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The Grand Exchange

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~ Shreya Basu

Heartfulness Foundation invited Deepa and Milind Soman to a webinar. They chose to talk about their idea “The Grand Exchange”. The idea simply is about the magic that happens when grandparents and grandchildren enable each other to grow and thrive.

In May 2020, Christina Chua Wadia of the Heartfulness Foundation hosted Deepa and Milind to talk about Family Support System for Seniors. Milind and Deepa share their journey of developing and living their unique 5-I model – INCLUSIVENESS, INSPIRATION, INNOVATION, INTERDEPENDENCE, INTEGRITY.

Image source : VridhCare, an NGO working for senior citizen is helping the elderly in this time of crisis

A Heartfulness wellness webinar was hosted by volunteer, Christina Chua Wadia working at a ‘Happiness Centre’, Singapore. Working in community service, Christina has concern about what’s happening in the community and in the world, especially for the elderly, families and women. The talk covers how to integrate elders into life

What is Heartfulness wellbeing?

Heartfulness is a way of living from the heart and by the heart.”, explains Christina. The Heartfulness Institute is a global non-profit, offering simple contemplated practices for balanced living and wholistic wellness. They have practices in Yoga backed by science, currently across 130 countries and all free-of-cost.

The esteemed guests for this webinar are Milind and Deepa Soman. 

Hidden Tales

Deepa starts the talk by sharing a touching story about how she grew to learn the value of her grandparents at 11 years of age. She truly enjoys writing stories inspired by her grandparents, and hopes to leave an impact on the younger generations who have not met their grandparents. Writing people-stories is a hobby for this creative business leader. These tales are a medium to talk about their achievements and stories. When one sees an elder, they may appear mentally and physically incapacitated. But who they are never changes. Questions like “what was it like when they were little kids. What did they accomplish? What were their parents were like? I have chronicled them and I share them because I believe this inspiration is very necessary, especially in these times. Stories nourish the soul, they sustain the soul. They give us hope.”

Milind joins in the conversation. 

Integration of life of the elderly has always been a core value that we have promoted from early on.” During their early career, Milind and Deepa lived in Jamaica for three years. In the month of their reaching Jamaica, Milind’s father, Sudhakar Soman, suffered a heart attack. Luckily Milind’s brother, Dr. Sandeep Soman was able to the needful. In the following year, Dr. Sandeep Soman and his wife, Dr. Anjana moved to the US.

The value of interdependence

Deepa and Milind saw the benefits of moving to India and made a conscious choice to move back with their children. The value of interdependence came up very strongly. Milind adds that while he never had the luxury of growing up with his grandparents, he realised the value of his kids having grandparents, and the grandparents having their grandchildren. “For the elderly, it gives them hope. It gives them life. It is an inspiration for them.” The value of having people around and not looking at them as a liability or a burden. There’s a value and a need for respect for these people, who have brought us up in life. 

Christina adds that her experiences growing up with grandparents is cherished, and young people these days don’t have the same kind of stories and memories.

Thoughts on what can elders do to have a balance and wholeness intact for them?

Source : Clipart library

As a child growing up, Deepa experienced family shared meals, stories, swapped accounts on the day’s activities. Her simple parenting goal was to raise happy kids. A simple goal, that was beyond academic achievements or marks, not about competing. Success is an outcomes. Children need to experience a sense of stability, solidity, peace, harmony and growing up feeling very secure. “Also we wanted to accept them for who they were

Back in 1993, sitting in their home in Kingston, Jamaica, Deepa and Milind had grown increasingly worried about the Mumbai riots. Their son who was not even 2 years old, Rahul approached them and asked if they were upset with him or each other. His anxiety immediately made Deepa feel that they need to be composed. At that very moment they received an input as parents to be vigilant. While they were in Jamaica, Milind’s parents, Deepa’s father and sister visited. They also noticed that young Rahul was happiest when he was around family, especially grandparents.

From Jamaica to India

Milind’s father retired as nuclear physicist and is India’s first health physicist, focused on safety. He suggested returning to India to Deepa and Milind. She had already set up a company in Jamaica called Lumière Consultancy Services. Deepa was expecting their second baby. Deepa and Milind gave up good careers to return to India. Even though many family and friends thought they was crazy to want to return to India, they decided to go with it. With hope and family in their hearts, they were taking a huge leap of faith. They wrote a letter each to their respective families about their vision for the future. And they are still living that vision. 

No sympathy, Just Inclusion

Deepa’s mother-in-law, Lata Soman had a deadly undiagnosed Tuberculosis Meningitis and needed to be cared for. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007. In 2013, Deepa and Milind moved her in with them. Having dedicated space for parents to care for in their advancing years was something they had planned for. Talking about inclusiveness, Milind says how they include Deepa’s father who lives with them, in all their conversations. Deepa’s father lost his speech due to paralysis in 2006, but is one of the happiest and most inspirational souls. “Even though he cannot speak, he can certainly express himself. We know that communication isn’t only about speech.” Communication and inclusiveness plays a very big role in heartfulness and and healthfulness. Inclusion is a feeling of being wanted, and it really keeps them going. It is a powerful thing.

At Lumière, Deepa and Milind have done a lot of community work for elders in the neighbourhood. Many elders have children and grandchildren living overseas. Words like inclusiveness, inspiration, interdependence pepper their conversation. Milind shares his observations – of the amount of contributions elders make to our growth. He says, “They really don’t need sympathy, they need inclusion. It is mainly about inclusion.” Whenever they work in the community, they ask the elders to be involved in something and participate, even if it is just cooking. The moment you give them inclusion – they are healthier, they are smarter, they are living their life fully and they are integrated into society.”

Keys to successful elderly support

Innovation is important while taking care of elders. Staying alive is not the point, how do you get these elders to thrive. You give them purpose and keep them active, whether it’s games, puzzles, crafts that they like to do. Finding innovative ways in which you can engage them is something that we do. A lot of people have been lonely during the lockdown, when we should really be coming closer from the heart. Social distancing is not about distancing on a human level, just physical spacial distancing. But love and heart are beyond space and time. Ageism begins in the home, if we could demonstrate how they bring value, even a person who cannot speak can inspire. Deepa recalls a comment from her father’s physiotherapist, “I get more energy and inspiration from him, than me trying to give him as a patient.”

They have stayed in touch with all their parents’ friends, occasionally having them over for parties, sharing stories. Lumière has done events with the elderly, “We facilitated a musical digital event for the music lovers among the elderly“. Integrity is doing what is right when no-one is looking. It’s about showing help and younger people how to look after the elderly. It’s about enduring values as humanity. We need to come together more than ever to protect these values. The younger people have grown up with a lot of technology. So this is the time to bridge that gap. “We are never going to get so much time together as we are getting now, so tell stories to each other, each generation has to listen to the other, to observe, to listen without judgement.” 

The sixth I is Intention

The Grand Exchange

Lumière is an advisor to an educational institution in their city. Within their campus, they have a hostel for kids on two floors and the top floors have homes for the elderly. This creates a very wholesome environment, where the two generations share a common eating space. A beautiful concept where the two generations on the opposite sides of the spectrum can live under the same roof with harmony and developing crucial values. It is a very integrated community, where the elders are thriving and the kids are learning so much from them. Milind adds, “Connecting with the elderly creates stability in our lives and decisions.”

Lumière has huge respect for what Heartfulness wellness is doing, and the philosophy of heartfulness. Today, we know that there is a mind body connection. That has been proven. Communities like these where people get a chance, It’s like an oasis. A place where you come in, connect, sustain, replenish and go back. We must all have that faith in something or some place that is higher. We must have a purpose which is bigger than making money, a vision which is larger, we must have a definition of family which is beyond our home. And truly the world will shrink and come closer. 

Watch the webinar video via the link below :

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