By Dr Shalini Mullick
Most people who know me would call me organised and systematic. I do seem to have a knack for keeping things going, getting stuff done, and generally keeping life in order. I prevent the smoldering chaos of life by planning, taking quick decisions, delegating and generally making my own life hacks.
But, of late, at a time when the world is immersed in a new kind of chaos, I have found calm and peace in an unexpected place – in the free and yet structured flow of mandala art and colouring books.
It was in medical college that my habit of planning and organising took root. As I traversed the different milestones of studies, marriage, more studies, motherhood, family, work and life, it became a skill set, one that would emerge especially useful for the people around me too.
Life was the usual series of ups and downs, or so I thought, until it dawned on me that the waters I was trying hard to stay afloat in were both murky and choppy. Home, family, my work as a doctor, sometimes even getting through the day, demand parts of you, your time and your attention. They don’t wait for you to strap up your boots or pull up your socks, to restore yourself.
It felt as if I was expected to be in combat mode on every front.
The cup had poured itself empty sometime back – something I fully realise only now. In fact, the cup was barely holding itself together. The cracks were visible. The streaks of gold that make kintsugi happen would only come from inside, and would demand immense courage.
Like so many of us, I understood self-care only after almost losing sight of the self. Time out, setting boundaries, and being unapologetic about fulfilling my needs were concepts that I explored slowly, circumspectly. It was difficult at first, but then, I began to practise these things, enjoy them, look forward to them. I committed to restoring and replenishing myself.
I learnt mindfulness. Letting the thoughts come was easy, letting them go took some getting used to, but I eventually learnt to ignore the traffic jam that this entry and exit was causing.
Then I began to write. It would become an escape, a source of comfort, and a motivation to create. I made space in my life for a writing routine.
But, while I was much happier, much more in touch with myself that I had ever been before, I was also busier. In my packed schedule, I had added self-care and writing! Doing these two, and planning for them, was an addition to the lists in my mind.
I was getting so much done, without realising that the silence buried deep inside me had a sound to it too. A soft, tentative sound that ever so often would call out to me. I would try and silence the buzz to be able to hear that silence, but like grains of sand, it would smoothly slip away.
Thus began my pursuit of meditation.
I failed miserably at yoga. I started with, and remained stuck at, the shortest option in the relax function of my fitness tracker. The online meditation class I joined kept me engaged only for a week. Meditation apps were uninstalled after being rarely opened.
Even as I got used to the buzz, I kept wondering if meditation was one of the things that I would never really get the hang of, like swimming from my childhood.
I had seen a lot of posts about painting and mandala art, but never really explored or considered any of these. Painting or sketching needed be learnt, and I really didn’t have space in the calendar for that. Then, on a whim, I decided to try colouring. I added ‘checking out deals on colour pencils and buying sharpeners’ to my to-do list and bought a colouring book.
A few days into colouring the patterns, I realised that the mental fatigue I was feeling was clearing up. The strokes of the pencil were calming. The concentration needed to colour those tiny areas ensured that there was no agency or space for the cauldron of thoughts to boil over. The buzz was imperceptible now.
Focused and calm, this was a lovely way to connect with myself. I had made the shift from mindfulness to meditation, found the nothingness that my mind needed to clear itself in the unexpectedly simple task of colouring. And I am glad I did.
Dr Shalini Mullick is a practising doctor based in Gurugram specialising in pulmonary pathology, and a keen reader-turned-writer, who writes nonfiction, poetry and fiction. She is the author of the short story ‘La Bella Revenga’ in the anthology Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories (Embassy Books). Buy it on Amazon.