Subba’s Serendipitous moments

May 20, 2010

Can trauma be healed?

Filed under: Learning,Perspective — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:39 am
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I would guess that all of us have at some or the other gone through traumatic incidents in our life. Much of that trauma continues to reside in our subconscious memories and continues to affect us in unknown ways.

The trauma could be a broken relationship, a major injustice, a heartbreaking death or anything to which you has not reconciled. The memories linger on for a long time. While we try to mask it intelligently or ignore it, they rear their ugly head at the most unexpected moments.

The question: how do you reconcile yourself to trauma especially if there’s someone responsible for causing them?

For years, I have been trying to find the tools to deal with trauma effectively as I believe it is the first step to heal myself.

Forgiveness is one surefire approach. It is a proactive approach, more effective than mere acceptance of the fact or trying to hide the event by putting on a mask. Yet forgiveness doesn’t come easy. No wonder, the capacity to forgive is considered to be a divine blessing.

I have always approached forgiveness through a rational prism. I was enthralled by Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation effort. It was an attempt to publicly air the feelings and experiences of victims of apartheid and for perpetuators of violence to also give testimony and request amnesty. The famous movie Forgiveness is a gripping tale of such an event and left an indelible mark on me.

More recently, I read an article (translated from the original Spanish to English) of an address by Perez Esquivel (Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1980) of his long years in prison where he was horribly tortured. He talked of doing "active goodness" – even to his torturers – which goes beyond forgiveness. He wrote that perhaps that’s the only solution to go beyond the "horrific" things that happened to him in prison.

Both Mandela and Perez are intellectuals and philosophers of a high order who could conceive and act on the higher order of things. Even Priyanka Vadra’s (daughter of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi) visit to meet her father’s assassin in prison was praiseworthy and was covered in my blog here.

The point is: How does someone like me with less intelligence yet suffering from painful memories deal with that? That’s something that I have been looking for till someone sent me the story of Mama Wangele.

Mama Wangele, a poor and uneducated widow, lost her only son in the Rwandan Civil War. She lived on, unable to come to terms with her grief. She hated her son’s killers, yet she was powerless.

One day, a worn-out, one-legged child soldier knocked on her door and asked for food. By the tribal marks on his face, she recognized him to the enemy. She asked him coldly "Have you ever killed anyone?"

"Yes, many", he said.

Mama Wangele shut the door on this face and wept for her dead son. But something kept tugging at her heart. She followed this new stirring. She opened the door. She had no idea of what she was going to do. She saw the boy had gone a little distance.

"Mutabani" she called. The boy turned back and saw her. "Mutabani, come back."

The boy was surprised. She asked him to come in. She gave him some food and filled water in a tub for his bath. Then she brought out her son’s carefully preserved clothes and gave it to him.

"These are my son’s clothes. You can have them now, Mutabani," she said very quietly.

The boy looked at her with tears in his eyes. Had she really called him Mutabani? (Mutabani is the Lugunda equivalent of son). In that moment, she had forgiven her son’s killer. And, that was the beginning of healing.

After hearing this story, I wonder how does one create the stirring. Does it come naturally or is human intervention possible?

For years, I have wrestled with this question, till I decided to recommend the gratitude diary approach to someone who went through a life-scarring experience. A gratitude diary is a simple compendium of events and people to express gratitude. The power of gratitude is vast and untapped. It helps in tapping into the dormant good in everyone.

I asked this person who has suffered trauma to maintain a gratitude diary and make entries in it daily. The sheer thought process is elevating. I can’t say for sure, but the thawing process started. Slowly she managed to feel the reason to forgive. Just talking about the event, the perpetuator and the weight of her trauma was possible only because she could open her heart – thanks to the gratitude diary.

While most of us feel the need to heal ourselves, few accept the thesis that it is forgiveness that makes it possible. Most people see forgiving as a sign of weakness. We cling to our hostility and relive the trauma, keeping ourselves from healing. It is the rare person who understands the need to forgive, but waits eternally for the divine moment.

Forgiveness can come in a magical moment like that of Mama Wangela or through intellectual deliberation of a Perez Esquivel, but one has to be prepared for it. I believe having a gratitude diary makes us ready for that moment of realization.

August 28, 2008

Dr. Abdul Kalam ignites Singapore

Filed under: Inspiration — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:29 pm
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Dr. Abdul Kalam — Eminent scientist and ex President of India, whose lessons on managing failures, I found valuable visited Singapore recently. I attended his talk on Dynamics of National Development at the CII – IBF forum and the entire lecture can be found here.

Several things that he spoke about, inspired me. The thing about righteous living and the role of the primary school teacher in addition to the parents in inculcating righteous behavior brought tears to my eyes for its simplicity and profound thought. He made the entire audience recite the wonderful yet simple poem on Righteousness which goes as follows:

Where there is righteousness in the heart
There is beauty in the character.
When there is beauty in the character,
there is harmony in the home.
When there is harmony in the home.
There is an order in the nation.
When there is order in the nation,
There is peace in the world.”

This reminds me of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem..” Where the mind is without fear..”

We have had philosophers and pragmatists. Yet very few have lived a life of great achievements and be a pragmatic philosopher with another big vision of igniting young minds.

Dr. Kalam, You are undoubtedly God’s gift to India and humanity at large.

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July 26, 2008

Goodbye Randy!

Randy Paush who in the course of one lecture made thousands of people pause and reflect on their own lives passed away today.

Few people have lived a glorious life, and fewer have had a glorious death. Here is my humble tribute to the great man:

Randy, You couldn’t have done much about the length of your life. The brick wall won this time despite your heroic effort. But in your defeat you demonstrated what you could do with the limited time.

Randy, You changed the quality of the day for others, not just for the people who got in touch with you, but to the thousands of people who came to know you through the Last lecture.

Every time I have discussed your Last Lecture with others, I could discern that you have walked into the consciousness of people and given them confidence, motivation, perspective and direction. Your shining quality of goodness, your personal example of living your dreams radiated in full glory where there was self doubt. You showed what is to live life with courage and conviction in the midst of cowardice and what is to love and live life in a world of lust.

You treated the light things in life very seriously, and the serious things very lightly.

You practiced the highest of arts — the art of living, the art of life itself.

RIP Randy!

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June 1, 2007

Youth – A timeless piece

Filed under: Inspiration,Motivation,Perspective,Winning — Subbaraman Iyer @ 1:29 pm
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By Samuel Ullman (1840–1924)
Youth is not a time of life—it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair—these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart a love of wonder; the sweet amazement at the stars and star-like things and thoughts; the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what comes next, and the joy in the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

In the central place of your heart there is a wireless station. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, grandeur, courage, and power from the earth, from men and from the Infinite—so long are you young. When the wires are all down and the central places of your heart are covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then are you grown old, indeed!

General Douglas MacArthur quoted the above piece without attribution on his seventy-fifth birthday, in a speech to the Los Angeles County Council, American Legion, Los Angeles, California, January 26, 1955.

He had this framed over his desk throughout the Pacific campaign. It is believed that the Japanese picked up the work from his Tokyo headquarters. Unlikely as it may sound, this essay, written more than 70 years ago, is the underpinning of much Japanese productivity and the basis of many business-people’s life philosophies. Many carry creased copies in their wallets. Anyone worth his salt in Japanese business knows and uses this essay, says one long-time Japanese observer.
Ullman’s great-grandson, Richard Ullman Rosenfield, a psychologist tells that he had been intrigued by the ‘spiritual journey’ of the above essay, especially in Japan.

“It is our Popeye’s spinach,” said Tatsuro Ishida, who was the deputy chairperson of Fujisankei Communications Group.

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