J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 24.
M: Because we never… we grow old and we die and we don't know ourselves. We know the whole world, ready to judge, ready to criticize, ready to condemn, ready to admire, ready to love, but the last person we know is ourselves.
Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.
J: Hey there, Jen here, and thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of Vibrant Happy Women. On our last episode, I talked with Barbara Bradley Hagerty about reimagining life after age 40. That is the perfect episode for many of us who are in middle age now. Today, I'll be chatting with Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu about how our inner experience of ourselves has a profound influence on our external reality; what's happening in our lives. Dr. Wangu has such a powerful morning routine, she has gotten deeply in touch with herself through meditation and she tells us a lot about religious symbols and how they helped her get through a hard time in her life when 3 of her family members died. This is an amazing episode just full of wisdom and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Welcome to today's episode of Vibrant Happy Women, I'm Jen Riday and I'll be talking with Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu, and she's the author and founder of Mindful Writers Group. She's published 4 books about Buddhism and Hinduism and her fiction includes stories called chance meetings and the novel, ‘An Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey’, which was just released in April. Her inspiring CD, Meditations For Mindful Writers, has helped novice as well as professional writers to improve focus, remove blocks, and increase creativity. Welcome, Madhu.
M: Thank you; thank you for inviting me.
J: I'm so glad you could be here. So we'll go right into hearing about your favorite quotes, we'd love to start our show that way.
M: Sure. I'm not sure if I was going… if I was supposed to quote a great thinker or a philosopher. I have my quote, my own quote.
J: Oh, perfect.
M: Which is, “What is not within is not without.” It sounds very abstract, but this is what I truly believe in and this is what my book, ‘The Immigrant Wife’, is about that whatever is happening around us is just not happening without any reason. There is some reason within us, either we don't see, we don't recognize, but it is there. If there is something not going right around us, there has to be something which we are feeling very uncomfortable about. Does that make sense?
J: Yeah, yeah. So that's something you write about in ‘An Immigrant Wife’?
M: Not… obviously, it's… it's very subtle, but my the book is divided into 3 parts. First one is without, the second one is in the middle, and final part is within; you know how the heroine grows from a teenage girl and understands what is it around her that has affected her feelings and her thoughts and so on.
J: So is there a real-life story that the book is based on?
M: No, actually several of my life experiences and the stories I hear about from different women, and especially 2 or 3 women I'll never forget. One I met in Canada when I went, unfortunately, to the funeral of my nephew who was murdered in Toronto many years ago; a woman artist who couldn't paint any longer because her husband wouldn't allow her to. She was a beautiful artist as she showed me her paintings, and I just happened to meet her there at the funeral. The second woman was when I took my students a semester at sea around the world. We travel together and I met this woman who was also travelling obviously with us and teaching, and she had her experiences with her husband whom she had almost left during… you know, when she came to the voyage. But then I learned, after she went back home, they got together. And I don't want to give away too much, but there are several women I met whose life stories and then I composed into a novel, and then of course put in my own experience. I love to cook as a cook, I am also an artist as an artist and on wonderful times we have together me and my husband traveling around the world. So all that is put together composed into a story, it's very inspiring for me when I wrote it; I was quite a bit inspired. Because they say, you know, if you don't love your own artwork, nobody else is going to love it.
J: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Can you give us an example, painting that picture a little more clear for us, “What is not within is not without,” in terms of your novel without giving anything away?
M: Yes, certainly. You know, in the first part of the book, there is this whole blame game going on, this woman grows up, she says she's never going to get married, you know, to a man who her parents have arranged because that is what happens in her community to which she belongs. She gets married to this guy of her own choice and then he is really a male shown as traditional man, comes to America and he expects her to do everything, but paint because he is afraid she is so good in her artwork that he thinks that, “She will become so good then she might leave me, not care take care of my family, the children,” and so on and so forth. And she also is blaming him all the time and blaming the circumstances and… you know, and then she’s feeling this… this affect her as if somebody has imprisoned her in this like a bird in a cage and as she can't do anything about it. But then once she realizes what is going on that, “Nobody actually can imprison you unless you imprison yourself. You have all the authority to, you know, break the locks, run away, do something so that people would realize that they cannot imprison you.” You know, they say that criminal is to be blamed as much as the person on whom the… I can't remember the word… you know, for who is the…
J: Oh, the victim.
M: Yeah, victim, yeah, is much to be blamed as the person who has victimized you, who has victimized the victim. And that is so true that, slowly, she realizes that what is happening within her, that is true; it is being expressed, reflected in life around her. But she… she's always… she has always… she had always the power to be her own self.
M: If she had courage, if she was not so much afraid, if she had put her foot forward, all very commonsensical thing, which we tend to forget or rather suppress within us instead of really sitting still and thinking, “What's going on? Why is my life the way it is?” And I have also experienced that in my own life. If I really, really want to do something, then the whole universe will… you know, this is… these are all cliché idioms, but they're so true, that if you really want to do something, the whole universe comes to your rescue.
J: Yeah, beautiful. So it's very empowering and letting go of that victim thinking and coming into your true power.
M: Yes. I mean, there are certainly… I won't say that it is true for everyone, there are certain situations which I have seen that no matter what angle you look at, this person just cannot run free.
M: There is no… the person is not educated, does not have any independent financial backing, does not have any relative this person can go to. They’re stuck; a man or a woman, they’re stuck in the present situation. And there are many things which other people can do just initially before this person can just, you know, for the first push or first pull somebody can give you so that you can begin the whole process of freedom.
M: Yet 99% of the people are capable of making their own lives with courage, you know?
J: Hmm, yeah. Well, that brings me to ask, what was your personal low point in life and did you have to apply similar thinking?
M: No, not really, but my low point was… which is low point of many people, but, you know, some of us have certain low point and it doesn't do anything to you, you are not sensitive to that particular event in your life.
M: You know, mine was very ordinary, in the sense that I was happily married and I was in America and we had 1 child and I was pregnant with my second child and doing my researching, my doctoral dissertation. And suddenly, my brother died in Bombay in an automobile accident, and after that, my mother died because she was grieving for her youngest son.
M: And… and then my mother and my father were best friends so my father died…
M: … after my mother died. So these 3 deaths, you know, I said it was, you know, very normal, ordinary. My brother's death was not normal, it was very abnormal, but my parents were older. So people lose their parents, but the way I lost my parents was really strange. And I was in my mid-30s, so these 3 deaths within a year, it shook me up.
M: I had not thought about… I had never, never, never seriously thought about that, you know, death is left, right, above you, below you, death is everywhere, but you never pay any attention to it; and let alone my own death. But that… those 3 deaths together, that changed… that year changed everything for me.
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: And I couldn't function normally for almost year. But what was happening was also that my dissertation topic was myths symbols and rituals of death.
M: So I was reading it just happened to be that topic. And I read voraciously about what and how major world religions expressed the reality of death and realized that all these rituals and symbols and myths were more… meant more for living than the dead.
M: They give us sanity to heal our wounds. And so they're… you know, I did Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism in India, in China, Japan, and American, early American Christians, you know, how they buried their dead and so on and so forth.
J: And were you able to find some peace through those studies or what did it bring you?
M: Yeah, definitely their intellectual… the intellectual understanding and the emotional content of these symbols, you know, symbols are something which take an event, a real event, and bring it together with something which is going on within us. Again, this whole idea about when we look at a symbol and when we go through a ritual, whether it is a death ritual or a birth ritual, any kind of ritual and when there is a myth related to it, it's all going outside. But what actually they are doing is they are fulfilling an emotional vacuum the death has created.
M: And it fulfills us and then this outer artistic performances or visual agents, when they evoke those emotions within us, they come together and there is an electrifying effect that changes… that changes human being. Actually, you know, if I may, when I was doing my dissertation on the goddesses, this was for the comprehensive exam, and I was studying, you know, beautiful Hindu goddesses, whether it was Lakshmi, Durga, or Kali, I was reading… I had… I was not a religious kind of a person. And then while writing my dissertation, I realized these are not just statues or paintings, these are not just stories, these are very, very, very rich complex emotions within me; all these feminine or masculine things going on within me. And whoever created these, the images of gods and goddesses in Hinduism, Buddhism, they're actually expressing what goes on in human, you know, psyche.
M: That was a big revelation and the same was true with this when I studied the symbols, myths, and rituals of death that this is to heal those who are living.
J: So you struggled for a year and then you began to find some healing and it's kind of fascinating that this happened when you were already studying death for your dissertation.
M: Yes, yeah, yes.
J: So interesting.
J: Many of our listeners might have struggled with death or might still be struggling with a death, do you have any advice for them?
M: I don't know. You know, individuals differ, different individuals react to death differently, but one thing I can certainly say with confidence that, keeping distance from death, you know, how we avoid talking about, as they say, politics and, “Don’t discuss politics, religion on your dining table,” and which also is, I think, death is up there and, you know, not to be discussed.
M: But that is the worst thing we can do to ourselves. We must talk about death, we should talk about death at luncheons, at dinners, you know, not… I don't want to be depressing, but when there is a question of death, if there is there a family member who is facing inevitable death, so you don't hide it, you… you discuss, “What is it? What happens?” you know? “How do people deal with death? How have people from centuries dealt with death?” It's such a wonderful idea to buy picture books, to buy myths about death, the books which talk about myths and rituals and symbols about death. One of my favorite authors is Carl Jung and his fascinating book, ‘Man and His Symbols’, talked a lot about symbols. And simple as it seems, you know, what has symbols to do with death, but it… through symbols, we understand because we human beings live in 2 worlds, 1 is physical, 1 is spiritual; we cannot deny either physical or spiritual, and in order for spiritual and physical to come together, symbols play a very important part. Symbols are the ones which connect within and without.
M: They connect what we can see and what we cannot see, but it's very real. It's like sky filled with stars does not disappear during the day; simply because just we can't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.
M: Sky and starts, it's always there.
M: Same way this spiritual intensity feeling emotion, some of us doesn't have it at all or some of them have… have it a lot; like, it ranges from 0 to 10.
M: But for us to understand what that means, the study of symbols and myth, world mythology or even our whichever religion one belongs to, mythology of that religion is so important to read to yourself, to your children, to your husbands, to your wives just for fun; just for fun.
J: Yeah, symbols seem to provide a tangible way we can represent something spiritual.
J: So, Madhu, what does a vibrant happy life look like for you today?
M: You know, I am a happy kind of a person anyway, you know, my default is I stay happy. I don't know that I'm blessed with that kind of an attitude. Some people… so I can't take all the credit for that. You know, I love my routine. Maybe ‘routine’ is not a right word, but my daily… my daily routine, I just… it gives me sheer happiness if I can get up in the morning, do my vipassanā meditation, do my reading for the soul, I call it; not my regular reading which I read like a writer so that my novels improve, my professional writing improve… improve (not that kind of writing). In the morning, I read maybe from scriptures, world scriptures…
M: … any one, maybe Houston Smith, I don't know if, you know, his famous book, ‘The World Religions’.
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: I read his books, I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books, then I do… that I do, meditation for an hour, reading for half an hour, then yoga for 15, 20 minutes, then I write for the soul it's, I call it.
M: Really journaling for 20 minutes, half an hour and just working on my manuscript. You know, the last… my current manuscript and reading book. I read… these days, I am rereading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García.
M: And cooking, I love cooking and that's a part of… you know, I have included that. I have woven cooking into my ‘The Immigrant Wife’ book now.
J: Wow, you… you have a beautiful morning routine; that's something you can only really do when you don't have kids at home, right? (Laughs)
M: Yes, yes, I know, I know because I'm retired now.
M: Not really retired, retired, retired from teaching.
M: And, you know, also, what makes me very happy too, my husband is my best friend and we travel a lot. We went traveling around the country here and traveling around the world. And then spending time with my daughters and our grandchildren, it really gives me a lot of happiness.
J: Aww, that's great. Well, so, Madhu, what's one of your favorite personal habits, aside from that wonderful morning routine that contributes to your success?
M: I think it is a few things that I'm extremely… I'm self-motivated, I am very disciplined and that is a gift from my father. And not in a bad sense, you know, not in the sense like punishment, I'm just disciplined. I do this every day and it has become… everything I just told you, it has become so much woven in the part of my 24 hours that it feels as if I have nothing to do.
M: I do everything, but it's… it just….
J: Comes easily.
M: Yeah, yeah, it just happens by itself because I do it every day. (Laughs)
J: Yeah, it's become a habit, hmm.
M: Yes, yes.
M: I’m constantly being grateful for whatever I do every day. I’m constantly aware that it's not my doing that I am self-motivated, that I am disciplined, that I am happy with my routine, I am grateful to whatever, whoever, whether it is hereditary, whether it is self-discipline, or whether I am just simply blessed; I am very, very grateful for my… every day for my life's blessings.
J: Mm, that's great. And I'm sure that gratitude just pours out and makes everyone around you happier too.
M: (Laughs). I hope so.
J: I think so, I can tell; you… you're making me happy, very good.
M: Oh, sweet; Jen, you are a sweet lady.
J: So tell us a favorite meal that you like to eat regularly.
M: That's hard because, you know, I… although my husband and I, we are both from Kashmir in India, but our daughters married… 1 daughter is married to a Korean young man and another daughter is married to a young man from Mauritius, and they have such good cuisine. So I love any kind of from Indian to Korean to Malaysian to Mexican as long as it is prepared from… with love, from heart, and it…
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: … obviously, it ends up being very tasty.
J: So you said Mauritian?
M: Uh-huh, from Mauri… Mauritius.
M: The island of Mauritius.
J: Okay, okay. For those of us who are geographically challenged, thank you.
M: Yeah, it's called Mauritius.
J: Mauritius, okay, good. What is your favorite kitchen gadget?
M: I love my oven. I… when I came to America, I had never baked anything. Not… nobody in India has ovens, unless they are very modern houses. So it was very intriguing for me when I… this was 40 years ago, so I'm sure there are ovens now in Indian kitchens, but which… that I don't know. But when I came here, my daughter was so much… you know, parents, they used to have bake sale in schools and I never took anything. If I did take anything, it was always bought from the bakery. But now, at this age, I have started roasting stuff. My daughter gave my husband and I a book on roasting and it tastes so delicious.
M: You know, everything. So I would say my oven. (Laughs)
J: Yes. So have you started baking yet or do you still prefer not to?
M: Oh, yes.
J: Yes, okay.
M: Mm-hmm, I actually… believe it or not, I make cornbread, I make banana… banana and walnut bread and then I roast.
J: Mm, delicious.
J: What is a favorite book you'd recommend to the Vibrant Happy Women community?
M: Oh, oh, 1 book, definitely…
J: Oh, you… you can share more than 1 if you need to.
M: No, this book I have read 3 times and it's Jon Kabat-Zinn this from Boston Massachusetts… I forget right now, but anyway, I'll tell you the name of the author is Jon Kabat-Zinn.
M: His book is called ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’, and it has short chapters ranging from 2 to 5 pages and it's about mindfulness, mind… how to live your life mindfully in a day to day life, mindfulness, meditation in everyday life it’s called. And each time I read it… I read it for the first time in 1999 and I read it like we all do, we just read books, “Wow, what a great book,” and then forget about it.
M: But then there was something about it that I went back and read it a little more slowly; I chewed the chapters so to speak, digested them.
M: And I thought there was some… something deeper, so I then… this is… I'm reading it right now, almost done, but it has helped me become more peaceful, a happier person, a better person.
J: Well, mindfulness seems to be a popular topic now and…
M: That's why I don't… I didn't want to tell you, but that's why it seemed like, “Oh, come on, another mindfulness.” But this one, if somebody is seriously looking for a book and want to, you know, that would affect their lives that would influence in some way, to read this book thoughtfully.
J: Well, my takeaway is, you sound very happy and grateful and positive and that's my experience with mindfulness as well. So clearly, the book is working for you.
M: Yes, yes. Yes, it's a wonderful book.
J: So it's ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
M: Right. And also, Houston Smith, you know, he's one of my morning… when I read for the soul as I said his books are great; Houston Smith. He used to teach at MIT and wrote many, many, many books. And his books, if you are not… if you don't mind getting introduced to religions other than your own, he's good; very good.
J: Okay, okay. And we will have links for everything you've been sharing with us on the show notes page at jenriday.com/24, so just for our listeners to know.
J: And then, Madhu, what is the best advice you've ever received?
M: Best advice I have ever received is to spend time with myself, at least for half an hour, 10 minutes, an hour, 2 hours, as long as an effort to feed yourself, to get to know yourself, look yourself into the mirror and ask yourself, “Who is this person?” Because we never… we grow old and we die and we don't know ourselves, we know the whole world, ready to judge, ready to criticize, ready to condemn, ready to admire, ready to love, but the last person we know is ourselves. And, you know, this should be the first person we should know…
M: … and we don't.
J: Right, that's true. And I think that's a reason we're so busy in society, we're running, we don't want to know ourselves; were afraid. (Laughs)
M: Yes, yes. And what a revelation; what an enlightenment it is. We talk… everybody talks about mindful meditation, enlightenment, knowing yourself, but nobody really feels that at the core of their being, “What does that mean to know yourself, to be mindful of yourself, to be mindful of your breath, your body, and so on?” That was one of the reasons I made my CD meditation. It has 15 minutes of body meditation, 15 minutes of mind meditation, and 15 minutes of heart meditation.
M: I made it for writers, my writer friends, but I think this works for anyone.
J: Hmm. And where could we find that if we were interested in getting a copy?
M: You know, it is available on Amazon, on my website, on iTunes, but also, it is available very inexpensive, 99… I think $3.99 or something on cdbaby.com.
J: cdbaby.com, okay, great. We'll put a link for that on the show notes page as well. Okay, and our final question, Madhu, who if you had to create a formula of things that make you happy, and you kind of shared some things already, but if you have a formula, what would you include?
M: Well, I should give this credit to you for asking me this question. Well, I had never thought about it so I came up with this thing…
M: … that personal happiness, what makes me happy, right?
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: Love and commitment for family.
M: Whether it is low times or high times, you cannot not… once you have committed to your husband, to your children, you cannot, you know, run away from that commitment.
M: That is what love is all about. Love includes frustrations and low points and…
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: … also obviously, high points; so when the family life is running smoothly. And then this whole idea of you being sage like within you, that is so hard to achieve. We can live 100 years and not achieve it, but we can always get little better every day. Ao being with yourself makes you very sage like.
M: Sagacious, you know, and then you… you are constantly becoming better within. And I can promise you, if you are becoming better within you, you're surround exchange; it's like magic.
M: You may not believe it, but if you trust this, that if you are getting better within you, you know exactly what is wrong. You know, we all know what is… what we do wrong in our lives. Nobody can tell me, “Well, I didn't know I was doing this wrong,” no, if we pay little attention, we know exactly whom we hate, whom we criticize, whom are we jealous of, whom are we angry with, whom makes us feel low, whom makes us feel high and also, at the same time, all the good things which happened to us, but we ignored those and we ignored, most of all, telling of ourselves, “What are the negative things within us?” If we can fix those every single day, little bit, little bit, it's hard; it's very hard to love someone you hate.
M: But if you somehow say, “Okay, that person is alright, not that bad, so let me see what is it about that person I do not like,” and that, you know, may take baby steps in liking people or at least not hating people, not… hate mean, also includes being jealous of people, being angry with people, being fearful of people, envying somebody and so on and so forth.
M: So these… these we can do because, no, we don't need anybody's help in this; this is our personal work, working on our own emotions and our own thoughts. And every day, if we can improve that, everything around us slowly will change.
J: So it goes back to your original quote, “What is not within is not without,” we have to change it on the inside first.
M: Yes, we cannot keep on to buy new curtains, buy new sofa, buy new carpet, or get a new house, get a new husband, get new children, or whatever, that is not going to do anything.
M: Because we cannot change anything around us. It seems like opposite of what we have always believed in, concrete stuff is real and ethereal stuff, which is we cannot see, like the not seeing night sky during the day, it's… that seems like unreal. Because what I am saying does not make sense, because how can I change something which nobody can see within me and that things outside me which have concrete lives, right, right?
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
M: So house chairs, houses, lawns, clothes, jewelry, everything has is gone… how can they change if I change within myself?
M: I cannot tell you why and how, but only if you change within, you will know what I mean. So do it… do it for 6 months and see how everything changes and people will come to your help if you change from within. I have been… this is my personal experience, Jen.
J: Okay, so is that your challenge that you have for us to try that for 6 months or have a…?
M: I have another… another challenge for you.
J: Oh, good, I love it.
M: This is good too. (Laughs)
J: Okay, okay.
M: I was… I suggest if people, just for 10 minutes, sit in silence and solitude to know themselves.
M: Ah, just for 10 minutes, if you can sit for 15 minutes. And, you know… you know, some people can't sit so that's all right, you can go for a walk for 10 minutes and 15 minutes and be with yourself, nobody else should be with you.
J: Every day then, 10 or 15 minutes?
M: Yeah, walk would be… you know, it takes a little longer to warm up in focusing within yourself. What can happen will… in the beginning, it's not that easy, you will meet when you, I called it descend, when you descend within yourself, you meet so many cobwebs.
M: All your memories, bad experiences you have tried to suppress, they come crashing down.
M: And they throw you outside again. They won't… there are guards when you go to Japan, in Kyoto, all the temples you go, there are 2 guards standing in front of the temple. Before you can enter and see the gods, see the real good stuff, you have to fight these 2 gods, of course symbolically. So the same way when you're trying to enter within… within the kingdom of God is within us as they say in Christianity.
M: Same thing a Carl Jung said that all goodness, spirituality, sacredness is within you, but you… it's not so easy, “Okay, from tomorrow, I will sit for 10 minutes and be friends with myself,” you have to beg, you have to trust, you have to say, “Okay, can I go in?” And then first thing which you will face is whatever you have been trying to avoid.
J: Mm. So it can be scary at first.
M: Very scary, very fearful. It's only when you go again and again, trusting yourself, “I'm going to go to this basement of mine, clear all the cobwebs, clean it, use all kinds of Lysol or whatever we use to clean things, I'll clean this spic and span and this will become my meditation place inside me. Every day, I will descend down within me and love myself and see what a wonderful person I am.”
M: “How much potentiality and possibilities there are in my life which I have not seen clearly,” and then after doing this every day, you will start seeing them.
M: Goodness will emerge.
J: Nice, nice; it's beautiful, it's beautiful. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Madhu, and again, remind us the name of your book and your meditation and where we can find you and then we'll say goodbye.
M: Oh, I would love to hear from you on my website which is www.madhubazazwangu.com. You can write email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you about my books, what you think, how you feel if you read them. One is ‘Chance Meeting’, it's a collection of short stories, and the second one is my novel, ‘The Immigrant Wife: Her Spiritual Journey’.
J: So I will put a link to Madhu’s website and information about her books on our show notes page at jenriday.com/24. Madhu, thank you so much for being on the show.
M:Thank you, lovely talking to you.
J: Isn't Dr. Wangu just full of nuggets of wisdom? I especially loved the part she shared about getting in touch with ourselves through meditation. Now, if you know me at all, you know I love meditation as a way to feel calm and supported and connected. Many of you might know already, but I've created the vibrant happy living community, and this is the perfect place for you if you've been a mom in the trenches for a while, but you're ready to get in touch with your authentic self again. Come on over to vibranthappyliving.com and check it out and learn a little bit more; we would love to have you. Be sure to join me next time when I talk with Heidi Kelly who is a breast cancer thriver, not just a survivor. This is an inspiring episode because it shows us that you can truly get through those trials and struggles and thrive despite them. We'll talk to you soon, take care.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.