what Gokarna taught me about acceptance

Go to Gokarna

Going to Gokarna was a very last minute decision. I met up with my ex-coworker who was in town for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit when I was in Hyderabad. He has lived and traveled quite a bit across India. As we were talking about my travel plans, he took it upon himself to vet my itinerary and make sure I’m visiting the places where he thinks I’ll have a great time in.

That’s when I learned about Gokarna.

Gokarna is one of the 7 important pilgrimage centers. It’s on the western coast of Karnataka with a population of around 26,000 people. The small town is dedicated to Lord Shiva (also known as Mahabaleshwara) and is surrounded by (or is very close to) beaches – that’s what attracts the tourists – with names like Om beach, Nirvana beach, Heaven beach. Gokarna means “cow’s ear” due to the legend that Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow here.

A fleeting connection

I went to Gokarna with a friend I met in Goa. It’s one of those times where you meet someone and instantly decide that there’s a connection – that there’s going to be a mutual exchange where you’ll each teach something old and learn something new. At that point, my itinerary was completely blank. I wanted to avoid a cyclone but also wanted to leave Goa ASAP (it’s too touristy for me), so when my new friend, X, mentioned that he was interested in Gokarna, I saw it as a sign to lock that destination in.

We left the next day. During our 2-3 hour drive, we breached a lot of topics like family, relationships, love. It was easy sharing with a something I met a day ago – there was no history, no baggage, no judgments. Just moments of chatter we eagerly exploited, moments of silence we quietly indulged. I sought help and unconditional support was given, I fell quiet and succumbed to the master of my thoughts. It’s ironic that this man has answered questions I’ve been struggling with – ones that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with my friends, or, ones that I know my friends simply would not understand.

Oh, the irony of friendship.

As the hours crawled on, our topics got deeper. My friend revealed that he had been battling depression for a few years and he just got over it.

Then a diagnosis

Clinical depression is “a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life”. The WHO has labelled depression as the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability. It’s estimated that 350 million people globally are affected by depression. In India, it’s estimated that there’s more than 10 million cases per year.

The thing with depression is that you can’t share it. When you’re depressed, quite often it’s less about what’s happening, but more to do with how you are internalizing facts. You feel like there’s no escape, there’s no hope and that anything anyone says is wrong – you somehow always find a way in your mind to convince yourself otherwise.

I admit that I only know a handful of people who have suffered from depression. In Hong Kong, mental health issues is a hush hush subject. You cannot be psychologically ill – that’s not allowed. Mental illness belongs to an asylum.

“As someone on the sidelines, what can I do to help loved ones who are depressed?” I wondered aloud, “when someone reaches out and asks me for help, I want to be supporting without being overbearing. At the same time, I feel like the person reaching out isn’t listening to me”

“Depression is often illogical” X said, “You cannot approach it with what you’d call a ‘sound solution’ – you cannot approach it with solution that makes sense to you“.

X continues, “solutions are paths forward and usually, those who are depressed cannot see that path. And if they do see a path, it’s often made of molten lava with white-hot spikes. Would you go ahead?”

I reflected on this quietly.

The lesson

Someone close to me is suffering form depression.

For the past few years, I’ve been trying to get this person help. I tried giving them suggestions when they asked for advice, I tried telling them what to do when they needed more direction, I tried signing them up with therapists when they said they don’t know what to do anymore.

Though my best intentions and my hardest efforts, none of this seem to work. The person comes to me every time they have an episode, but time and time again they’re repeating the same problems as last time.

It frustrated me. Why isn’t this person listening? Why aren’t they doing something to change the situation around? The road to happiness is so obvious, so simple!

But after talking to X, it became clear to me that I’ve been dealing with this incorrectly the entire time –

Step 1: Remove the “I”. No one cares if you understand or not. The person seeking help is usually just looking for a listening ear, not someone to say “I don’t get why this is a problem”

Step 2: Remove the ego and desire to save the day. If this person is not ready to follow your “logical” and “obvious” suggestions/instructions, then let it be. They know the situation better than you, and, they know what they’re capable of better than you.

Step 3: Remove time. It does not matter how many times you’ve talked to this person about the same facts and scenario. If they person is not “fixed” or well, they are not. As a confidant, you either get them professional help, or you continue playing your role as the unwavering listener.

There are two commons themes in the three steps above: forgetting that this is about you, and embracing more empathy / acceptance. Rushing people and inundating them with facts / advice / words isn’t going to help. You have to accept your loved ones for who they are, what problems they have, and that they’re going to heal at a pace that works for them.

They come to you for you. Be the listening ear that breaks the barrier. Be the comfort your loved ones can embrace.

(Sent from Gokarna, India)

what Goa taught me about ego

I’m writing this piece, albeit a little shaken up, from a beautiful cafe / healing center in Southern Goa called The Space Goa. Space Goa is in the small town of unspoiled, white pristine beaches and colourful shacks called Palolem.

from then till now: golden goa

Throughout history, Goa was one of India’s main trading hubs till the Portuguese took rule in 1510. The Portuguese turned it into the Asia capital of their kingdom to control the spice trade. The Goan bazaars flourished – there’s a Portuguese proverb that even states “He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon”. Golden Goa stayed prosperous till the Dutch started patrolling the Indian waters, blocking access to the city.

Though Goa is the smallest state in India, it still takes 2 hours to travel from the North to the South. Modern day North Goa is more about partying and clubs, while Southern Goa is more about relaxation, quiet and peace.

I booked 2 nights at Woodstock Village Bamboo Cottages, a beautiful paradise next to a gorgeous stretch of Benaulim Beach. Benaulim is at the beginning of South Goa. It’s next to the famous Colva beach so tourists Benaulim has stayed off most people’s radars.

Generally, the beaches in Goa are very different kind of relaxation, there’s an element of serenity to it. I saw wild dogs chasing crows, cows getting washed, locals playing cricket.

exploration of the south

I dedicated my second day to exploring south southern Goa. I rented a scooter to hit up Palolem, Agonda and the surrounding natural beauty as it’s a 2 hour ride away. Though I just learned how to ride a scooter, I figured why not? I’ve always told myself that the best way to learn a new skill is to throw myself into it and be fully immersed – when you’re forced to do something for a long period of time, you have no option but to carry one.

So here I was with my scooter. The journey started seamlessly. I was maneuvering well, going at a safe speed – it was like biking, but faster and with absolutely zero effort apart from the flick of my wrist. I rode past palm trees with leaves shimmying to the warm ocean breeze, I rode over glittering rivers with colourful homestays dotting it’s coast. Each additional moment I rode, I rode with an increasing confidence. This is great, I thought, I’m a natural.

Then suddenly, everything did a 180. I was accessing an upward hairpin on the side of a mountain when two motorbikes sped at me from the opposite direction. I panicked and in a split second, my hands clammed up, I lost speed and I fell. I toppled off the road and a meter or two down the bend of the mountain. Lucky for me, there was a bush so I collapsed onto a mass of mini thorns rather than rocks, or worse.

all it took was one second

Nothing and no one was to blame but me.

My negligence. My cockiness. My ego.

The ego is a dangerous thing. Stripped away of fancy words and analyses, Egos are superimposed images we have of ourselves. It is who we think we should be based on 3 things –

  1. I am: belief
  2. I think I am: aspiration
  3. I will instead be: movement

These three pieces combined allows us to survive and grow, and gives us the necessary confidence to leave our comfort zone. But like a double sided sword, the ego also generates blind faith that often creates harm to you or those around you.

Take my accident for example. There were facts, there were beliefs, there were desires to master a new skill. In this case, the Ego allowed me to jump and take the first step towards conquering a new skill, but it also grabbed me back by the throat just when I was starting to get comfortable.

yin yang of the ego

Some may say the Ego is good – for you never make the shots you don’t fire. Others may say the answer is Ego is an evil that we have to keep in check – that it’s important we stay humble.

I’m not winning a Nobel Prize by stating that our society favors the former. We reward the ego – our conditioning has taught us to prefer those who are bold, always ask for more, and believe that they should get exactly what they want.

But is this the right attitude? Is it good that the majority of big companies are run by people who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and want to replace themselves with others with similar personalities? During one of my earlier performance reviews, I recall my then-manager telling me that I do amazing work, everyone on the team loves working with me, but I need to change the way I communicate. I needed to be louder, more assertive, more demanding. This puzzled me for a long, long time. Why am I asked to change my style when everything is working out fine?

I learned recently, years after that conversation, that my manager wanted me to improve my confidence rather than the way I speak. “Faking it till I make it” was an extremely valid attitude (probably even encouraged) to my manager. But to me, that sounded lofty – why would someone respect me if I have no substance, no experience, no knowledge?

This goes back to our society’s obsession of the ego and how we assume those with the bigger ego are the ones who are more successful. Is this a result of our conditioning (this is the way things have been, so therefore, we accept it and fulfill the assumption)? Or is it actually true (those who do have a bigger ego do posses the skills to get ahead)?

a request

Regardless of the answer to the unanswered question above, I’ve learned during my travels that louder voices often does not mean more success, just more unthoughtful words. Shooting out 100 ideas to get 1 does not make one better and more innovative than a person who makes the one shot they fire. Our society needs to better balance between these two conflicting personalities as it stretches across gender, race and culture.

There’s no easy solution apart from work on both sides. The quieter, more introverted ones (what I identify as myself) need to help themselves and raise their voices a little louder to be heard a little better. After all, no one will hear the idea that is not said. And to the rest of society, we ask that everyone reflects more the words/phrases that are being emitted. Serenity brings about more mindful ideas and no one needs more noise to circumscribe our daily lives.


(Sent from Goa, India)


what Hampi taught me about travel

I spent 5 days in Hampi, an ancient city on the Tungabhadra river in Karnataka.

Ask any Indian about Hampi and they’ll rave about the historical significance of the Vijaynagar Kingdom’s capital city. They’ll animatedly discuss how Hampi was once the most prosperous and largest medieval-era city, boasting of magnificent stone-carved temples and one of the world’s biggest trading centers; how Hampi survived multiple invasions and attacks before being tragically reduced to ruins in 1565 by five Deccan Sultans.

The Indians will then enlighten you on the spiritual and mythological aspects of Hampi – how the city is the pilgrimage spot where Rama and Lakshmana met Hanuman, Sugriva and the monkey army; how Hampi is the place where Pampa pursued Shiva and resolved herself to yogic meditation and asceticism.

Ask any foreigner who has visited Hampi and they’ll rave about the incredible chill out zones, solid marijuana, and dope “hippie culture”.

This dichotomy is so drastic, it’s comical.

My initial reaction to this was to hate on “modern day hippie” – surely they know that smoking a lot of weed, having dreads, scooting without chappals and paying too much for trinkets at local markets does not make them a hippie (!!!).

But then I dwelled on my annoyance a little more. I soon realized that it is less to do with the image one is trying to build, but more to do with the way one travels. We often see travel as a holiday we take to escape all responsibilities of daily life. So, we adopt the mentality where vacation equates to a total freedom to pursue whatever makes us happiness. This makes us travel without much care and quickly forget that our vacations are technically enroachments upon someone else’s home. We forget that respect is different in every culture, we forget we’re guests in someone else’s country.

I spent a lot of my time in Hampi thinking about how I travel and more importantly, what travel means to me.

To me, traveling has always been so much more about exploring new places and seeing new sights. The word ‘traveling’ is about a series of isolated Moments,
Senses and Perceptions welded together by a journey. You are not just going to a place, you are indulging in a whole new and uniquely You experience.

Travel is about the aimless wander, stumbling upon small wedding ceremonies tucked behind ancient ruins; travel is about the refinement of plans, frantically scribbling on the back of pamphlets words dictated by strangers; travel is about dirtying your feet, following a spark of curiosity past running streams and balancing boulders to a small white cave with engraved footprints of the gods.

Travel is about observing, silently watching local culture to understand and become One; travel is about listening, waking up to the morning moos of a herd of sacred cows; travel is about breathing, connecting yourself with the depths and pulse of the universe; travel is about touching; transforming yourself to a different era under the soft caress of your fingertips.

Travel is about patience, where inner peace takes longer than time; travel is about giving, where currencies are more than coins and notes; travel is about gratitude, where thanks are given and felt with the heart; travel is about Feeling, watching the world pass by in daze as your inner self combusts with thoughts and aches with tenderness.

And to pay homage to a recent favourite book, travel is always about the “Here and Now”.

Hampi is the dreamy place where I learned the above. Thank you, Hampi for teaching me how to travel.


(Sent from Hampi, India)

chapter 1

It’s the time of the year again to start reflecting. Regardless of your religion, culture or belief, end-of-years are always when people are the most earnest in recounting their adventures of yesteryear.

So, I’ve decided to resume my old habit of “blogging” (aka, writing one piece and forgetting that I even write). Now that I’ve figured out this ‘long term traveling’ thing, I’m finding it easier to make time and breathe. Let’s kick this off with a prelude to my 40 day solo adventure in India —

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you: she’s going to go. I’ve always been a passionate dreamer of the intricacies of life; I’ve always been tragically in love with the hidden corners of the world. I can sit, lost in thought, for hours at the time, heart desperately yearning for adventure.

When I was younger, I was convinced I’m an alien – how could I be from this planet when I’m so in love with the extraordinary?

2017 was a great year – no – it was the best year. Finally for the first time in my life, I felt like slowing down. I felt like I was truly innately happy – with work, with love, with life. I felt like I belonged to the lavish lushness of loving Seattle. The year flashed by. And like a furtive gaze across a dance floor, heart twirling, eyes closed, I found my feet dancing, lightly, twirling, heels flicking the varying technicolours of life.

But, my happiness metaphored easily as cubes of ice. A beautiful crystalized hexahedron of translucent beauty that will suddenly, without warning, melt and trickle past my curbed palms and clutched fingers. What I felt cannot last forever. I could not have found what I sought for so long, so quickly and so simply. This cannot be it.

Complacency has always been the Enemy. So I took off. I knew it was time to jump to grow.

I’ve dreamt about traveling the world since the age of 9. I was always drawn to the idea to absolute freedom and unrestricted boundaries – the freedom to roam wherever, the freedom to pursue whatever. I was wrapped up in the idea of Going, passionately obsessed with experiencing everything raw and new, tragically in love with developing the idea of Me. I was, completely and utterly, head-over-heels attached to the idea of absolute detachment.

Living someone else’s idea of Me is suffocating. Call this my first experiment, call this my last hurrah, Janus smiled at me and I found a pocket full of stars.

Now that I’ve cut the puppeteers’ strings loose, let us cheers to all the adventures ahead. No regrets.


(Sent from Aurangabad, India)

lightly child, lightly

posted in: art, tajikistan | 0

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.

Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly.

Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days, such a humorless little prig. Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me. When it comes to dying even. Nothing ponderous, or portentous, or emphatic. No rhetoric, no tremolos, no self conscious persona putting on its celebrated imitation of Christ or Little Nell.

And of course, no theology, no metaphysics. Just the fact of dying and the fact of the clear light.

So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling, on tiptoes and no luggage, not even a sponge bag, completely unencumbered.”

— Aldous Huxley

1 2 3 4 5