By Aparna Khanolkar
Humans have evolved from tribes to joint families to nuclear families. Once we lived in groups, spent time together, cooking, raising children together and growing old together. Today we spend much of our time on computers, on mobile phones, generally cut off from any particular social group. Many families do not even eat one meal together. Eating in the car, standing near the kitchen sink, wanting “privacy” after the birth of our babies as opposed to being surrounded by women family members are all symptoms of breakdown of our social and cultural norms.
I’ve had the great fortune of spending the first half of my life in India and so far the second half here in America. There are many things about India that I do not miss. However, I do miss the community and social connection that I thrived on as a child and young girl. There is so much one learns from being around grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors.
What I learned is to be adaptable. At a young age I learned that each person sets different boundaries and has different expectations. This I know helped me enormously in my ability to relate to everyone today.
Still I feel disengaged from life from time to time. Life in America is fast-paced. It’s a whirlwind of activity, technological frenzy to go faster, be exposed to more information than one needs and social media that gives one the feeling of connection.
So, when I am unable to see my women friends and family members, I have adapted to cultivating relationships with people at grocery stores. Here in my town, I’m friends with certain staff at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. In that brief time at the register we masterfully and cleverly navigate through all the news in one another’s lives, even giving advice and hugs and frequent “I love yous.” Each time I leave the store after such an interaction, I leave feeling cheerful and connected.
In my earlier years as a single mother of two young children, I rarely made time for friends or my children. Survival was my primary concern, which included sleepless nights of anxiety and fear about the present and the future. The very Indian quality of seeking the comfort of community did not even cross my mind. Thank God that time has passed. Now I love spending time with my children. We play card games, draw together, read and laugh like silly children. That unburdens my mundane concerns. They, along with my friends are my community. And I theirs.
I’ve infused my children with my Indian upbringing as much as possible, while cultivating great American values of independence and freedom. They have uncles and aunts who spend time with them and show them the way in ways only they can. For instance, Uncle Marc taught my son to play chess at age 5. Today at 13 years of age, Ben and his uncle still play chess.
Recently, we had our charming 75 year old landlord over for dinner. We lit candles, set a beautiful table, cooked a delicious dinner and talked for hours. Laughter, warmth, stories upon stories, my daughter’s piano playing were all the highlights of the evening. And I sat on the couch absorbing the essence of the grandfather energy, the energy of my children and my partner and felt a deep sense of calm and contentment. I concluded that this is a good life. Why? Because of the human connection. No TV, no computers, phones, just pure human connection. And in those shared stories we all saw one another. We were family. Our needs, desires and feelings are all the same.
We can’t change who we are. And in this case, we don’t want to change who we are. We are designed to be social. We thrive in the energy that is built from communicating with one another. We are healthier and happier from it. Don’t wait for others to build friendships with you. Take a leap. Make effort and you will be richly rewarded. Your human heart strives for love and connection. It’s good for your body and mind. How will you nourish yourself through your community?
Aparna Khanolkar inspires women to be spirited and soft, feel beautiful, soulful and wise. She shows women how to be in charge of your own destiny — for health, happiness and peace. Aparna was a chef and culinary consultant for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, where she taught people about the value of food, health and Ayurvedic lifestyle. She’s authored and published four books (A Mother’s Blessing, Purify and Heal, Happy Belly Happy Soul, and Spice). She teaches workshops and facilitates retreats for women using this ancient knowledge. She grew up in India, where Ayurveda became part of her even before she was born. Her mother followed an Ayurvedic lifestyle. I’ve studied it, I practice it and I’m living proof of its benefits. www.themistressofspice.com