Mona Patel on Sita's Story, Obligation, Duty and Choice
LEADERSHIP
November 7, 2023
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Mona Patel is an expert in helping people reframe the way they think by understanding and empathizing with other people’s points of view. For over 23 years, Mona's worked with brands like Nike, Facebook, Capital One, First Republic Bank and Pfizer. She teaches organizations how to listen for what people really want. She has started and built a series of 7-figure companies, is a published author, award winning researcher, and keynote speaker. Her latest company, Gray Zones, produces online immersive experiences to inspire leaders to have more empathy, awareness and understanding for different points of view.

Every year,  Hindus light candles to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. This revered holiday marks “the triumph of good over evil” and honors the homecoming of the deities Ram and Sita after a long period of exile. In the traditional narrative, Sita is portrayed as the paradigm of virtue—a perfect daughter, wife, and mother—upholding her duties to her culture, her spouse, and her cultural legacy. Despite being married off, abducted, and tested, she is expected to adhere steadfastly to her wifely duties. As a child, teenager and woman, Sita was the model that my own family and community held up for who I should be and how I should live my life. 

Reframing is the deliberate effort of shifting the mind’s perspective. It requires that we let go of the beliefs and narratives that we have around a concept or problem, and shift into a new way of thinking about it. Reframing allows us to elevate beyond the simple, myopic ways of viewing, and allows us to elevate into seeing problems in different, more expansive ways. Reframing is the deliberate effort of shifting the mind’s perspective. It requires that we let go of the beliefs and narratives that we have around a concept or problem, and shift into a new way of thinking about it. Reframing allows us to elevate beyond the simple, myopic ways of viewing, and allows us to elevate into seeing problems in different, more expansive ways.

But, I was struggling with a question: when had the pursuit of being a good, dutiful person served me? And when did it leave me feeling drained? More often than not I felt the latter. This tension between duty, obligation and personal triumph was at the heart of my trepidation for Diwali. 

We all face moments when we find ourselves navigating the gray zones between what we want or what’s good for us and what we are expected to do. Whether those thoughts are intrinsic feelings or obviously communicated can be a result of the kind of communication climate you exist in. But, regardless it can be hard to release the hold that obligations and duties have on us. Unless we reframe it.

What is reframing?

Frames are cognitive lenses through which we view and understand information, situations, and experiences. Our frames help us categorize, prioritize, and make quick judgments about our surroundings. They shape how we interpret and make sense of the world around us.

Reframing is the deliberate effort of shifting the mind’s perspective. It requires that we let go of the beliefs and narratives that we have around a concept or problem, and shift into a new way of thinking about it. Reframing allows us to elevate beyond the simple, myopic ways of viewing, and allows us to elevate into seeing problems in different, more expansive ways. 

How do we reframe duty so that our dedications to fulfilling our duties serve us?

When I began reframing duty, it helped me to transform my perspective on obligations from a source of stress to a source of power. When I am expected to serve others, and especially when I’m not being thanked for doing so, I feel disempowered. And, when I am not allowed to speak up about what I want, because what will people think, or because my job is to put this other person first as a good wife, mother or boss,  or because I shouldn’t want the things I want, I get triggered. But when I want to serve others, the ability to do that feels empowering. 

Understanding my relationship with duty could free me from the stories I carried around it. This insight really resonated with me, so much so that I decided to retell Sita’s Story from a more empowered feminine perspective. I stopped all other work and spent seven months writing, producing and most importantly deeply introspecting about duty and the most empowered way to frame it. "Sita's Story" is an immersive 3D audio experience that offers listeners a fresh lens through which to view Sita's journey—one of self-discovery, empowerment, and unabashed individuality. This retelling crosses cultural lines and delves into Sita’s life, decisions, and tribulations in a contemporary context. 

I chose to lead the audio experience by beckoning the listener with Sita’s words, advising them to “follow their heart” in order to “lead a fulfilling life.” While this advice might seem straightforward, for those entangled in gray zones, it might be anything but simple. What we think of as a fulfilling life often requires a reframe and that reframe can spiral deeper because our feelings, emotions and narratives often get in the way of doing what we know we need to do to be in alignment with who we want to be. 

As Sita’s Story might inspire us to reflect on our lives, let us do so with the courage to question, the willingness to grow, and the commitment to act not just out of obligation, but out of love—for ourselves, for others, and for the world.

Why is that?

The mental processes associated with fulfilling obligations and responsibilities, involves several complex brain functions and primarily centers around the release of dopamine,  which can be activated when we successfully complete tasks or obligations. This can create a sense of satisfaction and motivation to continue fulfilling duties. So duty can be both dark and light, like many things. It’s not as simple as just right and wrong, good or evil, black or white; there are gray zones.

This Diwali, as the glow of countless diyas illuminates the darkness, let it be a reminder to investigate our own personal truths and the stories we tell ourselves. As we celebrate the return of Ram and Sita, let us also acknowledge our own journeys back to our inner homes—places of peace, acceptance, and authentic living.

As Sita’s Story might inspire us to reflect on our lives, let us do so with the courage to question, the willingness to grow, and the commitment to act not just out of obligation, but out of love—for ourselves, for others, and for the world. I hope you find the strength to be dutiful, not out of compulsion, but from a place of conscious choice and understanding of our roles in the greater tapestry of life.

When the candles burn low and the festivities quiet down, may we continue to carry that light within us, using it to guide our decisions, our duties, and our deepest desires. May we remember that it is not just about fulfilling roles prescribed to us by tradition or society, but about reframing our beliefs to create  a life that resonates with our highest self.

In this way, the festival of lights becomes more than a celebration; it becomes a powerful metaphor for personal awakening. If you are interested in learning more please reach out via mona@grayzones.org

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