Book review – I am Albert Ellis by Meenal Kelkar

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Dr. Albert Ellis needs no introduction. He is one of the greatest psychologists, the pioneer of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) which is said to be the forerunner of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I have not studied psychology in any capacity but it has always fascinated me. So when the opportunity to review Dr. Anjali Joshi’s I am Albert Ellis (translated into English by Meenal Kelkar) came my way nobody was happier than me. It was a revelation. For people who are debating whether or not to go for therapy, read Albert Ellis and you will find the answer.

In the beginning we are introduced to Albert as a child and his family. With an absentee father and neglectful mother, he looks after his younger brother and sister and becomes self-reliant very early in life.

We all live together in one house but separately.

Isn’t that the reality for most of us? Ensconced firmly in our (technological) bubbles we come to the surface only when we are in dire need of real time and face-to-face social contact.

We see how in college Albert becomes self confident, forms opinions and sticks to them, even getting expelled as a result of standing for what he believed in.

The book talks about him studying in the public libraries of New York and forming his views on sexology by reading numerous books and papers. We see the trials and tribulations of getting his work published and being rejected by publishers. He uses words which most people shy away from and which makes publishers uncomfortable.

He starts seeing clients and his success as a marriage counsellor leads to the formation of Love and Marriage Problems Institute (LAMP). To make it official he decides to register his organization and get a degree in psychology. He decides to train in psychoanalysis and forever change the course of history. Psychoanalysis as it was then didn’t appeal to his scientific mind. The philosophy of Epictetus resonated with him and thus was born Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a new approach to psychotherapy. The theory of REBT states that our behavior and emotions originate from our beliefs towards the events, not the events themselves.

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The Fault in Our Stars

IMG_20180320_221535_EDIT_1I was watching The Fault in Our Stars and I was amazed how it felt like a new film.  Hearing the news of the Bollywood remake has sent me scurrying to the book. I don’t want to imagine the lead actors to see Augustus and Hazel in my mind’s eye. I wish I had never seen the pictures! How are they going to keep the humour and wryness intact in the film is what bafffles me. One can only hope they don’t massacre it. When I watched it I did not know this was on the cards and had John Green not tweeted the news I would have shrugged it off as a rumour.

How did I miss the cameo of author John Green when I saw it on the big screen is equally astounding.  Of course I remember the key points and see some differences (inevitable comparisons to the book) but four years later (it released in July 2014) I can somehow just enjoy what’s unfolding on screen and be at peace with it while racking my brain to remember the exact date I saw it first. (Thank you Gmail for keeping a log of my memories, of tickets booked and the exact expenses.)

Instead of watching a recently released film (there are so many I want to watch) I stuck to an old favourite. Not exactly true, I know, if you have seen a film once but sometimes once is enough to know that you will be returning to it. I know the terrain for a film I have seen before and the comfort factor is of paramount importance when in pain. I know that pain demands to be felt but sometimes distractions help you survive so you may lose a few battles but win the war.

Like there’s comfort food, there’s comfort viewing because with something that is familiar I won’t be in for any nasty surprises and that’s all one needs to get through the day sometimes. For all the unpredictability packed into the day, you need something to hold on to. And it is a bonus when so much time has passed that the film is almost new. The Fault in Our Stars was like a breath of fresh air (pun intended) and I am looking forward to reading the book again. Okay? Okay.

Have you read The Fault in Our Stars or seen the film?

Book review – Emotion and Relationships by Sadhguru

Disclaimer – Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book(s) in return for a honest review.

Relationships and Emotion written by Sadhguru, are two books in one volume. It is a good combination because you can’t have relationships without emotion and vice versa. These books are for people who want to live their life free from the tyranny of emotions which make and break our relationships.

I didn’t know much about Sadhguru​ or his philosophy before these books came my way.  These books questioned and shattered some illusions I had all my life​. I wasn’t willing to part with them because there is comfort in the familiar but they don’t work for me so it’s time to let them go.

Relationships – Bond or Bondage

We are all a little less rational (or not at all) when it comes to our emotions and how we conduct our relationships. Life amounts to nothing without the connections we have forged and yet we struggle with them. In the introduction he talks about how easily bond can become bondage. So with that thought I delved into the book and got some surprising insights. The book is mostly in question and answer format which makes it relatable to the masses since most of us are looking for answers to the same questions.

In the first chapter, Within Four Walls, Sadhguru talks about love, the nature of romantic relationships, marriage, reproduction and parenting. He also talks about the nature of bondage in each scenario and the level of detachment needed to live in this world with joy. 

The reason why you go into love is because it is supposed to bring you blissfulness. Love is not the goal; blissfulness is the goal.

Sadhguru denounces the idea of perfection in any sphere of life related to the material world.

You life will become wasteful and fanciful if you seek such things.

The second chapter named Friend or Foe is a misnomer because he talks not only about what friendship means and who is a true friend, but also about who’s a leader and what is leadership. Through a story he aptly shows that friendship cannot be sustained if it’s superficial and built only on commonality. Haven’t we all experienced it – losing ‘friends’ as soon as we changed schools, colleges, workplaces, cities and realized that there’s connecting us together?

In Cosmic Connect, the cyclical nature of life is discussed when a question is asked why the same emotion, situation, pattern keeps on repeating in our lives. He explains the cyclical nature of life and how we go about it depends on what we want from life. 

Cyclical movement is the basis of everything that you call physical in the universe. 

In the last chapter Beyond Life and Death​ he asks us why we crave relationships. I appreciate Sadhguru saying that some people won’t be able to function to their optimum if they are not bound by a relationship. He also states that different people have different needs and marriage or an intimate relationship might not work for everyone.

I understood the nature of time and space because of the way we relate to our bodies, and how it relates to life and death but didn’t understand the difference between intelligence and intellect the way Sadhguru explained it.

He talks about energy based bonds which transcend life, like the one between master and disciple.

All other relationships come together for convenience. Once it is over, it just breaks apart.

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October is not a love story.

There are few movies where I immediately want to go back to the world it portrayed and my first thought after watching Shoojit Sircar’s October was just that – I have to watch it again. This is not a movie review but a discussion. Spoilers ahead.

For some reason October reminded me of The Big Sick (another movie I wanted to see again as soon it finished) even though the leads Dan and Shiuli aren’t romantically inclined like the real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon in the former. Perhaps because like The Big Sick, October dealt with something catastrophic happening out of the blue with humour.

I am foolish. I am naive. I am easily irritated. I am moody. I get affected by things which most people shrug off without a care. I am frequently annoying and have been known to speak out of turn when I should have kept my head down and stare at my feet. I hold on and be direct in the wrong-est of situations, and do things because I want to without thinking of returns in the hope of things working out even when there’s no chance of it. In short your typical Aries. (No better time than Aries season to embrace who I am.) So I could relate to Dan’s character in the film October more than I’d like to admit.

I don’t believe October is about a romantic relationship of any kind. Affection, connection and love are different things. But people have always seen what they wish to see. Although Dan and Shiuli work in the same hotel they had barely interacted with each other outside of work when she was conscious. Most of their interactions are after the accident. Shiuli cannot reciprocate Dan’s affection or repay what he has done for her but he continues tirelessly without hoping for much, a little (flash of) recognition maybe, and, of course, her recovery.

Dan finds a cause which changes the direction of his life. He insinuates himself into something which actually isn’t any of his business. And through this obstinacy and refusal to even admit a negative outcome or become jaded he actually gives hope to a family in a trying time, in a situation devoid of much hope.

Why did he fight for her? The world asks him why does he care so much. Can’t he get a grip on himself? Why is he so affected? To which he says how can you be so unaffected! They see him throwing his life away for a girl he barely knew because of something she said before the accident. They were colleagues not friends. It is perhaps feeling for someone who met a grisly end for no fault of her own and caring because they got the rough end of the deal which could have easily happened to him. Though I am the last person on the planet to admit this, I have seen enough of life to acquiesce that some occurrences in life cannot be explained in rational terms.

Setting the movie in a hospital is bound to connect with people. There is no one in the world untouched by sickness or hasn’t been a patient or a caregiver and dealt with such things in a family member or a relative. And though they are not happy places for me, I have made my peace with them. Knowing about medicines, chit chatting with the staff while waiting for the doctors felt like familiar territory.

Gitanjali Rao is outstanding as the mother of Shiuli trying to hold it together when faced with mounting hospital bills and imminent death of her eldest child. Her children, Shiuli’s siblings, go to tuitions and study in the hospital and she continues to take classes at IIT Delhi, sticking to their routines for the sake of sanity. I have loved her stunning short films as an animator and now adore her as an actor.

Banita Sandhu as Shiuli is especially amazing in the slow recovery and progress scenes.

The cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhyay is amazing; the quiet moments never drag but allow you to appreciate what is unfolding with an intensity that is immersive. The changing of seasons while circumstances in life’s barely keep pace with it is captured well. It took me back to a time in my life when I couldn’t do much except note the passage of seasons. This is what good cinema does, you experience the film and connect it with the story of your life.

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Jurassic World and the return of wonder

The other day I saw the trailer for the new Jurassic World movie and shared it with my friends. We squealed like school girls quite unlike world weary adults that we are, and decided that June 2018 was a long time to wait. This movie is special to our generation because as kids it was probably one of the first movies we saw in theatres which brought a different world alive to us. Sadly they haven’t kept the magic alive. Jurassic World was a waste of a brilliant premise. Dinosaurs paraded around like cattle. People riding dinosaurs like donkeys isn’t what we come to see in cinemas. A big mela but with dinosaurs as a spectacle for the movie going audience. Frankly I was underwhelmed.

There is a line in the movie, “No one is impressed by a dinosaur anymore and the kids look at it like it’s an elephant”, which I quite agree with. The number of herbivores roaming around in lush greenery was unbelievable. Ever heard of the phrase too much of a good thing?

Dinosaurs used for military purposes was bizarre and we actually see them hunt like a pack of wolves. Evolutionarily hounds didn’t come into picture until much later. In a movie aimed at kids there was too much violence. Or perhaps I’m just old school.

Filling in the gaps in genome with the genes of other animals (like the ability to camouflage from the tree frog) was far from believable. But some parts were shown well like imprinting, rearing in isolation and an animal figuring out its place in the food chain.

I couldn’t channel the 6 year old in me to keep pace with the 10 year olds who were watching it with me. My movie viewing was peppered with far too many questions than I’d have liked. (Note to self – never take two 10 year olds to the movies together.) The solo movie going experience is delightful and more immersive as you are left alone with your thoughts. I realized, barring a few close friends I am now used to watching movies alone and I like it that way (will wonders never cease?). But it was also quite nice. I was sneaking looks to see the expressions on their faces to gauge if they were following the story and enjoying the movie or were scared so I will be prepared accordingly. When there was a blood curling scream and my young cousin sank into her seat petrified I realized there is no preparation here, you learn on the spot. (Parents have my utmost respect.)

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Book review – Home at Last by Sarvada Chiruvolu

Note – Thanks to Amaryllis for a review copy. The opinions are my own.

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Home at Last is the kind of book which works best for someone who is looking to take a leap into the higher consciousness and finding the true self. I had my doubts about the book thinking I won’t be able to relate to anything the author said because unlike her I’m not on a quest to attain higher consciousness. But I’m aware of some niggling questions which have lingered in my psyche for years and they don’t have easy answers. In that respect, Home at Last was a step in the right direction.

It is funny how things find you when you are ready. The opportunity to review Home at Last – A Journey to Higher Consciousness came my way when I was in Puttaparthi, one of the places the author Sarada Chiruvolu, felt compelled to visit after her spiritual awakening. I was there as a volunteer this time and not as a tourist although that wasn’t my initial plan. Volunteering changes the way one looks at things because being on the inside the perspective changes, and thus I could identify better with the book.

It’s a blessing just to be given the opportunity to be of compassionate service.

The first chapter follows the foreword by Amma Karunamayi, her guru. She tells the readers how she began her journey and shares her experience while meditating. She ends the chapter with some tips concerning the frame of mind or the things one needs to do to mediate better.

This is not a how to book in the conventional sense, mainly because the path to enlightenment can’t be laid out like directions in a cookbook, step by step with exact measurements. However the book provides essential signposts of progress based on my own direct experience.

Sarada Chiruvolu makes that clear in the introduction itself and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

In the next chapter she talks about Reiki healing and how after initiation by a Reiki master she healed herself and others including her husband. After learning Reiki she feels more compassionate towards anyone who is suffering. You can scoff at the statement but I know people like that.

In the chapter ‘Renunciation and Detachment’ she talks about how being in nature and meditating outside has a calming effect on her. I worship nature so I was delighted to have this in common with the author.

I can’t express profoundly enough in words the attachment I have with nature.

I like the way she explains free will, karma and destiny even though parts of it were unclear to me.

She found her guru in Amma Karunamayi but she doesn’t follow her blindly. She visits the ashram for meditation retreats but remains true to her duties in the material world. Later on we see that she finds it increasingly hard to balance both the worlds. The author, in narrating her experiences gives us a peek into the relationship she has with her guru and the ashram’s inner workings. As she starts meditating twice a day she talks about an inexplicable sadness taking root in her and losing interest in her job and other day to day activities as she progresses, which used to give her pleasure earlier.

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