Why Creativity and Wellness Belong Together
Given I am at the Noepe Literary Arts Center, doing a two-week writing residency, I show up to this coffee shop everyday to work. I feel grateful for the “alone-time.” The type A in me doesn’t get too many of such moments in New York, the city where I live.
There is a freshly brewed cup of Earl Grey and day-old blueberry scone (day old baked goods, though still delicious, are a dollar only…and for a writer, every cent matters) to awaken my senses. The morning is like a perfectly written scene in an overly descriptive novel.
While I find beauty in everything around me this morning, I do feel a sense of heaviness. I am not sad or depressed or angry. Instead of getting frustrated, I fold up my legs and close my eyes. Yoga Sutras 1.2 says:
“Yoga is the Stilling of the Changing States of the Mind.”
A few quiet moments later, I find my answer: I am hurting because my Mom’s death anniversary is sneaking upon me. Two years ago, I was at the same writing residency. I returned to New York City and two weeks later, Mom suddenly passed away.
Tears find a home. I honor the sorrow tugging at me this morning. I don’t fight it or roll my eyes, “You weren’t part of my writing day plan.” I take a deep breath and let go.
Truth is: I have not always been this way. I have not always known peace. I have not always known how to pay attention to my feelings.
May 30, 2014: The phone rings at 2am.
It’s my Dad from New Delhi, India. “Your Mom is in the hospital.” There is a strange emptiness in Papa’s voice. As if he feels the ache from loss even before it’s happened.
Hearing my Dad’s brokenness over the phone was something I could have never imagined. My parents were headed to Kashmir for a vacation. My mother’s heart betraying her wasn’t part of any plan. This couldn’t be happening to us.
That very evening, I was scheduled to do a reading at the legendary KGB Bar in New York City in honor of Mother’s Day. I canceled my reading and caught a flight to New Delhi with my husband. In the flight, I started to write.
Poems about Mom. Poems about poems. Angry poems. Sad poems. Losing-control-over-everything poems. These poems weren’t supposed to belong to me. This pain wasn’t plan of my life plan.
Mumma was gone by the time I landed in New Delhi. After a 14-hour long international flight, I saw her body wrapped in a pastel sheet at the morgue; she looked peaceful. There was a dent on her forehead: the space between her eyebrows where she wore a bindi. Also known as the “third eye” in yoga.
No one noticed it but me. What did she want me to understand?
Poetry and pain never left my side.
I continued to write—from New York City to the morgue to Mumma’s last rites. Dani Shapiro says in Still Writing: “Everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.”
I wrote relentlessly not knowing that I would finish writing a collection of poems, “Saris and a Single Malt,” about my Mom and her death, inside of a week.
Over the next few days and months, here is what happened: After losing Mom, I lost myself. Forgot happiness. Survived on a diet of expectations. I was so angry at life and with a few people that I disregarded all the generous support.
Cancer and stroke warnings made an appearance. Injured a few relationships and my relationship with creativity.
I am not sure if it was my Mom looking over me or my subconscious nudging, but I woke up one day and realized that I had two options: either to bury myself in my sorrow, expectations, disappointments, and perish or become “Phoenix rising from the ashes”—renewed and reborn.
I turned to yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda.
The eastern philosophies taught me to be sensitive to the subtler sensations in my body. They taught me self-compassion and to let go off expectations from my life and writing.
They made me realize how anger was hurting my organs and my sleep, which in turn impacted my emotional wellbeing as well as writing.
Slowly, I started to heal. While the loss of my mother is irreplaceable and left a hollow in my heart, I started to become much more content and compassionate. The people in my personal life started to notice the difference.
My editors and publishers mentioned that my writing became more fluid and less pedantic. I started to show up to my words with devotion and dedication everyday and they started to reciprocate.
I no longer over planned my life and writing and they returned the kindness.
My health improved and as a result my writing career got better. I saw myself not pushing, striving, and mindlessly aiming for the destination without enjoying the journey.
I will share more about the transformation in my thinking, writing and lifestyle in my upcoming columns. But I will tell you, focusing on mindful living has taught me to enjoy my cup of Earl Grey, blueberry muffin, and writing of this article on a crisp spring morning without worrying about what I am going to do in the afternoon or present at the reading this evening.
I am not obsessed with my calendar for next week—for when I return to NYC. The present moment is all I have. And I am going to savor it with grace.