal intimate details of the steamiest nights that I’ve had this year. There have been many. They have been varied. Each one has brought me to the cusp of bliss and that’s why I’m writing about them today.

So for clarity’s sake, steamy means many things.

Like the steam that arises from hot tea that one is about to drink.

So in fact, the steamiest nights may perhaps actually be about the nights during which I drank tea and, oh, I don’t know… read a book. I like to read with tea.

Okay, it’s a 2017 book review so if you actually want to know about my sex life then whatsapp me and if we’re close enough I’ll just tell you. You’re all freaks, by the way for clicking this link. Shame on you.

NO, NO, NO WAIT, DON’T GO!

I’m sorry… you did just take part in a grand Rick rolling practical joke between me and myself and I have wanted to pull this for a while but I am sorry. But before you decide that this shit isn’t worth reading… tell me, when was the last time you read a book?

Was it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone? And did you say ‘Fuck it, let’s watch the movie’? That’s fine. No judgement. We muggles have forgotten the magic associated with picking up a crisp new book and cosying up with a hot drink and losing ourselves in the words of someone else’s life. Mindfuck moment: You’re actually doing that right now by reading this. Try not to fall off your chair.

Okay, if by now, you’re done, that’s fine. Go forth. Have a good life. But if you’re up for it, we can talk about some good books. I’ve not done a book review on here before but so many of you guys requested it that I felt like it was worth it. The last sentence was literally a complete lie. No one has ever asked me to write a book review but this is my fucking page so here it is.

Some pointers first: Number one: I don’t read LOADS. I’d say I read a moderate amount. That translates to always has her head dipped in several books at once and reads at weekends because she’s too tired after work but listens to audiobooks before bed. Number two: I alternate between fiction and non fiction. I read a lot of spiritual and self help books to try and expand my mind/knowledge/seeking answers but I interject it with healthy doses of easy fiction. Number three: I’m going to be unconventional and go with 8 of my personal favourite reads of 2017.

8. We are all completely beside ourselves- Karen Joy Fowler

Meet Rosemary. She’s in her twenties, dealing with some serious fucking burns from her childhood. Mainly the fact that her gorgeous sister, Fern, was literally torn away from her, one summer when she was five years old. She went to her grandparents’ place for three weeks and when she got back to her house Fern was gone. And she stayed gone. Rosemary spends the large majority of her life trying to forget about it but it comes and bites her back. So she goes on a hunt for the truth. Where in god’s hell is Fern?

I have one piece of advice for this book. DO NOT READ AHEAD. Just wait until page 77. Page 77 will blow your little brain. The twist is so fucking good it will just compel you to finish it.

Tone: Dry, sarcastic, will make you feel things
Readability: A solid train book
Storyline: 11 out of 10. Legit.

7. The Universe has your back- Gabrielle Bernstein

Giddy up, Law of Attraction junkies, here’s a good one for you. The Universe Has Your Back is a book that’s about faith and love. Gabby Bernstein is a first class author and life coach who is well versed in A Course In Miracles which is actually a christian text which she translates well so it’s not overly preachy OR super new-agey. Thankfully, unlike The Secret (sorry), it isn’t written for five year olds with an IQ of minus 30. It’s not like ‘Just feel good and good things will happen to you’. This book teaches that essentially, no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. This book is about finding peace from within. It’s about meditation. It’s about making peace with your inner self so that the things in your life start to mirror your positive internal state. It’s Law of Attraction with a twist: rather than being focused on outcome, it’s focused on within.

Tone: Soothing AF. I listened to it as an audiobook and Gabby’s voice is like treacle.
Readability: I read this book at a testing time in my life and I got through it in a day because it spoke to me on new levels at the time.
Applicability: 6/10. There are good exercises and meditations thrown in there.

6. Milk and Honey- Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is probably one of the few reasons I have left for believing wholeheartedly in God. This woman is a divine, beautiful, delicious force of nature and I want to invite her poetry into your life. I want to do this for you. She will open you up. She will prod bits of your soul that you didn’t know existed. She will make you feel things you didn’t know you could feel. She will let you into her every thought with the god-like power of her words. You will re-read Milk and Honey time and time again because Rupi’s authenticity will literally speak to the essence of your very being. Plus the velvety cover is gorgeous. Buy the book (not kindle edition), make yourself some tea, get on your sofa with a blanket and just swim in her divinity.

Tone: Raw, real, emotional
Readability: Easy reading… even easier re-reading
Storyline: Gorgeous. She splits this book into four easy sections. Rupi my darling, let’s drink tea and talk about life.

5. My not so perfect life- Sophie Kinsella

Confession of a Soph-a-holic: I love Kinsella. Yes there’s a reasonable dose of romance, yes it’s super chick-lit but this book is an ultimate guilty pleasure. Katie Brenner has finally worked her way up to everything she’s dreamed about- a job in a firm in London. She’s all hell bent on being a Londoner. But in true Kinsella style, shit hits the fan, she gets fired, she meets a guy, she moves home, plot twists and turns, happy ending, easy reading, feel good as hell- what’s not to love about this?

Tone: Funny, witty, as if they’re your own thoughts
Readability: You won’t put it down, classic Kinsella
Storyline: Very, very good.

4. The subtle art of not giving a fuck- Mark Manson

If you, like me, are guilty of having your head stuck in the clouds for a lot of your life, then trust me when I say that Mark Manson will have you crashing back down to reality… in a good way. This book highlights the most avid flaws faced particularly by millenials. It talks about how we’ve been kind of fucked over by society. How mediocrity isn’t good enough anymore. Basically it says this: problems are always going to be there in your life. Instead of constantly focusing on positive experience, learn to get comfortable with the problems, the negative experiences, the inevitable suffering that happens because we are human. This is a delightfully refreshing take on the self help industry. It stops forcing us to fart out sunshine and positivity from our backsides. It’s practical enlightenment with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Tone: Slightly patronising at times but if you put that to one side, it’s logical, scientific and extremely down to earth.
Readability: I audiobooked this one and it’s excellent for a commute… makes you think but doesn’t divert your attention from the road.
Applicability: Here’s the deal sealer. This is the kind of practical self help our world needs and I will give it a solid 8/10 for applicable.

3. The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine

I ummed and ahhed about whether or not to include bae but if this is Gowri’s book review of 2017, Gowri’s most worn out book in the world is her Oxford Handbook. I wouldn’t be where I am without bae. I still keep bae in my work bag and look things up when I encounter them at work. I still love bae’s philosophical teachings (the dad with the cluster headaches paragraph gets me every time, as does Corrigan’s door). Oxford handbook is everything. Concise, easy to follow, colour coded medical literature. It’s not just for finals. It’s for life.

Tone: The best textbook you’ll every read kind of tone
Readability: The best textbook you’ll ever read kind of readable
Applicability: Put it this way. Even I managed to become a doctor. There’s a reason for that. (Bae).

2. When breath becomes air- Paul Kalanithi

If you happened to be on a train to Birmingham the other day and you saw a long haired, spectacled indian girl in a black jumper, snotty nosed and bawling her eyes out, that person was absolutely not me- let’s not be ridiculous now. (It was me). Kalanithi spoke to me on new levels: he is possibly one of my most esteemed role models for being both a doctor and a writer. Paul is a neurosurgeon who gets diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and ‘When breath becomes air’ is his autobiography. Everyone needs to read Paul’s book and if you’re a doctor… you definitely need to read Paul’s book. It’s an articulate, beautiful expression of what it is to face your own mortality. There are a few quotes from this book which, as a doctor, truly resonated with me so I highlighted them and am including them below:

“Putting lifestyle first is how you choose a job, not a calling”
“From that moment on I vowed to treat all my paperwork as patients and vice versa”
“When there is no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool”
“And along with shift work  comes a kind of shiftiness, a subtle undercutting of responsibility. If he could just push it off for a few more hours, I’d become somebody else’s problem”.

Tone: Refreshing, smart and such incredible manipulation of the English language
Readability: Incredibly easy reading, you’ll finish it in one night
Storyline: Beautiful, moving, poignant, sad and frankly, necessary to read.

1. One Indian Girl- Chetan Bhagat

Guys this was my number one book of 2017. I’m not a fan of CB’s every book, not by any means but I have profound respect for the way in which he, a man, so effortlessly eased himself into the brown skin of a young indian woman and wrote from the heart. I’m just going to provide you with the blurb:

Hi, I’m Radhika and I’m getting married this week. I work at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. Thankyou for reading my story. However, let me warn you, you may not like me too much. One, I make a lot of money. Two, I have an opinion on everything. Three, I’ve had a boyfriend before. Okay maybe two. Now if I was a guy, you would be okay with all of this. But since I am a girl, these three things don’t really make me too likeable, do they?

The instant I read this blurb, I was drawn to this book. Radhika will tell you every painfully sexist part of her story with insurmountable wit, humour and relatabilty. You will love her. You will understand her. And for every indian girl reading this, on some level at least, you are her.

Tone: Witty, hilarious, relatable, you will root for her every step of the way
Readability: Easy as hell reading and you will not put it down, I assure you.
Storyline: Genuinely, the best CB novel so far in terms of storyline. You don’t know what’s coming next. But more than anything, I think all indian women need to read this book. Indian girls need to read this book and then give it to their mothers to read. This book highlights elements of every day sexism that you too have probably lived with. It will speak to you and I hope it will also change you.

Okay so it turns out I just poured my heart and soul into this book review and I do not regret it. If you’ve made it this far, I’m not only happy for you but I’m rooting for you. Be inspired to go pick up a book, maybe one of the ones I have mentioned and throw yourself in there. Only goodness awaits.

In the meantime, to all the authors that I have promoted, I know this blog will mean a lot to you but I promise that you’ve given me as much with your writing as I will have given you with mine.

You’re welcome, sweeties.

Thoughts & Musings

2017

A chuckle escapes me as I can only anticipate the flurry of blogging activity that is about to ensue this New Year’s Eve. It’s quite nice actually. Thinking of all the writer folk in our enigmatic world sitting in their writing holes with their mugs of tea, musing and reflecting and pondering and poring and threading words together like beads on a necklace crafted from the bits of their souls carved out by 2017.

Time as you and I see it is very much a man made construct that allows us to make sense of this world. From that construct we derive feelings of fresh starts and new beginnings and gym memberships and false promises and hopeful resolutions. Although ‘new year new me’ has turned into a statement that we scoff at, I can’t help but feel that there must be a fragment inside all of us that just relishes the idea of starting over.

My new year started the minute Christmas ended (mostly because I’m on-call on New Year’s Day #doctorlyf) and to be honest, guys, it’s with ginormous relief that I put 2017 to one side and say ‘thank fuck that’s over’.

On paper, this was a year that went spectacularly. I took part in a dance contest and was on the winning team which was a huge feat for my confidence (may I take this moment to extend my thanks to Praveena, truly amazing friend, choreographer and team captain extraordinaire for her undying faith in me). I graduated from medical school and became a doctor after five years of some sweat, lots of blood, gallons of tears, many sleepless nights, more early mornings and a vat of caffeine. I met the person I want to marry and fell so hard and fast in love that I didn’t realise it was even happening until it happened. Before I knew it I was standing in the middle of his kitchen, drunk as a skunk at 4am, cradling a mug of water in one hand, the other arm hooked around his neck going ‘say it, just say it, I don’t want to say it first!’ He said it. I moved back home with my family, I started earning, started saving for a deposit, I was working out every morning and going out every weekend… life was good.

But you lovely folk, you who read the constant crap I generate right here are aware of how little the paper version matches up to the grim reality of it all.

2017 broke me.

2017 uncovered the shitstorm that lay beneath the layers of confidence, positivity and idealism that once entirely formed my personality and delivered the essence that this page was once built upon.

2017 tore me open and unleashed 23 years of shitty belief in my own worthlessness.

2017 revealed to me that one’s mental health is perhaps not as robust as one thought and denial is not just a river in Egypt.

It’s become kind of fashionable to talk about mental health these days. Lots of people write about it too, myself included. It’s true that this page has become my safe haven where I can fearlessly express the pain and consumption that 2017 has inflicted upon me, especially in that arena.

I have, so far, been reluctant to label this period of my life… mainly because I don’t feel that it requires a label. PHQ-9 will tell you that for a long time this year I’ve had ‘moderate to severe depression’. A psychologist will tell you that I display some classic symptoms of anxiety, low self esteem and perfectionism (actually, my own therapist has said those words, more on that later). I for one, do not call it anything. Let me tell you why.

I have found that in this culture, where it’s become kind of cool to talk about mental health but there’s also crazy levels of stigma attached to it and people clutch on to diagnoses. People clinically define their pain, sadness, anger, grief and anxiety and then they hide behind it for comfort because the world is too scary without the diagnostic crutch. Everyone is different. For me personally, even as a person who displays typical features of certain mental health disorders, I do not wish to be diagnosed.

Initially, this was a huge issue. Flat out denial is not an effective way to approach a problem, and boy was I denying. I convinced myself that the marks on my skin were just scratches. I told myself that I was too strong for this. People who have actual mental illnesses are far worse than I am. How fucked up is it that we equate resilience and strength to the ability to deny our problems and ‘just get on with it’?
In any case, that was never going to end well. 2017 showed me that. It made me realise that unless I made an active decision to change, I would forever be stuck in this static mess.

Some time in November, I took the plunge and started confronting my biggest demons. I read practical self help books (not The Secret), I started seeing a therapist, I started letting myself actually feel the feelings I have, I began to manage my expectations about self improvement (NOT recovery) and I became much more open in my relationship. The sparks of hell that ignited 2017 cooled to ashes from which these baby phoenixes of victory quietly arose.

For a long time, I’ve not had faith in myself. I used to make up for it with my faith in God but I’m still figuring that one out, so it’s not a reliable source of faith anymore. I have learnt, the hard way, that life just isn’t all that glorified. It’s not like books or movies. Not only are we not perfect as a human race, we are all deeply flawed and our biggest flaw is thinking we are right all the time. There are these amazing, mind blowing, 4am- drunk- in- the – kitchen moments… but mostly, life is just full of rainy Tuesdays. Happiness is not about the good bits but about fixing our thinking so we don’t freak the fuck out during the shit bits (like Gowri in 2017). It is the midpoint between Mark Manson and Oprah Winfrey… accepting the shit that comes at you and cultivating the ability to cope with it whilst also being so exceptionally present and grateful in the moment that every hot cup of tea feels like a mini-miracle.

With gladness, I close the book on 2017, knowing that a point will come where I see it as the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

I no longer live life screaming positive affirmations and craving eternal bliss. 2018 will be rough too. It’ll come with its own set of monsters. The difference is that this time, they won’t tear me down and knock me off my feet. With a healthy dose of skepticism, acceptance and relief, I am welcoming the new year, and the ever-improving me.

*Fade to silence*

Thoughts & Musings

My best friend 

It’s not an abstract title. This is literally a post about my best friend. 

It’s largely inspired by the fact that I’ve seen her for the first time in about a year and our conversations are so sporadic that we fully miss the intricacies of each other’s lives. I have known her over a decade and apparently she drinks tea now, which is actually quite a huge deal for her. Bizarre as it sounds, this was a shock to my system. Shit, I thought. We just don’t talk, do we?

The single reason for this almost extreme lack of contact, despite it not being difficult or even particularly inconvenient to stay in touch better is that we have such deep, unshakeable security in our friendship that is now thirteen years’ strong that utter complacency takes over. 

In fact, I look at all the people in my life- including my parents, my sister, my boyfriend and all my other exceptionally good and important friends and realise something profound: she is the only person with whom I am truly, wholly, completely myself. With her, I’m not afraid of anything. I don’t fear losing her. I don’t fear growing apart. I don’t fear her not liking me. I don’t fear her not understanding any part of me. I don’t have any expectations of her whatsoever, so she can never let me down. And most of all… I don’t feel afraid to tell her what I honestly feel. She is the only person who I will comfortably chuck out at 9pm because it’s past my bedtime. Yes, even when I’ve not seen her in a year.

And it does make me ponder.

Am I just a massive fake? Well no, that can’t be. I just have minor day-to-day insecurities that make me put pressure on myself to keep up with my other friendships because in reality, they simply aren’t bound by the unbreakable bond I share with my best friend. This is neither good nor bad: it’s simply factual. I don’t put all my eggs in one basket. I gain so much from all the relationships I’ve ever forged and what I gain from my best friend is just different to what I get from other people. That’s all.

The liberation I feel in being with her is something I long for in a more permanent setting. How else may I achieve it, I wonder? Quite simply, I think not worrying about what other people think. I look over the years that shaped the clay of our friendship and I recall that I’ve never once been threatened by her, competed with her,  envied her and we have been such different people our whole lives that a clash was near impossible. Consequently, I’ve never once worried what she has thought of me. We love each other deeply for exactly who the other person is.

I remember when we decided we wouldn’t get each other presents that year. It was easier. It happened the following year too. Now I don’t remember the last time we got each other a gift. This serene lack of expectation in any given aspect of us drives us to be as comfortable around each other as we are. This is unconditional love. Why do we put conditions on everything? I think of how it would feel to strip my relationship away from expectations. To relinquish control. Let go. Surrender. Stop worrying about whether my boyfriend loves me or whether I deserve his love and instead just let it be exactly what it is. Society loves to tell us what we should expect from relationships. But if I applied this approach, I would soon realise that I already have everything I want because quite simply, I’m loved, cared for and respected. That’s all my best friend gives me. And actually… it’s kind of all I need (and sex, I need sex).

Finally I think of how I can lie on my bed whilst she lies in it, wearing my sweater, eating my cough sweets (she’s a bit sick, but I’m more concerned about whether she’ll infect me) and we can point blank open up about our biggest fears. She tells me she’s afraid of her own indecisiveness and uncertainty and she wishes she had a plan for everything like I do. I tell her I am afraid of everything from being late to work in case people think I’m lazy and incompetent, to my boyfriend leaving me because he thinks I’m as worthless as I sometimes think I am and how having a plan for everything is simply my way of exercising control over a life I have no control over.

And in that moment I realise I don’t need control over this. Over us. We just are who we are. She freshens my perspective and makes me feel less apologetic for being myself. She strips me of fear and replaces it with curiosity, disinhibition and happiness. Whilst I just glow with pride when she tells me she now washes up her dishes straight after using them. My girl has finally learnt the real way to live.

When I dropped her home 3 minutes before my bedtime, we said we should really meet more. Try harder. Not because we need to but because actually, hanging out with each other is really good. For both of us.

Live inspired,

G

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