Breaking the ice, warming the soul

My most recent LinkedIn post on icebreakers and connecting at work.

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Forging the way – The Polar Explorer Icebreaker in Rovaniemi, Finland

At a recent stakeholder workshop, I ran an icebreaker to….well, break the ice. The participants were not all from the same business area. Many were meeting for the first time. So, the icebreaker had to be suitable – nothing that required prior knowledge of one another, nothing too personal, something to forge common ground.

Armed with post-it notes and a list of A/B questions, we went through an activity called This or That? which involved me calling out two options for a number of categories, and participants holding up a blue or a yellow post-it note to indicate their preference. (Note: The activity was designed for everyone to stand up and move into A/B groups. We didn’t have the space, but we had post-it notes and creativity.)

We started out with everyday, ‘safe’ preferences – Coffee or Tea? Dog or Cat? Beach or Countryside? – to get everyone comfortable with the idea. Then we moved on to the more entertaining – Singing or Dancing? AFL or Rugby? Star Trek or Star Wars? Adele or Justin Bieber?

justinbieberIt was a simple exercise but allowed us all to look around and learn something about our colleagues. There were smiles, nods of understanding and some moments of surprise. We learned that within this group, there was a church choir singer, several Trekkies, and…..just one Bieber fan.

But we don’t need to wait for scheduled opportunities to form connections. These are usually few and far between. Just as RU OK Day should be a starting point for regular conversations, icebreakers can be useful to kick-start connections with colleagues. And why wait for a workshop?

Considering that we spend a lot of time at work, how well do we really know our colleagues? Let’s take the time to get to know the people with whom we spend a third of our day. Don’t just ask if they’re OK on one designated day of the year.

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Conversations over lunch or in the office kitchen, discussions of weekend plans, noticing a photo or a book on your team-mate’s desk – these can provide insights into someone’s life outside of work and open up beautiful opportunities for connection.

Small talk can have a big impact when it grows into something greater that can break through barriers and reveal what lies beneath. Take the time to ask, to share, to connect.

After all, “We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

©Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Bloody awesome

Advertisements for female sanitary products have never been very realistic. A Google search on ‘vintage sanitary ads’ reveals that in the olden days, periods were very much secret business, and products were designed to facilitate your carefree, athletic life without you ever having to say the taboo word period, deal with any actual blood, or ever experience tiredness or cramps.

When I was growing up, the ads were also quite cryptic. Happy girls and women jumping, running, dating – and doing all of this in pristine, tight, white clothing. You wouldn’t know, the first time you watched these ads, what you were being sold.

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There might have been brief references to the ‘product’ but these were shrouded in secrecy. The packaging was meant to be ‘discreet’ and the theme was that no one would know.  There was also not a single mention of blood. The most daring ads had visuals of a sanitary pad being absorbency-tested with an odd, blue liquid.

Thank goodness, then, for Libra Australia, who have adopted the manifesto of their parent company, Essity, and decided that it is time for Australia to normalise periods, two years after the campaign was released in the UK. “Contrary to popular belief, women don’t bleed blue liquid, they bleed blood,” says the tagline of their campaign, #bloodnormal. “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”

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#bloodnormal

About bloody time.

The ad is controversial. It features real-life situations where girls and women deal with having a period. And yes, some of it is unpleasant. After being aired on prime-time Australian TV last month, there were over 600 complaints from viewers that the ads were inappropriate – the highest number of complaints for any ad in 2019.  The complaints used words like disgusting, offensive and confronting. But Australia’s industry regulator, Ad Standards, dismissed the complaints as not being in breach of viewing standards but in fact “promoting equality and the demystification of menstruation.”

Perhaps the controversy is precisely the reason why these ads need to continue. Libra aims to educate, not to shock. The more we see it, the more normal it becomes, and normalising periods is the goal of the campaign. The director of the #bloodnormal video, Daniel Wolfe, was inspired by a quote he saw on social media which said, “Can’t wait for the day when women no longer pass tampons to a friend like they are a Class A drug.”

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Indian company NH1 Design’s award-winning campaign in 2017

If nothing else, this research from Libra Australia is reason enough for encouraging open conversation about periods:
“67% of teenage girls would rather fail a subject at school than have their class know they were on their period.”

Now that’s confronting.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Let it go…

cache_heavy

This post is inspired by my first LinkedIn articleClear the cache, enhance the experience – where I found some parallels between a computer’s cache (storage) and the data in our heads. Could our minds to with a clear-out? Should I Marie Kondo my memory and keep only what sparks joy? Will this enhance my day-to-day experience?

The tech experts suggest it is worth doing a clear-out for reasons that strike me as relevant to our own wellbeing as much as our computer’s:

1. Capacity cache_overloaded

When we feel overwhelmed with all the bits of information we have to process, when there is too much to download, when our heads are bursting with busy-ness, maybe it is time to shed the excess and make room for the essential. Ever heard yourself, or someone else, say I just don’t have the headspace? Time to look at the storage facility in our heads and identify the things that are taking up too much valuable room.

2. Updated content

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Our behaviours and feelings are loaded with experience. Our own cache is full of what we’ve done, seen, said, heard, felt…..and what we have been. So, our responses today draw on and recycle our stored memories from yesterday. Holding on to fears, regret, anger, shame – this holds us back, slows us down, stops us from performing at our best. Clearing our cache allows us to create new responses and new feelings to the present moment without the baggage, pain or suffering of what has happened before.

It is true that experience is important – there are lessons to be learnt from the past and from those who have come before us – but only if we take the useful lessons and apply them well. Otherwise we repeat history, like a faulty link that we keep clicking on, hoping for a different result each time.

3. Corrupt/sensitive data

cache_known error

Sometimes things just don’t work properly if they are overloaded. We make mistakes when we are tired. Don’t let your cache become corrupted. A reset can be beneficial and provide clarity on the challenges we face. As Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

4. Malicious files 

cache_shark canoe

Viruses, toxic vibes, people who don’t have our best interests at heart – these can all attack our wellbeing, especially when we are overwhelmed and at our most vulnerable. How to install programs that will protect us? By ensuring we set ourselves up with enriching social circles and nurturing relationships, and commit to self-care. Be aware and intentional about the people we let into our lives. And finally, regularly work on ourselves by listening, learning, developing, and being open to the updates that are abundantly available.

Summary

The cache – ours or our browser’s – can inhibit optimal performance when it is overloaded, weighed down, in need of a reset, or under attack. Clearing the cache can be beneficial to wellbeing, and will hopefully lighten and enhance our overall experience…..of browsers and of life.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

 

The Grieve Project 2019

Thank you, Hunter Writers Centre for the honour of being published in this year’s Grieve anthology.

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My Grandmother, searching for words

For Muthashi

She is searching for words set within a square grid in a book of puzzles. There is a list, next to the grid, of all the hidden words that need to be found. She circles each word as she finds it, ticks it off the list and smiles at me. ‘Never give up,’ she says. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is struggling to see the words as her eyesight worsens, so we get large-print puzzle books, and she continues searching. Despite this not being her first language, she does not give up until she finds the words. The words are all there, waiting to be found.

She is losing words. I know this is normal, because they warned me of her decline, but I am not prepared for the day I visit, and she has lost my name, and suddenly I am lost, floating in the confusion of her memory, drifting in the swirls of her mind. She is my base, my headquarters, my mothership. If she does not know who I am, who am I? Still, she doesn’t give up. I remind her, she nods, she forgets. The words are there, and we find them together.

She is no longer searching for words, but this is not because she has given up. She is fighting, and the fight consumes all her strength. The words are still there, but we know she can’t find them. Slowly, she slips away, and then the words are lost forever. Along with the words I wish I’d heard, and the words I wish I’d said.

Now it is up to us to search for the words. The soft, gentle words to inform family and friends of her passing. The correct, respectful words to write in her obituary. The weighty, healing words that fall from our hearts onto paper. The rich, evocative words to remember an entire life. We search for these words. There is no grid to contain the search. There is no list of all the hidden words that need to be found. There is no guide for grief. But we try. We don’t give up. We find the words.

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

The Slow Train

I find myself a window seat and settle in for the long journey to come. This train stops at every station. People get on. People get off. Everyone is smiling. No one is in a hurry. There is plenty of time to move around the carriages, to enjoy the adventure, to be happy. I look out of the window and notice a lake that has frozen over. Two small figures glide across it, their scarves streaming behind them like a picture on a postcard. I inhale the musty scent of the carriage and examine the worn, faded seats. I imagine those who were here before me, and those who will come. I turn my gaze inward. I ask myself how I spent so many anxious hours over the years just waiting to get off the train, that I didn’t let myself notice, inhale, examine or imagine anything at all. But now I understand. Taking the slow train isn’t a waste of time. It allows you time.

Introspection makes my head spin, so I make my way to the buffet car. Perhaps I will meet a smiling person with whom I can strike up an unhurried conversation. I know I am almost there because a whiff of sausage rolls and hot chocolate hits my nostrils. The conductor is standing by the coffee machine, waiting for his cappuccino. He drums his fingers on the counter while the waitress is caught up in a flurry of coffee beans, milk jugs and an industrial-sized machine. Another passenger bounds over to the counter, pushes in front of me and demands an almond piccolo: “Make it quick. I’m in a rush,” he barks at the waitress. He does not make eye contact with me, although I am looking right at him. He is not smiling.

I glance out of the window. The scenery is changing faster than I expected. We are already at the next stop, and now the next. This is confusing. Why is everything moving so fast? Why do I not get the time to enjoy the view? Why isn’t anyone smiling?

“Excuse me, Sir,” I ask the conductor. “I thought this was the slow train? We seem to be going incredibly fast.” The conductor looks up. His eyes are piercing.

“You’re in the wrong carriage then, love.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, hypnotised by his gaze.
He puts his coffee cup to his lips, throws his head back and takes a big gulp.
“Slow carriages are on the other end of the train.”
I blink, then shake my head, hoping this will help me understand his explanation. It doesn’t.
“How can they be different, on the same train?”
The conductor picks up his ticket machine.

“We’re all on the same train,” he chuckles. “But the journey you take is up to you.” He calls over his shoulder as he walks away, “Choose your carriage wisely!”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, or actual events is purely coincidental but probably worth analysing. 🙂

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Running to stand still

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If your life was a U2 song, what song would it be?

I was on my way to a yoga class the other day. When I say ‘on my way’ I mean I was rushing from work to get there on time. Run-for-the-bus kind of rushing. When I got off the bus, I ran some more, cursed the traffic lights for operating to schedule, and didn’t make eye contact with anyone en route for fear it may impact my pace.

I bounded up the stairs to the yoga studio and presented my dishevelled self at the desk, 3 minutes before the class was scheduled to begin.

You made it,” my instructor observed. The calm of his voice, the smell of incense in the studio and the feeling of my bare feet on the floor suddenly felt like the blissful opposite of my chaotic mind.

And that’s when it struck me that my whole journey to yoga was counter-productive to yoga itself. I was frazzled, self-absorbed and irritated. It was most un-yogi-like behaviour. And it certainly was not cancelled out by then laying my hot-and-bothered body onto the mat and taking a few deep breaths.

I was, literally, running to stand still.

That U2 song, says Wikipedia, is about heroin addiction (so please forgive my interpretation) but the paradox is familiar. Race to yoga. Stress before Savasana. Manic before mindfulness.

Another instructor once suggested that yoga is not what you do on the mat – it is what you do all the time. It is in the breath, it is in the calm, it is in the pause. Yoga is aimed at developing harmony in the body, mind and environment.

Oh dear. Then I must be a terrible yogi.

Still, isn’t the alternative worse? Not going, not having that time on the mat, not giving myself the opportunity to breathe or pause, even if that time is sandwiched between the noise, the Rattle and Hum of everyday life?

You made it.” Perhaps that was all that mattered. I was there. I was present. I was doing the poses (some in Mysterious Ways), and I was observing the pauses. The off-the-mat practice will be an ongoing one. How to find internal calm, despite (or through) external chaos. But for now, in this moment, I’m ok.

When I got home, my 5-year-old asked if I’d been to yoga.
“Yes,” I said, wondering if my face was exuding the glow of calm and harmony.
“Did you win?” He is used to the footballers and netballer of the family coming home from matches declaring scores and results. I had to smile at his question.
“Yes!” I decided. “In yoga, everyone wins.”

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Lessons from my Grandmother

This article was published in The Star Malaysia’s Heart and Soul column on 1 July.
My grandmother, the original Wonder Woman, who gave the best Dunlopillo hugs. 

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*****
“My grandmother didn’t tell me how to live. She lived, and let me watch her do it.”

I am paraphrasing a quote by American writer Bud Kelland, but it is so apt that I had to borrow it.

My grandmother glided through life effortlessly – and always with a smile that radiated from her heart and twinkled out of her eyes. She faced every challenge with strength. She embraced every moment with love. And her chicken curry was legendary.

These are some of the lessons I learned through watching her:

Always maintain a sense of humour. Laugh often, and loudly. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. Your smile can spread through oceans of despair, over mountains of troubles, and soften even the hardest heart. Get on with it. Complaining is a waste of precious time. If you have a job to do, do it with grace and courage. Be grateful for your responsibilities – not everyone is so lucky.

Chill out. Getting angry or upset is hazardous to your health. A calm approach based on compassion and common sense will do everyone good, especially yourself. As will a hot cup of chaaya tea.

Hugs are underrated. Never underestimate the power of a genuine, warm embrace. It can melt away fear, tension and sadness in the young, the old, and everyone in between. Hold close the people you love. Hold them until you feel their pain evaporating. Don’t be the first to break away. If a child tells you, mid-hug, that you are as soft as a pillow, take it as a compliment.

Stay curious. You’re never too old to learn something new, be it a language, a card game, a skill or an idea. In an ever-changing world, adapting your mindset without compromising your values shows self-awareness and self-preservation. Also, being interested makes you interesting.

Get stuck in! Your appetite for food mirrors your appetite for life. Savour every moment. Lick your fingers. When you cook for others, cook with love in your heart, for this is the secret ingredient, in food and in life.

Rest in Peace, Muthashi.

(Sarada Menon passed away peacefully on April 11, at the age of 95.)

*****

©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd