Saturday, April 4, 2020

Dear Moon




Dear Moon,

It has been a long time since I last wrote to you. I hope you are doing well. It is a very different world now, Moon. We are under a lockdown till the 16th of April due to ongoing the pandemic. 2020 began with the trends of world war three on social media. On the first day of this year, social media was full of memes circulated on the ongoing war-like situation. Things went in a spiral down, but there is no war. It is a pandemic. We are not even halfway through the godforsaken year, and the whole world is bound to be in isolation. Cancellation of flights and closing of state borders is the precaution. It is to spare us from a further spread of the virus.

I reckon you don't get the memorandum on what is going on Earth. Nonetheless, I assume you are aware of the current scenarios. Moon, the sky is so clear since the lockdown. I got a glimpse of you during the daytime. I don't remember the last time I saw you during the day. Perhaps, I didn't care to look. Or maybe it was due to the typical Delhi's pollution blocking my view. I may never know. One thing I know of is that that our lives will be changed after this Pandemic.

In 2001, after 9/11, the trajectories of everyone's life was deflected. Either directly or indirectly entire world was affected. The social, political and economic conditions of the world are linked so intricately with our lives. Nonetheless, we often ignore the role the world plays on who we are and where we are heading.  At times like this, we come face to face with the fact that how fragile our accomplishments are on their own. 

On the other hand, pandemics are quite rare. One occurs every 100 years or so. In this context, the world is in a new territory. The situation is dire and warlike. People are stuck in different places with no access to essential services. The businesses are shut down. Jobs are lost. The news makes me overwhelmed! I try to avoid it, but keeping tabs on the situation is also necessary. 

An unexpected effect of this lockdown is a toll on people's mental health. Everyone is to forced to sid with themselves and ponder over their lives, Moon. The sort of events that one brushes down by keeping busy on the work front resurfaces. I believe I am aware of my childhood and adulthood traumas. So in that context, I am better off than others. Especially when it comes to sitting in peace with oneself. Observing the thoughts come and go. I may not have resolved them but I know what floats my boat and what shakes it. So I am not stuck on contemplating the past and falling through the rabbit hole of unresolved feelings.  

I hope to keep up our correspondence. Until then  Goodbye. 

~Your Friend

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This post is from my series - Letters To The Moon.

Older Posts from series






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Friday, April 3, 2020

Chaos




There has been a popular phenomenon in media called the Butterfly Effect. It reveals how a butterfly flapping its wings in China could cause a hurricane in Florida. Okay, so it is not as simplistic as to link the cause and effect directly, to be clear. The butterfly is not some magical creature. It is more about how a small variation in a complex system can cause radical effects.  

This effect came upfront when in 1963 an MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz was using an old computer to calculate weather patterns. He was working on a simulation of weather patterns and placed the data into the system. At his first attempt, he entered the initial data values up to six decimal places. However, on the second run of the system, he assumed that the significant figure doesn’t hold much of significance (Pun intended) he entered up to the three decimal places. Both the simulations were running on the same data; the only difference was after the three decimal places. 




However, this small change made the results remarkably different. To paint a clearer picture, say if the first simulation, with 6 decimal places, predicted a sunny day. The second run, with 3 decimal places’, the prediction was a hurricane. It is intuitive to think that if we change a little data input, in the beginning, this would lead to only a little change in the resultant data output. However, this is not the case in a chaotic system. 

A chaotic system is highly sensitive to initial conditions. These systems do follow the same laws of physics, however, due to a large number of constraints, it appears to be random. As the numbers of moving components in any system increase the calculation and prediction of the path, that the system takes become, well, chaotic. The turbulent system is an example of such systems. 



The Chaos theory attempts to find patterns in chaos. The model by Edward Lorenz is called Lorenz System. On plotting the graph of this model resembles spread-out wings of a butterfly, ergo the term butterfly effect. 

Nonetheless, the idea of it being linked to a butterfly flapping its wings seems more appealing to start the conversation about it. As a butterfly flaps its wings it sets up the air molecules in motion. Those molecules further strike other molecules, and this initiates a domino effect. Depending upon the system, this could potentially lead to the onset of a hurricane. The flutter of wings is similar to the variation in the data of the Lorentz's system. 



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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Blog: A Classic Travel Blog


A few years ago, I was on a long drive from Dubai to Ras al Khaimah. The goal was to see the highest peak of the United Arab Emirates at Jebel Jais. It is so pretty to accelerate through such a rapidly changing landscape. In a desert-scape, the colour of sand varies so dramatically. It is fascinating to see this gradual change. FYI I love the colour of sand in Dubai as oppose to any other sand I have seen so far. It is a golden beige. The low saturation of this shade makes it fit perfectly to my current sense of aesthetics. 

As we rode through the fast-paced highway from Dubai to Ras al Khaimah. We found ourself in the middle of a pack of bikers. A group of 40 or so odd men riding their typical Dubai style modified bikes. It was an exciting sight to see. Nonetheless, I was far more interested in enjoying my playlist and watching the picturesque terrain. The theme track of the movie The Glass Castle was playing on the chart. If I think of it now, it feels like the Sunlight was filling up the world with hope.  

As we entered Ras al Khaimah, I started to notice a few pebbles on the sides of the road. At first, I thought it could be the theme of the vista of the city. However, As we drove further, it was not just a few pebbles. The terrain had dramatically changed into mountains of sedimentary rocks. It was clear at that point that this area was a waterbody. We parked our car at the side of a valley. There was a small pond at the bottom of the valley. Any rain in or around the proximity of that area kept this pond filled. 

We sat on a big roadside rock and finished our Mc Donalds takeaway that we had picked up at last gas station. (We bought our trash-bags back with us, in case you are wondering.) It was a nice stop to relish in the beauty of an isolated corner in the middle of nowhere. Often at places like this, a particular observation comes to mind; How the most beautiful places in the world are the ones that have no human inhabitants. 

After resting for a while, we continued our drive to the peak of Jabal Jais. We drove up to the topmost motorable point. We decided to climb further on the mountain. It was a scenic view from the top. After tracking for a while it started to get dark. On considering that a downwards descent would be harder in dark. we decided to head back on the downward track.  We reached an open lounging station. There were a few people at this location. Most of them had their barbeque setups on the place. The air was filled with celebrations. People were playing music. 

As the night passed, we took out our beach mat from the car's trunk. We laid on the highest peak of the UAE and the sky was clear. Our view was filled with bright stars. We spotted a few shooting stars. Talked about random stuff and shared some snacks that we had bought. 

The conversation led us to the stories of ghosts. We decided the next stop for the night was going to be the abandoned Ghost village in Ras al Khaimah. Spoiler alert: we did not find any ghost. However, that's a story for some other time.


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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Apocalypse

As I Pulled my laptop to start writing my very first post of 2020, my news updates notified me “Wimbledon is cancelled for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus pandemic”. I thought it is almost unprecedented. Unprecedented - A word we heard a lot in the past couple of years over news debates and whatnot. 



Strangely enough, this pandemic and its effects are something none of us experienced before. The other day my mother shared her concerns by asking rhetorically “How long will this go on?”. “I don’t know I have no experience in something like this” I replied. “Nor have I.” she retorted. 

My mind often draws a parallel of the current situation to movies like the birdbox, a quiet place, etc. At this current day, life seems like the beginning of a dystopian apocalypse. However, in the movies, the situation accelerates too fast. Perhaps they, in the movies, never get the chance to “flatten the curve”. “Flatten the curve”; Another phase appears a lot on media in light of the pandemic. I shall pardon you the explanation assuming that at this time you will all be broadly aware of the mathematical models of infectious diseases. (if not then perhaps I shall write about it for you some other time)

Much like in the movies, media is flooded with the only thing "apparently" happening in the world right now. I admit having paid my fair share of heed to the apocalypse analogy. India has been on 21-days lockdown since March 24. So, I do spend uncountable hours scrolling through the news. I imagine an extension to the lockdown ... Lockdown lasting up to an indefinite time. A time when crumbling supply-chain and the crashing economy would be scattered on the green landscape of this spring. 



The spring of 2020, on the other hand, is one of the prettiest spring we have had in Delhi. The clear blue sky filled with puffy bright clouds. Birds are chirping everywhere. A pleasantly cool breeze flows towards the east. My cats purr while basking in the sun as the sunlight flies through their whiskers. It is a beautiful site. The sound of pin-drop silence is my favourite sound on any day of the year. However, at this time this silence is dire. Like we are tip towing in the eye of a hurricane. 

Or maybe, this abrupt spike in panic is all in my mind.  Anxiety makes you anticipate the most unfortunate scenarios. Meh! 
This too shall pass. 

How are you coping with the current times?  Let me know in the comment section below.


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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Anxiety

The human brain is a clever organ. In a dangerous situation, it takes over the steering wheel to an auto mode. The fight-or-flight response is a natural reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare our body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety.



In ancient times when our ancestors lived in caves and had frequent face-offs with bears, tigers or other life-threatening organisms (or situations), they could either fight or escape. We have the same physiological and psychological response hardwired in our brain to prepares the body to react to the danger. In layman's terms, it is like a reflex action, but prolonged.

Imagine face off with a hungry lion during one of those relaxing morning walks. Unlikely, I know but work with me here ... You are walking down the usual route and suddenly a lion appears in front of you. You wouldn't think twice but run. Faster than Forest Gump, I know I would. In that instant, our brains sympathetic nervous system (reflex action part of the brain) kicks in and shuts down the prefrontal cortex (thinking and reasoning part of the brain). We are out of reasoning and rationalising part of the brain and our brain's prime objective is to make sure we survive.  So we fight or flight. Our body is prepared to fight or run and sometimes to freeze in fright. This brings in a number of physical changes to give the body increased strength.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugars levels increase in order to supply the body with extra energy.
  • Increased muscle tension in order to provide the body with extra speed and strength.
  • The vision is heightened or sometimes it is a tunnel vision.
  • The onset of shallow breathing
  • The blood clotting function of the body speeds up.  
  • Adrenaline hormone is released. So it provides energy and makes the person alert to take prompt action.

All the physiological changes help the body to sustain the imminent threat. However, in an anxious mind, like mine, has a constant notion of perceived threat. A small whiff or sound, some distant memory and in most of the times absolutely nothing triggers the fight or flight response. A sheer state of panic and confusion takes over. That situation is called a panic attack. I tend to avoid doing things that I feel are uncomfortable as I know my body would react in the following way and that might freak me out.


  • Inability to breathe or swallow
  • A feeling of constraining force around the chest
  • Mild but concentrated pain in the chest
  • Sweaty palms
  • Cold hands and feets
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in shoulders
  • Feeling of terror
  • Dry eyes due to heightened vision
  • Having to pee frequently
  • Feeling claustrophobic
  • Lights feel too bright
  • Confusion
  • In an extreme case, numbness throughout the face  
  • Uncontrollable crying


Steps that I take to deal with anxiety

It is very important to have and maintain a strict routine. It helps in getting our body and our mind accustomed to our everyday life. The routine doesn't let the body get off balance by panic. Having a healthy body is the key to sound and calm mind, and vice versa. Thus to live a hearty life we should follow a wholesome lifestyle.

Diet



Eating healthy meals is vital for overall well being. Be fastidious to including all required nutrients in the diet. Eating on time is also crucial to routine. Staying hydrated is equally essential.

For me, I start my day with a glass of warm water followed by overnight soaked almonds. I focus on having balanced home-cooked meals. I make sure to include seasonal fruits and veggies. I drink from 3 to 4 litres of water a day.

When it comes to anxiety certain foods can feed it while others can soothe it. If you suffer from anxiety include seasonal fruits and veggies, lots of greens, eggs, yoghurt or buttermilk, walnuts, figs in your meals. Avoid coffee; Coffee activates the adrenaline gland and stimulates fight or fright response. Don't eat junk food or eat out too often.

Sleep Hygiene

 
Sleep hygiene includes a set of behaviours that one can adapt to help promote good sleep. It is a way of using behavioural interventions in our life that will help us start and maintain a good sleeping routine. Read more about it here

On a typical night, I brush my teeth and take a shower before going to bed. I put on comfy and clean nightwear. I turn on low-intensity light about 1 hour before bedtime and get away from my phone and other digital devices 30 minutes before going to sleep. I use the vanilla aroma in my room as it helps me calm my nerves. Last but not least I use sleeping meditation to doze off. I recommend the Headspace app they have some really nice guided meditation to sleep.

Calm the mind to relax the  body

Mindfulness



Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. A way of practising mindfulness is by paying attention to our surrounding. I practice this by noticing 3 things that I can see, touch and hear and describe them in my mind. This doesn't let the mind roam. Trying to be in present physically as well as mentally instead of being at a place while our mind is wandering around in multiple mental scenarios.

In our day to day life, our phones are somewhat the culprits by distracting us (or we are the culprits for being distracted by the phones. Or the algorithms that the apps are using ... ) The tech companies iterate their algorithms to grab our attention. Our mind is being exposed to too many attractive amusements especially meant to get a hold on our mind's time, personally. If you think of it this fight for our attention amongst the different apps is kind of evil. It is taking us away from the natural course of being focused on the work in hands. At this point, it is up to us to procure the sound mental state by controlling and training our mind to deal with such distractions.

I keep my conscious focus on only one task at a moment. Whenever I acknowledge myself doing something on my computer screen while simultaneously doing something else on my phone. I immediately take my attention to one thing.

Meditation



The benefits of meditation are numerous. For anxiety and depression, it trains the brain to be in the moment. It is believed that the human mind thinks an average of 70000 thoughts per day. If not half, some of them are bound to be negative and worrisome thoughts. Such thoughts are the food for anxiety. Meditation helps the mind in gaining control over thoughts.

Practising daily meditation for 10 to 15 minutes workes for me. It helps in building focus that is being deteriorated by my mind keeping multiple tabs on thoughts and emotions. By the end of the meditation session, I find my body calmer and my mind fresh. For instance, I have noticed that a part of my fight or flight response is a heightened vision due to which my anxious self makes my eyes feel quite dry, perhaps because of lesser blinking. After meditation, my eyes have just the right amount of moisture.

Journaling



Writing down our thoughts works well to organise our thoughts. venting on a piece of paper is cathartic and releases the pent up emotions. Helps us explore our emotions and heal. I must admit, I am not as disciplined with keeping a journal as I am with keeping up my other anxiety curing activities. However, when I enforce it on myself I always find some of that mental fog coming clear. It rationalises the preoccupied mind and lifts the mood. After writing I feel as I have taken a step further towards wellness.

Relaxed body to calm the mind

Breathing exercise

One of the common things with anxiety is breathlessness. I find myself hyperventilating with shallow breaths. At the time of the panic attack, I cannot quite catch my breath. Doing breathing exercise helps in the better intake of oxygen, relieves stress, lowers the blood pressure and releases endorphins. Whenever I am overwhelmed, I try to catch a few deep breaths, focusing on the movement of the diaphragm as I inhale and exhale. It helps in calming the anticipated/ upcoming outburst of panic.



Yoga

Relieves the physical symptoms of anxiety. My anxiety manifests as stiffness throughout my body to such an extent that I start feeling achy. Yoga helps in relaxing those muscles. It makes us aware of our body and gives us better control over our body.

Yoga also regulates breathing by conscious deep breathing. My shallow breathing during my panic attacks would have worked for me if I was a cavewoman and my life was on stake. However, for my day to day life, it doesn't provide the amount of oxygen that my body needs.



Exercise

Exercise promotes the release of endorphins.  Endorphins promote the mental and physical well being and relieves stress. I do 15 to 20 minutes cardio. Any vigorous workout that gets our muscles to work will help with. I personally prefer cardio, you may enjoy dancing, Zumba or Hip-hop maybe. The key is to focus on the body and don't be zoned out. Enjoy the feeling of tension and relaxation in different muscle groups. Turning the focus fully to the body while exercising doubles as a mindful practice.

Read my old post on anxiety here

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wrapping Up The April Blogs

Reflections on A-To-Z 2017

Artwork by

I have been posting a blog post every day during the month of April. I participated in A to Z blogging challenge for the second consecutive year. I have successfully completed the challenge and made myself proud. Yeyy! The bloggers from the challenge site suggested “If you made it through to the end of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, give yourself a big pat on the back" So, I obey and pat my back.

During this time I came across wonderful bloggers and learned so much. Reading so many awesome bloggers helped me post my blogs with more diligence. Never once, I found myself thinking "what if I can't pull it off". Last year, I gave much more attention and thoughts to my posts and topics, on the contrary, this year's post came fluently (Which was a blessing). I believe, my inquisitive nature gives me a lot to ponder on. This helps me as I write, with my head full of thoughts and ideas. 

Thanks to the readers and fellow bloggers who checked my posts and shared their thoughts and opinions. It wouldn't have been such an awesome experience without you all. Your reviews and feedback encouraged me to write! 

I thought about mentioning my favourite posts but they all are dear to me and I can't pick a few. So the following is the list of all my blog post during the month of April 2017. I hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as I enjoyed writing.

List of Blogs for A-To-Z Challenge 2017


Last year's reflections and post links here
Happy Summers!

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zodiacs: Just Fun & Games

We often need a reason to things going on in our lives and around us. It is only natural, as we have the cognitive ability to understand cause and effect. These set abilities have developed over time and now our reasons fall more into the category that provides empirical evidence. It was not like this always there was a time when people believed in many pseudo-logics with none or little evidence. So much so that ancient human thought that volcanoes, floods and eclipse are caused by the wrath of God(s). However, as our knowledge and understanding of the world around us improved we shrugged off the old ideas ... So no more human or animal sacrifice to appease the God(s), wrath, at least in the mainstream. Yeyy?





Yet some things remained. However, harmless though, Zodiac signs have no logical argument to support its workings. Zodiacs are some personality stereotypes that are based on the location of constellations relative to the sun during the month of a person's birth. It is pretty much saying that location of Sun, Moon and Constellations have the ability to dictate who you are as a person and what happens in your life. Now, how it "works"? Or I should say how you are sorted in your zodiac. I fall under the category of Aries zodiac. Meaning, based on the astrology's zodiac model, during the month of my birth the location of Aries constellation in the sky was tracing the same path as the Sun. 

Fun fact, we can't see that constellation of the zodiac in the month assigned to it because its location will be eclipsed by the Sun and well we can't see stars during the day. However, you can see it the best when the earth is on the opposite side of its orbit relative to that position. That will not be after six months as earth orbit is elliptical. For instance, Aries is best visible during the month of December. 


When I first got curious about how astrology works, I found the information on it. At that point, being a person of STEM academics, I needed to know the logic. Well, there was none. It is clear that zodiac system, or for that matters Astrology (not Astronomy), is not science. Astrology is not subjected to critique by other scientists, it is not based on evidence and the conclusions are incontestable/not falsifiable. 

Still, the enthusiasm with zodiacs is almost universal. Why does it seem to work? Why do we identify with the given traits? Well because they are pretty vague. It is one of those one size fits all. This point is best illustrated by James Randy's experiment on zodiacs. Watch it here.  This experiment is based on Guaquelin’s Horoscope ExperimentIn this experiment, they take birth date details of a group of people. After that, they provided them with their personalized personality traits. Each participant has to review the traits they receive. The result was surprisingly accurate, 94% of participants claimed their traits were in accordance with their personality. There was just one catch; the personalized traits given to all the participants were same. This effect is called the Burnum effect. 


The Burnum effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to register high accuracy to the personality traits that they suppose is oriented specifically to them. However, in fact, the traits are vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The truth is such traits have something to offer to everyone. Read a Psychology Today's article on the Burnum Effect here.

If you think that it somehow still works and your designated sign is working well for you. I have a bad news, the signs that we follow now are outdated. Due to a phenomenon called axial precession, the earth wobbles on its axis, in a 26, 000 years cycle (read here). This changes the relative position of the sun and constellation. So, technically that makes me Pisces.  But the changes were never made in the field of astrology and it worked out alright. Well, it worked vaguely enough ... in light of Burnum effect or it never really worked. 


In the end, it is fun and entertaining to read your zodiac with your friends for a good time. However, I recognize the obsession of zodiacs is all over the world. Each newspaper has a dedicated section for the Zodiac. Why are we still doing this beyond logic, but I wouldn't bet my fortune on that. 

What's your Zodiac Sign? Do you follow with conviction or is it just fun and games? Feel free to voice your opinions in the comment section below. 


This concludes my A to Z 2017. Woohooo! 
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