For the past two days I have been writing about the pressure especially women face here in India after their wedding: while they were supposed to be virgins until the day they enter marriage, they are now supposed to become pregnant as soon as possible! India lives in a society with lots of restrictions when it comes to morality. I believe this has to change to make space for more happiness and satisfaction in a modern life!
It is true that a lot of these moral values and ideas of how one should behave have its origin somewhere in the past and in that time they may have been right, too. In earlier times, people didn't have such a high life expectancy as they have today. In order to make sure that their children got old enough to survive before lot of these moral values and ideas of how one should behave have its origin somewhere in the past and in that time they may have been right, too. In earlier times, people didn't have such a high life expectancy they themselves died, they had to start producing offspring early. That's how it made sense for a married couple to put their efforts into this right after marriage. And that's how still today it is Indian standard to make babies as soon as possible. Nine months after the wedding, it could already be time!
Not before the wedding though! Oh no, unmarried women should never get pregnant, that would be disastrous! In earlier times, it could really have meant her ruin because women were the ones taking care of the home while men were providers. They had no possibility to earn money and support themselves and their baby!
Today however, things are different. The outer environment has changed and thoughts should change accordingly, too! Nowadays we can expect to live long enough for seeing our kids grow up and sometimes even our grandchildren, too! So we can wait a few years longer before we actually marry and a few years more before we get children! There is no need to get married in a hurry to a person we don't know. Arranged marriage doesn't make sense – you have enough time to find someone you actually like and want to spend the rest of your life with! And you don't have to rush with getting children either!
Finally, today women should have the possibility to earn their own money and support themselves. So if they have sex before marriage, if they get pregnant and if they decide to keep the child, it should not be the end of the world!
Unfortunately we are not yet at this stage here in India, as you know if you have been following my blog or are familiar with the situation here. But we should reach there – and I think with time, we will!
I yesterday told you about the expectations that Indian parents, in-laws and society members have on newlywed couples: they should get babies as soon as possible, otherwise something is wrong with them! That is a whole lot of pressure especially on the woman who is the one that is repeatedly asked and expected to report. A lot of women actually believe that this is what is supposed to happen after marriage anyway and they, too, want it to happen. They want to conceive – but that is not always up to human to decide! Sometimes, it just doesn't happen. And that is when the pressure of society can become too much for them to handle!
I have met a lot of women in the situation that they could not conceive or that the fetus in their body never grew. I talked to women all over the world about their mental, emotional and physical problems. The stress is big on all of them – but in India the pressure from the outside is by far the worst!
Obviously, if you have tried for a long time and have had several miscarriages or simply never conceived, it is emotionally draining. It is physically challenging as well. It is a mental burden. But in the west, it is usually a burden that comes from the inside of the woman herself. It is born in her own wish to have a baby and the fact that this wish has not fulfilled as well as the fear that it may never be reality.
In India, the burden mostly originates from fear of disappointing others, from the wish of others to have a grandchild, from the expectation and pressure – because that is what it is – to bear children. The fear of being seen as inadequate, unable to perform the most basic of your duties as a woman and the emotional pain it gives you to not be able to fulfill the wishes of others. Along with the regret that your own feelings don't seem to count at all. Own disappointment may play a minor role, too, but it is overshadowed greatly by influences from the outside!
Of course in India, too, there are procedures to be done if you cannot seem to conceive a child. Fertility tests for both partners, devices to measure the time of ovulation, several methods to help conceiving naturally and of course IVF, in vitro fertilization. Apart from the fact that some of these treatments require young couples to take loans to be able to pay for them, are also as painful emotionally as they are physically! Upon failure – and the chances of success are often dishearteningly low – women are shattered! All their hopes for happiness, love and respect from the outside are gone with the eggs or embryos that left her body back to its non-pregnant state!
Women fall in depression. They lose the charm for living. There have even been suicides out of this very reason! Especially due to arranged marriages where it is a bargain you make for marrying and where love is not a factor in the equation. It is as though the groom got damaged good that did not function well and could not bear the produce it should!
Can you believe we lose lives due to this stupid expectation? Of course parents have a right to have hopes and dreams for grandchildren. They have no right to create pressure though and the whole society should know: by valuing the phantom of a future child more than the woman’s feelings, you make her sick. You kill her a little inside with every month’s menstruation! Is this what you want? I don't think so!
So please let couples fall in love and marry out of love. Let them decide when it is the right time for a child. Let them live their own life. Be there for them when you are needed for support – be that a helping hand in changing diapers or a shoulder to cry on when the wish for a baby remained unfulfilled!
For Apra's birthday, many friends had come by and it was really nice to have some talks with open and like-minded people again! When we sat together, a friend who had got married about a year ago told me how much pressure she was facing not only from her family and her in-laws but from society in general. For what? For finally getting pregnant!
Yes, in India it is quite normal that some months after the wedding – which was of course arranged – everybody gets the good news: a baby is on the way! This is how it works, this is how it should be and this is the whole purpose of your marriage. You are supposed to bear children, preferably boys, secure the continuation of the family name and create heirs for the family business! This is your main purpose of life right after marriage: get children as fast as possible!
This friend told that she as well as her husband were quite content with not making a child right away but instead spending some time on just getting to know each other and intensifying their relationship. That is a very unusual idea in India where people generally say that the child would be like a glue or magnet for the parents to get closer together! While they were happy in this way however, their families were not! She was unhappy about the pressure everyone was creating!
Another friend, whose three-year-old daughter was playing with Apra in that moment, remembered the same situation after her own wedding. Her mother-in-law started calling her every month, asking whether she had had her period already. She even started marking the days of her daughter-in-law’s menstruation in her calendar and started calling exactly on those days, becoming very disappointed whenever she heard that she was actually bleeding, so not pregnant!
Can you imagine the kind of feeling this gives to a woman? You are practically only there as a breeding station, nothing else! It doesn't matter what you want or don't want – your complete surrounding thinks you must want a baby. They all are eagerly waiting for news.
If news don't come for some months or even a year, rumors start: they must be having problems conceiving! Who of the two is infertile? Have they taken treatment? Or is he maybe not interested in sex, maybe gay?
Oh, gossip-loving neighborhoods are eager to have such topics to talk about and they sense scandals when there is nothing else but Mother Nature at work!
It is ridiculous that we tell women and also men how their life should look like and at what point of life they should be thinking or desiring what! It is not healthy for society in total and for the individual women either. Because what happens if they really cannot become pregnant? More about this scenario tomorrow.
I have described the disappointment of many western women which we have witnessed over time and their situation, having got to know an Indian man online, fallen in love and now traveling to India to meet him. I have been directing my words to these women in the past two days but today I would like to write my blog entry for the Indian men who are at the base of this situation.
Again, my words are based on experiences which we have had here with women in exactly those situations.
My dear Indian friends, I have absolutely no problem if you get in touch with my friends over social networks. If they respond and you develop a friendship, have some talk and have intercultural exchange, I am very happy for both of you! Remember however that there is a very high chance for the women whom you are contacting in this way to contact me, ask me and talk about your conversations with me.
If I then get to know that you have been flirting with them and they are thinking to come to India and meet you, I will always ask them to be careful, as I have just expressed in my two previous blog entries. Because I know that they are serious but you might not be.
I want to say this really clear: this woman is really about to fall in love over the internet with a far-away person and that person is you! She honestly believes what you are saying and she trusts your sweet words. I am always in favour of love and everybody has the freedom to choose which ways they go and search love on – but she has fallen in love with you and I have a big doubt that you are as serious about your own words as she is!
Why do you do this kind of joke with someone’s feelings? Maybe you honestly didn’t think that the other party is taking your flirt serious. Maybe you thought she will be chatting with ten other guys like you, just as you are chatting with ten other women as well. Maybe you have had such talk with some Indian girls in the anonymity of the World Wide Web and it never went anywhere to serious. You were both just joking around, enjoying that you are able to write about sex. Anyway, you cannot talk about it nor do it because it is not a part of this culture. Neither you nor that girl would actually ever have thought of meeting each other, even if you talked about it. Even if you dreamt of having sex with each other.
I tell you something: talking to a western woman is different. Her culture is different. She thinks differently and she is most probably not suffering from suppressed sexuality as you are! That’s how she doesn’t need to have such talks without actions behind. She is serious because she is at a point in life where she really wants to find something proper, steady and for a long time! She can stand here, in India, in front of your doorstep at any point of time, demanding of you to do all the things you promised online!
Did this scare you? Good! Because if you get scared, it means you were not serious and if you are not serious, you should STOP THIS NOW! You are about to hurt another person’s feelings. Make it clear that you are just fooling around, make it clear that you will marry the woman your parents will choose for you in a few years or that you are actually already married and that you just would like to have a talk. That is fine and I promise you that most women won’t mind still talking to you, as a friend – as long as you don’t try to cheat them and make fake promises again!
We recently had our Ayurveda Massage Training. It was very successful, the participants learned a lot and we enjoyed passing on the knowledge and most of all experience that we have made with Ayurveda massages and treatments over the course of years. There was however one point with which we did not feel very comfortable: the participants asked about the energetic aspects of such massages.
Ayurveda literally translates to the science of life. What we do in an Ayurveda retreat is to focus on your physical as well as mental issues, trying to soothe them and maybe even heal them. The massages relax the body and you are able to relax the mind with that as well. There are treatments for pain in back, shoulders, knees and other body parts. There are also treatments to relieve stress, depression and insomnia.
We don’t however work with energy.
No, we actually don’t even believe in energy! I know that there have been many people who have connected this science that has a measurable, real effect on the body with ‘energy’, something that is not touchable, measurable or explainable. Something that may as well not exist. I also know that many massage therapists, due to their religious belief, start a massage in a way that seems to me superstitious: they light a candle at a small altar, they touch their hands to the table and their head and make a prayer – for support, healing or whatever. We don’t do any such thing.
Through such actions of religious therapists and probably also lectures by religious Ayurvedic professors, a person not related to Ayurveda can very well get the impression that this all is a part of Ayurveda, that Ayurveda has something to do with energy. It is however, basically, a science with effects that can be proven.
It is you who presses acupressure points, who moves the hands over tensed muscles and who knows the techniques how to move the hand over a hurting joint! Of course you help the other one, of course there is a certain relaxing atmosphere and a sense of inner calmness that helps you do your job well. We think this all is related to you, your inner situation and your work, not anything from the outside. Apart from the psychological effect that it could have, we don’t believe any of those religious or superstitious actions is beneficial to you or the person in front of you.
Obviously, if you expect such a thing to be taught in our training, you will be disappointed. We cannot give you an instruction for a ceremony, ritual or prayer to do before you start a massage or treatment. If you would like to ask God, the universe or anybody else for support and request healing energy for the person lying in front of you, you are free to do that yourself. We won’t be able to teach you such a thing. Simply because we don’t believe in it.
Our participants left the Ashram happy and satisfied with the knowledge and practice they received. They may have missed that point of energy but we could explain them our point of view. What we have learned however is that we may have to make a note on our website, telling clearly that there will be no energy work involved. At all. It will help us getting the right people to our training and help them saving themselves from disappointment.
I yesterday told you why I believe filling the schedules of our children until there is no free minute anymore is not a good idea. Apart from robbing them of the ability to occupy themselves, we place the seeds for todays’ huge problems in our society: depression, burn-out and other psychological problems. These problems, formerly only known to people in their forties, are now a regular occurrence among young people in schools all over the world.
Let’s go back to the activities that parents want their children to participate in. There are many, some more educational and some less. Some are supposed to stimulate the child’s intellect, others are for developing their musical skills, again others should just let them move and exercise and events like playdates shall help them create social skills. Everything has a purpose.
Yes, there is the thought behind all of these that the child should learn something. There is an expectation: children should perform well during these activities! If they act in the way they are expected to, they get praised for it as well. Even in social activities, there is the watching eye of a supervisor, judging on the effectiveness of what was happening. This creates pressure.
Now away from the ‘leisure activities’, let’s talk about what happens at school: it is hard to believe how much pressure already our young ones have to bear! They have lots to learn, they are continuously shown the consequences if they don’t and they are made afraid of the future.
Teachers, parents, the school and even students among each other again and again remind each other that life is not fun. That learning is for a bigger purpose: so that they don’t sit on the road after their school unemployed and without money. Because money is what it is about. For that you have to have a good job, for that you have to pass the exams with good marks, for that you need to learn more and more and more! Don’t have fun, learning is not for fun! Make a mistake and you are punished! Compete with those around you! Are they better than you? Try harder! Are they worse than you? Don’t let them ever catch up!
In some schools and for some kids, it is more obvious, while it is more subtle pressure for others. In whichever way, you can imagine the psychological consequences. There is no outlet, no time to get rid of this pressure. And there is no respect for the fact that we all are different and cannot all be the elite. That we cannot all be doctors and engineers.
That’s why children have learning disorders, mental breakdowns and burn-out. Because they are never enough how they are. Because their future looks horrible, no matter how much effort they do!
We have to change this.
Let our children learn with more freedom, give them the chance to enjoy and have fun. Be positive and teach them positive thinking as well!
I yesterday explained that there may be friends in life whose beliefs completely differ from yours. What can you do if that is the case and you have developed a relationship that seems rather formal and not as deep as you would wish it to be?
The first thing that you can do is just to tell what you believe in. Express the issues in which you have different opinions so that both of you know where you are at. If you then feel that there is no way that either of you change, just accept the fact that you don’t agree with each other.
Don’t let this destroy the bond of friendship between the two of you. At the same time however, don’t expect too much of it. Keep up the love but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t go deeper than meeting and seeing each other from time to time.
If I look at my grandmother and my father for example, I can see that they have changed a whole lot but of course they will never change as much as I have. They have spent their whole lives believing in religion and although they have left behind a lot of the things that go with it, they won’t completely change. And I am not demanding that either.
The key is that you need to understand and respect each other. Let them live as they like and live as you want as well. As family members remain family members, no matter what happens, it is mostly easier to do this with them than with friends but with friends as well, you can have such a relation. In fact, if you have a real friendship and love and one of you changes while the other remains the same, you will be able to go along with it.
One thing is for sure however: there is a certain gap in between you. You are not able to share what is deeply in your heart, you cannot get very much involved in each other’s lives and you won’t sit and talk for hours.
There is no dishonesty in this friendship. You still wish each other well but your thinking is so different from each other that you cannot have those pleasant experiences that you have with someone who shares your emotions.
Please accept it. If you can accept that the other one is different, then you also need to accept the fact that you won’t be as close as you could be if that was not the case. Respect the other one’s belief and keep love in your heart. That’s what you can do for the sake of this friendship.
Today I would like to tell you about an incident that shows me once more how life changes when you stop believing in religion, God and everything around it.
A very close acquaintance of our family has recently built a new house. My family and I had visited the house when it was still in construction and we were looking forward to the time they would come to live there because it is practically next door, in our close neighbourhood. Finally, the day had come when they wanted to move in and give their house-warming party.
It is normal in religious India to have a ceremony to bless the home and invite people for this ritual as well as a meal. This family told us the date when they would move. My wife was happy and got ready to join the celebration together with some other family members. They prepared a gift and they even told our friend, who was a guest at the Ashram at that time, that they would go to our friend’s home and may not be there for some time.
I am not too fond of such kind of functions but my wife is. As we knew the date but had not heard at what time the program would start and when we should come, my German wife obviously asked me the day before when she should go. I answered that we were not that formal among each other to send a written invitation, they would call and tell the time and then you could go!
They waited and waited – but the call never came. The whole day passed by, they saw the cooks carrying utensils, pots and food to the home, past our gate, everything in eager preparation but nobody called or asked them to come.
In the evening we got a call from a family member of that acquaintance whom we also know. We were informed that we had not been invited intentionally because we would not have enjoyed the religious ceremony. We don’t believe in it, we are non-believers, even atheists – so they thought they should not call us for such an event.
In a religious country like India, every occasion is connected with some kind of ritual or ceremony. In every function and celebration, be that a house warming party, a birth shower, a wedding or a funeral, religion is a fundamental part of the event. Especially religious families put emphasis on such rituals and of course this was going to be a part of that day’s celebration as well. It would probably be a fire ceremony, we knew that. And as non-believers we were obviously not welcome anymore at such events.
Obviously, it didn’t really feel nice to make this experience. It felt as though our unholy presence could diminish the holy atmosphere of the event. Well, whatever their reason was, we were not invited. As I am human and emotionally sensitive, I felt bad that someone whom I considered a friend and even more than that did not want to share a joyous day with me. Of course not only me, the rest of the family who had prepared for going there was disappointed as well.
We talked about it but in the end, I don’t keep such emotions for a long time and don’t let them affect me too much. I see the positive side of things and that was very clear to me: We can be happy that people started knowing who we were. They recognize who we are and won’t call us for religious events anymore. Of course, that may mean we won’t be invited for the subsequent meals, celebrations and dances either but I believe that is something to be happy about.
We should feel free after such an incident because it liberates us from certain social responsibilities. When I shared this on facebook however, the inviting family was not very amused – but that’s something I want to tell you about tomorrow.