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Lisa Ray. A model, actor, TV personality, and now also a bestselling writer of her memoir of a fight against cancer, speaks of what helped her heal.
She has beauty, charm, grace, and elegance. But her courage and optimism shine the brightest and essentially define her personality. I’m talking about none other than Lisa Ray, who needs no introduction and is known to most of us as an actor, model, and television personality. However it’s her skill as a writer and her philanthropy that have also come to focus, especially post 2009.
In a warm and candid conversation on June 9 with Raga Olga D’Silva in her “On the Other Side” series, we truly get to see the other side of Lisa Ray. Titled “Serendipity with Lisa Ray,” we view her persona beyond the actor.
She emerges as the writer who talks about her love for the craft and as a motivational speaker who shares her views on life. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma when she was just 37, Lisa’s debut novel Close to the Bone is a celebration of life. With great positivity, she also chronicled her journey with her illness in her acclaimed blog “The Yellow Dairies”.
Writing is a passion for Lisa Ray. To quote her: “I am a writer who occasionally acts”. She regards her relationship with words as one of the most enduring and passionate relationships. She calls writing delicious and says that it has for her the same value as the ingredients that a chef pays attention to while cooking the most scrumptious dishes in the kitchen.
Be it her launch as a model when she was just sixteen or her bonding with spirituality, it is serendipity that has been the guiding source in Lisa Ray’s life. The smart questions that Raga posed and the equally intelligent responses that Lisa presented urged me to go back and listen to their conversation a second time. Some of her insights about life had such profound wisdom that they struck a chord and bestowed upon me a few nuggets of wisdom.
Lisa has been writing ever since she was a child and only recently published her book in 2019. So she raises the question as to whether she has earned the title of a writer simply because her words have reached the world or because she has been writing on her own throughout.
It is very encouraging when the audience appreciates one’s work, but Lisa believes that writing is not always about giving it to the world. She does not like the idea that one is perceived as an artist or a writer only on the basis of their output. Labels, she feels, are dangerous and wind up being unfair to a lot of people.
A very valid point is made that we cannot plan creativity. Ideas just happen. The concept of creativity is very beautifully explained with a reference to a book by Elizabeth Gilbert named Big Magic. Gilbert presents the premise that ideas, inspiration, plot, and even words are sentient beings circulating around us. It is up to us how we receive them.
Lisa says that like any other creative endeavor, a very strange alchemy takes place between a writer and his or her words. She shares how sometimes, she would be laboring and cringing, almost on the verge of tears, trying to find the right words. And then, she would simply shut her laptop and take a walk, and a mysterious alchemy would happen with the correct phrase or fresh expressions landing in her mind. She feels this takes place because her mind at that time is expanding and not contracting, and she is open to receiving.
During her journey with cancer, Lisa Ray stood undeterred. In her “Yellow Dairies” blog, she mentioned: “It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get better”. Raga asks her where she gets her courage from.
Lisa shares how serendipitously she had come to learn something valuable prior to her diagnosis. Following her mother’s death, she had taken her father to the Tushita meditation center in Dharamshala, where she had a beautiful experience.
She recounts how she attended a course on death and dying which was framed through the Buddhist perspective. In one of the guided meditation classes, she learned a very important truth of life. During the session, participants were asked to close their eyes and visualize that they were walking into the doctor’s chamber and told that they have only 6 more months to live. They were then asked to plan what they would do in the upcoming days.
Lisa narrates how at the end of the session, all the people in the class, including herself, had smiles on their faces upon opening their eyes. It was pure bliss, for they had all planned out how to live life to the fullest during that period. She reflects that the experience perhaps became embedded in herself and created the resilience to face her own mortality. Lisa says that only when we contemplate death do we end up living life more fully.
A question is raised as to whether one should be scared to expose one’s scars and if an openness to vulnerability makes us a better person.
Lisa tells Raga that if we are not being authentic, we are creating walls within ourselves. It’s like playing a role constantly, and that can be very exhausting. Although there may be moments of satisfaction, those moments do not last forever. She considers vulnerability as her greatest strength, likening it to a bamboo that cannot be broken down by the strong wind.
A very pertinent issue is addressed when it is discussed that we tend to give too much importance to what other people might think about us. Lisa voices that many a time, our thoughts have to do with our own critique or self censorship, not that of others. The reality is that the majority of the time, people don’t even care or pay attention. It is our inner critique that creates the boundaries.
Lisa talks about a healing technique that she picked from her spiritual teacher Nithya Shanti – The Hawaiian wisdom of Ho’oponopono that teaches love, forgiveness and healing.
It centers around creating a serene, tranquil condition within oneself by letting go of the toxic energies within us and allowing divine thoughts, actions, and words to take their place. The four powerful phrases that can clean bad memories or feelings are “I’m sorry”, “Please forgive me”, “I love you”, and “Thank you”.
A Buddhist saying preaches that our greatest teacher is our enemy, and Lisa abides by that thought. It is up to us how we handle a situation, for everything revolves around managing our ego. The question that arises is whether we want to be right or kind. We always have the choice to be kind to someone toxic since anger affects no one else but ourselves. So if we choose to practice equanimity in that scenario, it will take the charge out of the situation. In this reference, she talks about the brahmaviharas, which are the four sublime states of metta (kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upeksa (equanimity) that can be practiced to deal with the crisis.
A supporter of the LGBT cause, Lisa Ray says that she does not see any differences in people on the basis of their race, sexual identity, or their status. Referring to the roles she played in the films I Can’t Think Straight, The World Unseen, and the recent web series Four More Shots Please, Lisa says that it was not that she consciously chose LGBT themes. She picked the roles because she loved the stories and the characters in the narrative. She’s always on the side of human stories that need to be told and shared.
“Live your truth; every single moment that you are not living in truth is a moment wasted.” That is her message to the LGBT community for Pride Month. She believes that by stepping into one’s own shoes and not anyone else’s shoes, one can make the most satisfying journey.
Lisa Ray’s thoughts speak volumes about her great depth of knowledge. Although her point of view emerges from her personal experiences, her ideas will resonate with many who hear her talk. This is because they are rooted in a deep philosophy, shedding light on mechanisms to cope with life in a positive, large-hearted way while still living through our vulnerabilities.
Images source: Public profile of Lisa Ray on Facebook
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