Life Musings, Writing

Joy in the Journey

For my last weekend in Al Ain I could think of nothing more fitting than a drive up to Jebel Hafeet. Over the last two-and-a-half years, escaping to the top of the limestone range has been my favorite pastime. I even chose my apartment because of its mountain view and I will always remember standing out on my balcony on winter mornings waiting for cloud-cover to rise and reveal the city’s iconic peak.

The view from the top of Jebel Hafeet can often be hazy, maybe as a consequence of the quarrying and cement factories that dot the area. But for me, the beauty has always been in the serpentine journey through hairpin turns, as I play hide and seek with the sun.

In November of 2017, I moved to the Garden City reluctantly as my head and heart continued to combat each other, trying to figure out how to coexist in unison. But the slower pace of life, small town vibes and simple routines grew on me sooner than I thought they would. My rhythm adjusted and the people I met solidified my feelings for my temporary home. Each person had a feel of calm and deep investment in making quiet connections…some private and some to share.

As we drove up to the top this morning, I could not help but marvel at how life plays out, pushing us in the directions that lead us to where we need to be. Thirty minutes into the journey we were making our way to the over-priced café and hoping to catch the sunrise one last time. God’s early morning, egg-yolk exposition did not disappoint.

I hope to return and see the sweeping views of Oman and Al Ain again someday but for me the drive and the anticipation of making it to the top will always be what makes this journey a beautiful experience. It is never about the destination but the journey itself. Just like life.

Life Musings, Writing

An Abundance Mindset

This whole week I have been forced by circumstances to think about the constant tug-of-war between abundance and insufficiency. My mind has been marinating in things I have heard, read and discussed with people and I learnt quickly that I was not alone, perhaps because of the climate of our times.

In most people’s minds, there is a battle between two perspectives: abundance and lack. These are almost like two roads that we have to walk but sometimes without a choice, each giving us vastly different experiences of life.

Abundance often correlates with positivity with the core belief that there’s enough out there for everyone. By carving our niche and claiming our little successes, we are happy to bask in the realm of possibility. On the other hand, when we think from a perspective of insufficiency, we could be filled with fear and questioning. We think pessimistically, are highly attuned to what we don’t have and what won’t work, as well as the deficiencies of our situation. Everything is either black or white.

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Rhine Falls, Switzerland

While I have been questioning so many things lately, my predominant state is that of gratitude. Abundance doesn’t come from resources alone, abundance is a mentality, no? I am reminded of the majestic waterfalls across the world, some of which I have been so fortunate to see personally. It amazes me how that much water can continuously flow at such speeds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for thousands of years. To me, this is symbolic of a never ending abundance that can come only from a power greater than our little minds can imagine.

The natural world has a lot to teach us if we pay attention, no matter what the present circumstances feel like, it is alive and well and ongoing. My prayer for myself is that I would focus on the abundance instead of all the things that seem so far from reach. And, if you haven’t seen a waterfall, I’d like to share this one with you in the hope that it will remind you to live in an abundance mindset, no matter how difficult it might feel at the moment.

Life Musings, Writing

A Collector of What Ifs

Anybody who knows me, will probably describe me as ‘confident’ or ‘self-assured’ and that’s partially true. I project confidence when I need to, it takes a lot of preparation to get me there but when I’m there, I wing it well. I use the phrase ‘wing-it’ intentionally, because that’s often how I feel on the inside; as though I am an imposter feigning confidence and calm – the swan gliding over placid waters without causing a ripple but churning and chaotic below the surface.

Self-doubt is a special kind of hell. A small failure makes you question your abilities and the next thing you know, you feel like you aren’t good enough or smart enough to do anything. And that’s when you stop trying.

I believe that we all have that little inner voice that tells us what we want to be doing with our lives and who we want to be. Unfortunately, we push this inner voice aside because we start to think things like, “How am I going to do this?”, “What will people think of my decision?” and the worst one, “What if I fail?”. Herein lies the delicious irony of my life. Despite my self-doubt, I have ambition. For as far back as I can remember I have wanted for everything to be different with me. I thought I had the strength and mastery to make it and gradually I taught myself how. But the most terrible obstacles for me aren’t situational, they are in my own head.

If I could measure my life in moments of self-doubt, it would look like yardstick after yardstick of questioning my choices. Choose A and then obsess over the thought that I should have chosen B instead. Why do I always choose the wrong thing? Anyway, I ramble, it isn’t all doom and gloom. I go through cycles of self-doubt, the questions usually come in torrents and leave a million what-ifs like driftwood strewn along a shoreline. In time, the tide comes in and takes away the debris to where it came from, but till it does, my head and heart remain in constant conflict, each one fighting for a stronghold over my life and actions. Some days my head wins, on other days, my heart.

I guess, I’m putting this out there today just to acknowledge that I have days like today, weeks like this one has been. A truth-seeker is obligated to be truthful first, no? I am reminded of the fable of the Hare and Tortoise; how confident that little Hare was, so self-assured, so certain of getting to the finish line. In 35 years, I have never once felt like the Hare, just always the Tortoise. I stick my head out of my shell and take one step at a time, crawling at my own pace, hoping just to finish the race respectably while the Hare is taking his victory lap.

But we all know how the fable ends, an ending that promises both optimism and Hope, and if this post can do the same for even one of you reading this, then writing it would have been worth the effort.

“Just be yourself instead of trying to prove yourself. For if you do, the former will automatically take care of the latter.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Travelogues

The People We Meet

Driving through Tsaghkadzor was an unforgettable experience.

We are in a white Honda Civic, driving through a snow covered stretch of what seems to be no man’s land. Daylight has dawned and the signs of devastations that followed the end of the soviet era are scattered all over the place. I stare out of the window, beyond brown rooftops, at a white wilderness. Mt. Ararat looms over the horizon – the only sign of our location – we are traveling somewhere along the Turkish border.

Amidst the rhythmic tremble of the Honda, is the clicking noises from my phone’s camera. The subject it would like to capture is the natural beauty that runs through the Turkish-Armenian frontier but instead, the photos reveal hazy silhouettes of giant Oaks and Pines; reminding me that the real is always best remembered in my mind’s eye.

Autumn and winter are colliding during my trip to Armenia. New Cherry blossoms are budding in the capital city Yerevan; while the mountains still look like a winter wonderland. Suddenly, the car jerks to a halt and I am stirred from my morning reverie. We have reached our destination – the beautiful Tsaghkadzor woodlands along the slopes of the Tegenis.

I step out and take in the breathtaking vistas of the majestic Caucasus Mountains. I can stare for hours but my guide Shushan motions for me to catch up with her. I slip my phone into my jeans and count the number of crunches my Nike’s make in the snow before I reach where she is. Back when Armenia was part of the USSR, Soviet athletes came to Tsaghkadzor (Gorge of flowers) to train for the Winter Olympics. In-between her narrations Shushan ensures that I begin to understand the intricate historical and cultural fabric of the country and the values of the Armenian people. It is clear that she does not want me to leave without understanding those whom she represents and so a common theme runs through her narratives – resilience. Resilience in the face of changing ideologies, resilience in the face of a macabre genocide and resilience as the country walks a tightrope between tradition and modernity.

Odds are, if you are a traveler, you have met some pretty interesting people over the years. Some memories of them are fleeting while others recur. Many times, when reminiscing, the memory of the people that I have met along the way will outweigh the memories of the destination itself.

My travel personality is a polar opposite to my regular one. When I am traveling I find myself to be outgoing, lively and social; when I am confined by routine, I am reserved, quiet, and introverted. Isn’t that strange? That said, I love to engage with people during my travels, meeting new people and traveling go hand in hand and any interaction, good or unpleasant, adds depth to my experience.

My first impression of travel in the Caucasus region was a lovely one, arriving in sunny Tbilisi in 2016, to an enthusiastic welcome from the immigration officers. A couple of nights later, I was on a coach to Batumi, drinking wine from a Styrofoam cup with three new friends who were part of my tour group. That experience still stands out for me but was only a little taste of what was to come as the people of Georgia, Azerbaijan (2016) and Armenia (2019) are some of the most warm and welcoming I have met anywhere in the world.

I quickly scribble some of these thoughts in my diary (so that I remember them when I am staring at my computer screen later), pull my gloves back on and look around for my guide. Shushan has already reached the top of the slope and is and is signaling me towards a narrow uphill path shaped in the shrubbery by the footsteps of previous climbers. I sigh dramatically and prepare myself for my second hike in 34 years. ‘Resilience’ I remind myself and make my way up the slope. It will be a while before I reach the top.

Some people have a way of making a permanent space for themselves in our memories, don’t they?

I will never forget the people I have met during my visit, Narine, Marina, Hovo, Amir, Narkek, Shelby, Shushan’s mother’s freshly baked Gata or my time in Armenia, even if I try.