In July 2012, sweltering and tired, I landed in Japan. Though I was supposed to stay for three years, I ended up living for six. Little did I know that the learnings and the experiences I will encounter shall be life-changing for me in the coming future. Read on to discover my five most important life lessons and where and how they came in handy.
Fast forward to November 2018. I was lying unconscious in the OT with snapped C7 in my neck. After a long 3 hour operation, I came back to my senses to find an ugly cut on my neck carefully stitched up. It healed but left an unpleasant scar. D
id it upset me? No. I looked at my scar and whispered “Kintsugi.” It is a Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. It is a metaphor for embracing flaws and imperfections. Therefore, I wear this scar proudly.
My first life lesson –
Life is not always about being perfect; the way we like to imagine. It breaks, bends, twists, and leaves behind marks like a trail. Accepting the changes and embracing the imperfections is a beautiful way to heal inside out.
Fast forward to 2019, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. Thanks to chemotherapy followed by Stem Cell Transplant, I lost my hair, young supple skin and pinkish complexion.
Though there were awful and painful days, I kept marching forward with “Ichigo Ichie” in mind. It is a Japanese phrase that means to tell us that we get only one chance to live a moment as it is unique and unrepeatable, so we should savour and cherish it.
Despite my health constraint, I started making intentional choices on how I should be spending my energy and making most of my time at hand.
My second Life lesson –
We all have constraints in life. Spending time thinking and over analysing the past or future will only lead to stress and confusion. Time is fleeting, so are moments. Therefore, focus on “What can be done” instead of “Could have or Should have”. It will help take action that can lead to something unexpected and beautiful.
Lockdown in 2020 came as a surprise, an unpleasant one. Not only was I vulnerable but also at high risk. I was requested to alienate humans, so I turned to nature.
I had read about ‘Shirin Yoku/Forest Bathing’ when I was in Japan. It is a practice of bathing in (not literally) the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through senses.
Turning to nature was one of the best outcomes of the pandemic. I felt alive and connected. More time I spent in nature, calmer I became. My mental, emotional and physical health improved considerably.
My third life lesson –
The power of nature is highly underestimated. Mindfully practising Shirin-Yoku makes one realise how powerful and miraculous mother nature is. Sitting under a tree in silence, perceiving the surroundings while focussing on the breath and only breath and not thinking about anything else, can naturally fight mental fatigue.
Listening to the chirpy birds hopping from one branch to another can revive a tired soul. Don’t wait for desperate times to knock at your door. Find your way back into nature if you have not yet.
Fast forward to NOW – 2022. I am under maintenance treatment to keep cancer at bay. These days I feel normal, Well! as normal as it can get. So, I like to believe I have an equal chance of making my life worth every moment as anyone else on this planet.
Keeping “Kaizen” in mind, a Japanese philosophy that means ‘change for the better’, I work hard to keep enhancing my skills. Since I was unable to work, I developed public speaking and content creating skills whilst my chemotherapy. I now speak about the importance of the present moment in public spaces, schools and the corporate industry.
My fourth lesson is –
Never to fear change. Change is the gateway of new unseen opportunities. Look at it as a golden chance to enhance yourself and the world around you. So, keep an open mind to explore new dimensions and constantly reinvent a better version of yourself.
For the fifth lesson, I would like to take you back to when I was growing up. Born in a humble middle-class family, I aspired to have perfect looks to have a perfect marriage and the best grades to get my dream job to live a perfect life.
To make these aspirations a reality I worked hard. During this process, I conditioned myself to believe that perfect is the new normal. If anything other than what I had planned would happen, I would experience anxiety and stress. Only if I knew ‘Wabi Sabi’. Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese concept that talks about appreciating the beauty that is imperfect, incomplete and impermanent in nature.
My fifth life lesson –
Perfection is purely subjective and imperfection is objective. We have to learn to make peace with the imperfect and transient nature of things around us. Instead of stressing about our looks as we grow older, we have to start loving our bodies.
Instead of pushing the panic button every time our plan does not work, we need to learn to let go. Instead of crying over what’s over, we need to learn to celebrate that it happened. And so, I know now that imperfect is the new normal. It has always been normal.
Cancer shook me to my core but was unable to pull me down for long. I don’t call myself a cancer warrior because I was never at war with it. I never asked the big question – why me?
Instead, I accepted and embraced it to channel my energy on improving my health and lifestyle. Yes, there were moments when I would break down, the pain would take me over, but there were more moments where I would make a yummy lemonade from the lemons life threw at me.
This journey could have been difficult but little did I knew that the learnings and the experiences I encountered in Japan shall come in handy some day.