The hidden life of trees

So, I decided to break my boredom with home workouts and desperate missing of the gym, by braving the outdoors and resuming running again.

It’s been three days and one whole day of severely sore legs, but I feel so good.

It’s more than what running does for my body, which in itself is a whole other story. But I’m also beginning to see why being outdoors in an enveloping tunnel of trees, that are overwhelmingly old and large, surrounded by eye-hurting green views, even as small and limited as they are in a city park, does for me.

It’s a reminder to keep growing. To keep going. Of how strong roots are the key to talk trees. Of age and wisdom. Of a silent judgement-free witnessing. Of the cradle of mother earth. Of the place that energy and the elements have in giving life. Of fertility even in times of destruction. Of survival and enduring.

On Sunday, practically my first real long run since March (because I’m not counting the two failed attempts in May and June), I had a mini cry behind my mask even as I had just entered the parking and started my run. I just felt overwhelmed to be outdoors, for one. But I was also just taken by these large, old trees. Just standing there, watching the world go by, as they have for years now. I also felt a surge of endorphins, and while they’re usually known to induce extreme highs interpreted as happiness I have noticed that they heighten whatever emotion I am allowing myself to feel. That day it was overwhelming gratitude and aliveness.

I have not appreciated trees enough in my life. And that day I realised I have probably not appreciated the trees in Bangalore enough in my life.

They’re becoming reminders for me. Of life and growth. Of swaying with lightness and tenderness, while being powerfully rooted. Of grounding. Of joy and life. Of air and breath.

In the inimitable words of Mary Oliver, who I have realised has woven beauty in words for every goddamn experience, it’s simple.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Stay. Awhile.

One year ago: Brain noodles
Four years ago: Wandering, right here at home

Chai time joy

I have mostly spent covid days in the slow, but definitive surrender of that smidgen of reassurance that I/we are in control.

Gradually, over the weeks and months, I’ve had a stringent unlearning of much that I took to be true, small things I thought I thought I had a handle on, daily reminders of some iota of certainty even when the world has its way of turning topsy turvy, as it has been long before covid.

Thoughts on the economy? No longer sure. My personal politics? WIP and constantly shifting. Relationships? Vastly uncertain. The environment and planet as a whole? RUIN.

In the stripping away of all the things I cling to for solidity, and in embracing the natural order of un-knowing, I have found certainty in chai. I’m not even joking slightly, when I say that. Probably an extension of general homebody-ness and domesticity, but this has become something of an essential daily habit, but loaded with meaning.

In the ritualism of that single cup of tea I make every single evening, in that little-over-one-teaspoon of sugar I allow myself everyday, in having perfected the exact ratio of milk to water, and in actually finally understanding the right timing and sequence of ingredients to be added for the result the way I like it, I have found meaning.

Don’t ask me of what hahaha. But it’s there, and my days feel incomplete without it. It’s not just the making and consuming said cup of tea but the entire production around it. In ensuring there’s milk on hand, brewing it just right, thinking in advance about the little tea time snack for the day, getting it all done at the time, and then — the best part — sitting in my chair by the window and savouring it slowly.

Four years ago: Just read

Monday Tarot Message: Finding anchors

When our conditioning teaches us to consistently sidestep “difficult” emotions like anger, sadness, guilt, anxiety, shame, disappointment or anything else that is “unpalatable”, we lose the opportunity to learn early in life, what they can teach us.

These emotions may indeed be difficult, but they needn’t be destructive, or cause us to be unanchored. They can come and go. And they can be opportunities to grow.

Anger, for example, can fuel action, rather than cripple us. Guilt has the power to inspire endeavour, if we invite it. Fear can make us shrink and cower, or it can spur us to move in a different way.

With the right anchors, we can learn to process, rather than repress, emotions, and receive the hidden messages that move us to grow.

Welcoming difficult emotions like anger, fear, shame, guilt, sadness, disappointment, requires us to build anchors. In our beings and our lives. Anchors that can hold us and that we can hold on to, when difficult emotions come upon us. Think of these as all that is important and affirming in your life.

Whatever your anchor may be — an important relationship, a creative life, a robust meditation practice, prayer, grounding in domesticity, dedication to work that fulfils you — invest energy in building something that really drops roots in you and fills you up in a good way. Something that isn’t an escape, but a safe shore that will allow these emotions to come and go as they need to without causing too much havoc.

To know what your anchors are, you’ll have to get very good at knowing what is truly precious and life giving. What is potent and nourishing. And for this, you’ll also have to know the exact opposite — all that is depleting, toxic or unhealthy — and know when to step away from it. Identify all that enables distance from and repression of emotions rather than healthy engaging with emotions, and step away. Knowing what enriches you will require an all-round knowing of who you are — the dark and bright parts of you, the good and bad, the palatable and not-so-palatable sides alike.

One year ago: Move
Two years ago: After all is said and done, you’ll believe God is a woman
Four years ago: Ten reasons why I’ve taken to cycling

Gifts

I just want to remember this as the day I was having a truly flat, unproductive morning wandering about my home; when I noticed this. This exact red flower that showed in a powerful image in a dream-like state during a visualisation I did at therapy last week, was suddenly real, and within grasping reach. It bloomed out of seemingly nowhere, because the plant has been in hibernation for a while now, after profusely flowering through summer.

N called it the “wondrous ways of the self and the universe.”

I called it a gift.

PS: Also, can we just acknowledge that this is now an infinite scroll of pictures from my balcony garden? Okay? Okay.

One year ago: Naked
Two years ago: Talking about worries and problems, people

Brain noodles, again

Random thoughts that have been gnawing at my brain slowly over the past few days, building up to something, I’m not sure what as yet.

  1. I don’t want to be special. I just want to be happy.
    I have mixed them up or conflated the two for a major part of my lfie thus far. The past few years I’ve realised and embraced slowly how average, regular and normal I am. And that it is enough. It makes me happy. I’m also not using “happy” lightly here, not indicating a state of mind or a necessarily chirpy/positive emotion, but a state of wellness and acceptance of whatever situation I may traverse in life.
  2. I don’t want to be woke. I just want to be me.
    I’m growing tired of having to choose the higher ground as dictated by popular culture, woke culture, social media culture, op-ed culture, and the self-defeating super-left group that I was aligned to. As I’m discovering my own politics in a deeper way, there is a quiet that has come about. A think-before-you-decide, listen-more-than-you-speak, kind of quiet that has made me realise that i) barring a few fundamental beliefs that may not change greatly, most other beliefs are going to be forever WIP, fluid and ever-changing because that is simply a function of evolution. I have looked down on this in the past as a sign of being flakey or having insubstantial beliefs. I know this is not true, and it was a stupid, naive way of looking at things ii) no matter how well-versed I am with any subject, there will always be many, many things I am yet to learn and I want to be always open to that. Which brings me to #3
  3. There is so much about so many things that I don’t know.
    The more I am training myself to get out of strictly binary ways of thinking, the more I am finding space for the middle ground. The space where there is no certainty or surety the poles/extremes offer. There is power in trying to understand both sides in an informed, unbiased way. It is super hard to do, and I have such a long way to go. But the more I do this, the more I realise how little I actually know and how much more there is to discover. I’m also learning, painfully, that the only way to truly widen my perspectives and allow for the middle ground to be fruitful is to listen to the opinions and experiences, of even the ones I loathe and despise, the ones that make me super uncomfortable. The lives experiences and beliefs of people who aren’t speaking from mere opinion or carefully gathered knowledge. And I am trying to shed the belief that giving “that side” a listening ear makes me flakey, or makes my beliefs wishy-washy.

One year ago: Tender mornings
Two years ago: Cake by the ocean

Green reflections

I have indulged in my plants a lot more lately than I have even last year, when this bug bit me. This was not a pandemic-induced habit. I have really given of my myself to my plants lately — losing track of time and spending endless amounts of it just absorbed, my hands dirty and trimming, pruning and fixing things, making of it an entire day’s activity and feeling utterly satisfied at the end.

In the plants I have seen natural cycles of birth, death, rebirth and hibernation with humbling proximity that has comforted and supported me.

As much as I have given, I have received in return.

Today, I took all my indoor plants out for their periodic couple of days in the sun. And I looked around the home and realised how sparse it all looks minus the green spots.

There is true life in plants, in how easily they lend that live to the spaces around them, wherever they may be placed. And I mean life more than the stuff that makes leaves sprout and shrivel.

As the author of this piece in the New Yorker quotes Sue Stuart Smith, the author of A Well Gardened Mind; I was interested in the unconscious aspects of gardening—the symbolism, and the level of metaphor.

There has been plenty of that. If you have read the blog recently, you’d know how much I have spoken about my plants and the reflections they offer of my life and process. The unconscious, the symbolic, the metaphors, and how much I have looked to them for meaning.

When we sow a seed, we plant a narrative of future possibility.

It is what I have gained the most. The spots of green are a bonus.

One year ago: Run
Four years ago: Friyay

Domestic

Kitchen things, home things, domestic things have consumed me a lot lately. I think back to a time in life where I loved it, but also felt like indulging it was somehow robbing me of time I could invest elsewhere. And I think about how that was the right stance for that time in my life. It’s how I stretched myself to the limits I could, exploring a career in freelance feature writing. I went at it like it was a full-time job and it was immensely satisfying. I can’t imagine that would have been possible if I were busy with changing sheets, keeping tabs on stocking up the fridge and cooking every meal.

But this is a different phase and time in my life. And it’s a different time in the world. Things have slowed down so much, within and around me, that I have the luxury to choose alternate ideas for productivity and ambition. At the moment my daily productivity only goes as far as doing two solid tasks in a day. Whether I take all day to do them, or finish them in a couple of hours, it’s all I find I am able to do. And I use the rest of what ever is left of the day to do as I please. Which in the last five months has become finding a steady rhythm in the tedium of keeping a home.

All the mundane things I curled my nose at in the before life, I have now found to be anchors. Like doing the dishes. Like taking down and washing curtains. Like dusting the fans. Like cleaning out the fridge. Like the endless loop of laundry — doing it, drying it, folding it, putting it away — lather, rinse, repeat.

The weightage between activities of work and activities of the rest of life now hang in equal balance. The repetitive nature of homely rituals, the beats of a domestic life, the monotony of that routine lends a backdrop of comfort and predictability to my life. Work just falls into it, in the gaps, around and in between the domestic stuff. There is an all new value and respect for this aspect of work. I understand so much more keenly why it is called unpaid labour, and probably how much more I ought to pay for it when I decide to re-hire domestic help again.

Prepping and planning for meals. Updating that constant grocery list in my kitchen. Tackling one forgotten corner of the home every week. Washing our face masks. Cleaning out the snack cupboard. All the cooking. Fluffing pillows and folding blankets every day. Bringing out fresh towels. Washing the dustbin every other day. Pruning the plants. Taking the indoor ones out for some sun every week. Sneaking in a special, indulgent meal every now and then. Making that daily 4 pm cup of chai (that I have absofuckinglutely perfected to my taste, thanks to the lockdown) and savouring it all alone in my chair in the living room. Watching the plants change and grow. Finding just bloomed flowers in the morning.

It’s the little things that stack up. And I see that in my changing relationship with domesticity, I now have built a home. A home that holds and supports me. Not just our literal home, but a sense of home and having somewhere to flop, collapse, be held, be supported. The routine and the rhythm of the tasks beat like a steady din of drumbeat that I have given-in to, lending shore to my need to just be, to unravel, to laze, to revel, to rest, to rejoice, to rediscover and to rejuvenate.

I could argue that in these strange times that I often struggle to make sense of, it is being at home, and in being steeped in domesticity that I’ve found an intensely personal quality to my every day life that was a bit diluted before.

Life feels lived-in this way.

Four years ago: Inside-outside

Monday Tarot Message: Sitting with a problem, instead of solving it

Many of us find that we are wired to jump in to immediately solve problems — our own, others’ and those of the world at large. If this is a compulsive tendency, it could stem from a need to avoid discomfort. Like guilt of not being useful or efficient, or fear of not being looked upon kindly or not finding belonging, or shame for not having all the answers. This is especially true if being useful or productive or being the problem solver was a way to be seen, loved and to belong in your family.

Compulsive problem-solving denies us the experience of growth and change that discomfiting emotions present. Given that problem solving is a way of our world, our rush to fix things may have us forgetting the art of sitting with problems. An art and practice that is essential in solving the quiet, internal difficulties of our minds, that asks for something else.

While the outer world exists in polarities — problem and solution, this or that, trouble or relief — matters of our internal world call for exploring the vast middle ground, or finding a meeting point between the two.

Carl Jung called this a “third thing” in which opposites can unite. He says;

Here the logic of intellect usually fails, for in a logical antithesis there is no third.

He likens it to the intangible, fluid space in which:

a waterfall visibly mediates between above and below.

A few questions you could ask yourself, to check for your true intention, or where the need to solve problems may be coming from:

  • Are you a compulsive problem solver?
  • Are “problem” states uniformly uncomfortable?
  • Does problem solving assuage that discomfort?
  • Does being “useful” to others make you feel good, give you a sense of worth?
  • Are you inexplicably “drawn” to feeling responsible for any and all problems?
  • Do you feel that every problem you encounter, whether yours or others’ is your burden to carry?
  • What purpose is solving all problems serving for you?

In rushing to find solutions, you may be blocking/bypassing a potent channel for healing that’s present in holding the tension a problem presents. This is often “sitting with discomfort” in therapeutic practice is all about. Or what therapists mean when they say “befriend discomfort”.

Sometimes, sitting with our discomfort, or being able to watch others sit with theirs can be a powerful healing experience. Not all problems need solutions in the way we imagine they do. Simply sitting it out can be medicinal. It is important to develop the capacity to tell the difference.

One good way to do that is to learn to take a beat, to pause and check your intention when drawn to fix a problem. If the choice comes from avoidance, that discomfort will not go away, instead simply find other spaces through which to emerge again.

One year ago: Just 365 days
Two years ago: So comfortable, we live in a bubble
Four years ago: It’s nothing, really

Tarot: Unmet goals and unfulfilled dreams

Aside from the Monday tarot messages, I have sometimes done the one-off card pull mid-week. Either when inspiration strikes, or when I needed the guidance, or if something came up for me that needed to be seen or resolved.

Like these:

  1. On resilience
  2. Thinking and feeling
  3. Loss and betrayal
  4. Middle-ground

I’ve been wondering about doing a card a week (maybe) discussing some common themes that arise in my sessions. Frequently asked questions that most people have on their minds. I’m not sure how frequently I want to do this, especially because in essence they’re only very slightly (barely!) different from the Monday posts. Let’s see how it pans out. Anyway, here’s the first one.

One of the most common situations clients bring to me are unmet goals and unfulfilled dreams. And the idea that something is “blocking” them from becoming reality.

I want to clear the block.

I feel blocked.

No matter what I do, it doesn’t work out.

For many, the healing journey begins with the desire to clear the “blocks” in getting to places or things they aspire to. Because the realisation that the blocks aren’t entirely external and certainly not actual, physical hurdles comes pretty early in the process. The idea that sometimes what’s in the way, blocking us, is we ourselves, can be revelatory.

Healing mostly begins with examining deeply held beliefs about a host of things. What follows inevitably is revisiting experiences that created them. This requires building safety within oneself, a necessary requirement of moving out of old beliefs and into new ones. That itself is the healing process.

It’s how we may find the power us do the work to get out of our own way.

We can then create goals grounded in values that come from the newly-discovered authentic place, values that aren’t borrowed, convenient or fear-based, there is a greater likelihood that we will succeed.

If we are upholding the values drilled into us by our parents, society or what is culturally expected of our gender, for example; or if we’re trying to outdo past experiences of trouble and trauma that our family or past generations may have faced; or if we’re simply caught in aspirations that aren’t aligned with our own true values, we find ourselves working hard but getting nowhere, and feeling unhappy most of the time.

Defining values is step one. Next begins the work to meet those goals. There is no shortcut to this: dedicating energy to consistently examining, realigning and evolving values and beliefs, so that they are relevant and true is so important but often forgotten. This is the constant work of life, birthing values and shaping them into real living things.

Then you’ll see that progress, moving ahead, levelling up is a bit like going around in circles, but definitely upwards. You’ll find yourself revisiting the same essential questions, but with a deeper understanding. Figuring out what values make you tick is just one part. Practicing consistently, the ways to live by them is equally important.

It’s like planting a sapling that requires constant nurturance in the form of water, sunlight and nourishment in order to thrive. This isn’t a one time task. It takes consistently show your values your love. Nourishing them by feeding what they need to come to life.

Nurture your authentic self, give life to your desires, watch your values take root and your goals will definitely blossom.

One year ago: No rain, no rainbow
Two years ago: It’s been a hard day’s night
Four years ago: What my Sunday morning was like

Life around here

Today, I had a full-on domestic day. I mean full-on, from the moment I woke up. Gloating about or feeling like the domesticity is special is so passé because, well it’s been too long now. We decided to do without domestic/household help and we have been at it on our own since April. We have found a rhythm, and we workaround energy ups and downs, lazy spurts and there is division of labour and a method to our madness. Mostly great things have come from this change, and huge realisations of what we actually need to survive, and everything else that is a luxury has made it much easier to cut back on the latter and lean in to the former.

Today’s spurt of full-day domesticity was thanks to a much-delayed pest control treatment. I first realised we needed it in April. But of course there was no pest control to speak of then, and somehow we forgot and pushed it, until it became unbearable. Probably several generations of them had spawned by then and the colonies were obviously overcrowded because the buggers had started venturing out looking like they’re in the midst of an existential crisis, in broad daylight.

Anyhow, so we had to empty out our entire kitchen the night before. The contents of which lay neatly strewn all over my dining table and chairs. The actual treatment involved deep-spraying the kitchen first, then a surface treatment, and spraying some parts of the rest of the home. It’s the worst because the creatures begin to crawl out and die slowly. There’s also chemical residue all over the house, most of all in the kitchen and I didn’t want to put anything back in order in a rush until the house had been ventilated and the stuff had had it’s time to blow off.

Also, VC was out all day in meetings, and I wasn’t going to do this all on my own. So I quarantined myself in my bedroom. And we managed with take out for a full day, eating meals in bed. It felt like the day we had just moved in when there were boxes all around the home, and only our bedroom was liveable.

So today, we had to reset and chores included sweeping up about 300 cockroach carcasses, literally scrubbing the kitchen down with a brush and soap and Dettol water, then wiping it down once again, resetting all my utensils and appliances, and throwing away a shit ton of junk in the process. And then doing the dishes, and getting to the rest of the home that also needed to be sanitised.

We were at it from 8-12. VC did his bit and went on to take some calls and get some work done, while I kept at it, taking the opportunity to spring clean and declutter some stuff that had piled up since our last such overhaul in May. It’s crazy how quickly junk piles up.

So yeah, cleaning and domesticity is really not special anymore. We’re both just found an auto pilot state of mind that helps get things done, around the other stuff we have going on in life, pitching in for each other when one of us is having a flat/busy day. I thank my stars that this has happened at a time when we’re both anyway at home, a lot less interested in being madly busy as we once used to be, and so we have the space and inclination to make this choice. I plan to keep at it until something changes and maybe other interesting things might have our fancy instead.

I even think about too much on a daily basis. Except when I realise that somehow even with being cleaned a lot less than when I had daily house help, the home is cleaner, more organised and feels more lived in. This added domesticity has been a safe haven for me, I’ve said before. And I have frequently turned to the rhythms of keeping a home, cooking our meals, gardening and sprucing things up around the house as a means to stay grounded and in touch.

The gift in all of this has been realising just how much of a homebody I naturally am. I really do thrive in keeping a home. And I mean all the allied parts of keeping a home, not just the part where the home is lovely and nice, but everything that goes into making it so. I have denied this part of myself for a very long time, even when I’ve had phases where I have dipped in and out of it many times over.

Today was that kind of day. Come down from the skies, land your feet on the ground, remember where you are kind of days. I have been floating off in an overly emotional space for several weeks now, processing many things, and generally having my mind and body a bit hijacked by it all. A full day of domesticity always gets the old gears moving back how they used to.

Somehow, the big reset moments in my mind, when I return from having gone full circle, moments that feel like inflection points of transformation, like washing out the interiors of my brain in anticipation of something new — these phases are always marked by a day or two of real-life cleaning around me. My nesting tendencies peak, I get very eager to throw out junk, strip down our lives and minimize the clutter, make our living spaces warm and comforting. It’s all very metaphoric for the inner process too, and I don’t ever take that coincidence for granted.

There have been some important and big shifts happening for me internally. But for the last couple of weeks, I was in some sort of limbo. Like I said yesterday, at a threshold of pain — having walked through the door but not yet fulling moving in, rather still tempted to bolt back out the door. But that is slowly changing. Slowly. And days like this are balm for that state of mind.

Earlier in the week I did a good load of garden sprucing up too. Watching how the old is making way for the new there too. Schefflera doesn’t sprout new leaves on a regular cycle like say, my syngonium or monstera. And I haven’t quite figured out the cycles on the schefflera as yet. But that morning, I realised somehow it’s time. The old is on its way out, the new is blooming and beaming out, making itself seen.

It’s hard not to see the parallels and feel very reaffirmed and assured by it all. Like seeing 11:11 again and again — something that never happens or happened to me.

Until this week. When it happened three times.

So yeah. Things are stirring.

***

Post title inspired shamelessly lifter from one of my favourite James Blake tracks, in collaboration with one of my favourite rappers — Chance.

Here, have a listen.

One year ago: Love actually
Two years ago: I want to thank you for giving me the best days of my life

On pain

If you’ve been reading this blog frequently recently, you’d know I had something of a “growth spurt” lately. And like in the physical realm, this kind of a spurt comes with “growing pains”. Literal aches and discomfort from having to stretch in ways that are new and unfamiliar.

Even those of us who have been doing this for years now, continue to be stretched when crucial moments of spiritual growth present themselves. So I always find it a bit odd when people look surprised to see me in a “bad place” and ask some version of “But you should know better!” or “You’re familiar with this!

My self work has been mostly about meeting myself. And working on your emotional self is quite working out your physical body. You’ll address different parts on different days/phases. You’ll try out different styles and techniques that work for you. You’ll work out a pace that you’re comfortable with. And the goal is to always push your limits a little. Allow those muscles to flex, tear, repair, build back.

So in this pursuit of understanding myself in a deeper way, I’ve realised more and more that this cannot be about the self I believe I am, or the self I think I want to be, or the self that others think I am.

It has to be me, just as I am.

As simplistic as that may sound, let me assure you it is not. Forget the personas and masks we wear for the outside word, for a second. In all the years of exploring this, the most astounding discoveries have been the masks I have been wearing for myself. The ways in which I deftly hide parts of myself, from myself. The lies I so desperately want to believe about myself. The notions and aspirations I hold, against all odds, even knowing full well that they’re not coming from the truest space of who I am.

And so, this work of meeting myself continues to be challenging. I am in the thick of one such spurt. Where I am opening up a part of me that has been largely hidden away even from myself for the greater part of my adult life.

I am in the process of meeting that part again, acknowledging the pain it is bringing to the surface and understanding hat this is the very reason I have kept it hidden away — it’s too fucking painful to revisit.

Pain is scary. The fear of it has kept me away from going there. It has kept me away from growth. And away from myself.

However, there is a lot to be said about how years of healing does add up. I have known this, but am experiencing it first-hand now. The very same pain now feels manageable, even though it is no less intense. This is my work paying off.

This is like dreading doing push-ups for years, working through the pain of it, training in the smaller movements and building muscles that can assist the larger movement. And suddenly one day realising you can do a full push up. It’ll still painful, but you’ve trained yourself to take the pain as a part of the process.

I feel not just ready, but willing to do this. It feels not just necessary, but pressing to do this now. Because here’s the thing. Difficult experiences make us cold, and close up. Healing makes us thaw, and allows expansion. In my work, and in myself, I see how unhealed pain makes us choose resilience, at a cost. Healing that pain offers the valuable experience of tenderness. And tenderness has, in my experience, 100% proven to be the way to grow and find love.

So here I am. Having crossed the threshold of this very dark place, still hanging out at the door. The urge to turn around and bolt is strong everyday. But with a little help and some ground practices in my everyday life, I am able to stay.

The thing that prompted this, this time around, is the active need for a better tomorrow, not just for me, but the community around me, the kind of work I lend to it, and the way in which I live as a part of humanity. And something inside of me has been nudging on, telling me that hate and hardness, by itself, in a pure, misdirected way, is not going to be useful.

New beginnings require love. And that requires healing.

My therapeutic journey has so far been quite focused on “moving on”. That is also training, that tells me healing itself is an act of fixing something that’s broken. For nearly two years, as I was training to be a practitioner in Family Constellations, I have been familiar with the broader concept of meeting myself as I am, and coming into agreement with my life as it is. I have uttered these words with heartfelt intention at least a hundred times by now. But I feel pushed to embody them in a way that requires acknowledging certain truths of my own life now.

Coming to terms with myself just the way I am. Requires owning up to the painful experiences that have shaped me too.

This is no longer just about therapy or healing. It has become important to do this as a professional in the line of work I now operate in, but more urgently as a person in this world. So I can understand myself better, my traumas and my experiences, that shape my beliefs, my prejudices, my biases, my capacity to connect with other humans, and understand where they may be coming from. Even if they’re at the diametric opposite end of the spectrum from where I am.

So much of what we are taught is about “moving on” is focused on getting better, manning up, holding up. All of this inherently involves suppressing pain. And it makes us lose touch with the sides of ourselves that aren’t able to do these things so often.

As I realised last week in therapy, many times when we have been through a traumatic event, we don’t want to move on. In a single session I felt a lifetime of moments of wanting to grieve. Wanting to cry. Wanting to feel the pain of what had happened. But my training didn’t allow it. And a lifetime of not allowing that, and only looking at resilience as a measure of health, has meant not knowing the ways in which I am in fact still broken.

Being broken has never been favourable place to be. Fixed, is always the aspiration. But even healing requires being broken for some time.

In that single session I suddenly came into contact with the part of me that still hurts from all those experiences. Like a wound scratched open, still feeling a world of pain.

A person in pain, in touch with that pain, cannot man up, or move on. We may find ways to cope and function so that life doesn’t come to a halt, but how often do we revisit that pain and process it? How often do we go back and heal it, so it can move through us in a healthy way? So that it doesn’t fester and create dynamics within and around us, affecting how we are as human beings, how we relate to other human beings, and how it manifests in our beliefs and actions?

But more importantly, how can I heal a wound I am not willing to pull the bandaid off of, and let breathe? How can I heal unless I look at the wound and really feel all of the pain first? It’s taking a lot of empathy, compassion and caring for myself at the moment. Something I still struggle to extend to myself to the degree necessary in moments like this. But I am getting there.

The only way out of the pain, is through it.

One year ago: Shine
Two years ago: When you wake up in the evening and the day is shot

On fear

I wrote a kind of follow-up to the Monday Tarot Message from this week, on Instagram today. Also because I have been thinking about this for myself lately. Having stepped once again, but deeper this time, into trauma territory at therapy, I am revisiting and contending literal traumatic experiences from my past and renegotiating fear all over again.

Rewiring fear responses is by no means an easy task, but it takes active work. And I’m seeing how much readiness it takes to build before actually jumping in. I feel as if I have been only readying the soil all these years, for the work I am about to begin.

Anyhow, so fear has been on my mind a lot. Especially in context to Monday’s post about going within, finding the truth. The core of the self that gets hidden under layer upon layer of pretension as life chugs on. And I have been thinking about why we hide.

The training to hide who we really are and what we really feel, is built as a protective response to fear. It kicks in from early experiences of feeling unsure of how we will be received, from fear of causing or being hurt by showing ourselves, worrying that we may be too much for our loved ones to bear, and that being ourselves may cause them to leave or be displeased. And so we hide by creating a persona, a version of ourselves that keeps some facets under wraps and portrays only what we have learned is needed or “good”.

Often, hiding manifests as:

  • the inability to say no. Or saying yes, when you really mean no
  • the belief that anger is dangerous and should be suppressed/allowed to simmer
  • wanting to always be the bigger, emotionally mature person when facing conflict/confrontation
  • a desire to be always affable and liked by one and all
  • being everybody’s problem solver
  • living a dual life
  • difficulty in holding a contrarian belief

All of the above involve minimising a truer, more instinctive response, in favour of a more palatable one. Habitually choosing a polite falsity else over the truth takes us further and further away from what we know to be true. Further away from ourselves. Until we begin to feel like a mere shadow of ourselves.

So what is the process of “going within”? Healing, essentially. Revisiting and understanding what caused the hiding to begin with. Working with a professional, finding a support system and building a safety net that allows you to be your true self requires renegotiating those experiences so they may be revealed, healed and integrated.

This is how we can begin to overcome those hardcoded fears and get in touch with our authenticity once again. This helps expand space for healing, growth, and finding safe fulfilling connection. And that can be like finding life, coming alive, again.

I said in the post on Monday: “What we go searching for in the world around — belonging, validation, to be seen or heard, love or acceptance, surety  — inevitably brings us back to that self that lies beneath personas.” It is only by working with and healing that which we kept hidden, because we believed it is not worthy of being seen heard and loved, that we may begin to see just how worthy we actually are.

***

In October last year, nestled under a thick woollen blanket in a log cabin in Manali, I guzzled Calrine Myss’ Sacred Contracts, in which she says:

I am convinced that the deepest desire within each of us is to be liberated from the controlling influences of our own psychic madness or patterns of fear. All other things—the disdain of ordinary life, the need to control others rather than be controlled, the craving for material goods as a means of security and protection against the winds of chaos—are external props that serve as substitutes for the real battle, which is the one waged within the individual soul.

And I’ve come to realise, especially through my work recently, that this battle is universal. Every single human being is fighting it, just in different levels of intensity, with different stakes at hand.

Myss also makes an interesting comment on the idea of fate. In context to fear, she says the notion of fate as an uncontrollable sequence of events that just unfolds is a convenient one to believe in, when you let fear determine your choices. While destiny may have a role to play in how life is revealed, playing an active part in confronting fears is the way to make conscious, eyes-wide-open choices that are in alignment with our desires and aspirations.

They’re called conscious choices for a reason.

The biggest reason to ignore or dim our intuition in choice-making is fear. Our early experiences, where perhaps we were made to believe that who we authentically are, will not work out, definitely trains us to keep from letting that true self take the drivers seat again.

We are afraid of what intuitively living might do to those around us. But years and years of living from that dimmed space also makes us afraid of who we can truly be. We become afraid of the results of what living from a space of authenticity might bring. We fear the chance of change it offers.

Today, I had an epiphany. A distinct sense that I have moved from a space where I have been afraid of my own power coming to fruition, to now feeling very, very ready to welcome it.

This is to say I am fearless or that I’ve cracked the code and I get it right all the time. Or even that my life is a smooth set of consecutive intuitively-guided clear steps in the right direction.

I’m just expressing how liberating it has been to slowly shed my fear of uncertainty a little by little. Letting go of the fear of being seen in a certain light, as a certain kind of person, has allowed me to look at my life’s past experiences in a much richer manner.

Letting go, slowly, of this fear has opened up my present life to experiences I didn’t know I could have or enjoy. It has shined the light in relationships in my life and shown me which ones are probably likely to last longer than others. It has brought joy, lightness and agility to my life. I am able to move freely. I feel flexible and spontaneous.

It has made me seek learning and be okay with getting it wrong a lot. It’s taught me vulnerability and what it is to relinquish the notion of control I thought I had and needed. It’s helped me understand my need for perfection, and relax it.

It’s shown me the power of surrender, in the face or chaos and confusion. It’s taught me to slow down and find presence and breath. It’s brought me back home to my body. It’s made me acutely aware of the messes in my life, the emptiness, the discomfort, the loneliness, the hurt, the brokenness that I feel a lot of the time.

It has shown me that I can let it all be there. Without losing my power to, or because of, it. So today, if I were to define what fearlessness is, it’s not so much about the absence of fear. But the capacity to understand the space that fear occupies and where it comes from. It’s the ability to accept that fear has a place at the table too.

And it’s true, giving fear a place at the table, is life-giving. Contrary to everything I believed, that made me fearful to begin with, welcoming fear has made it lose its power over me.

One year ago: Slowly
Four years ago: Manifesting a dream

Things I miss

I’m officially maxed out on the home workouts. I’ve exhausted my entire source of inspiration/motivation — within, and online — and I just miss the gym.

I miss running far. I miss lifting heavy weights. I miss mixing things up.

I realised on the weekend that because I’ve only been doing hard cardio and interval training, and absolutely no stretch and conditioning, I have gotten lean some, but I have lost significant amounts of strength.

My legs and core feel much stronger. Probably stronger than when I was regular at the gym. I see this in how easily I am doing things I dreaded even at the beginning of the lockdown when I began working out at home. Like burpees, like mountain climbers, like knee tucks. Easy-peasy and I have gradually built up my reps.

But, I can no longer do a push-up. I was never good at them to begin with, but the weight training and conditioning at the gym helped me stay in touch. I can’t even sustain a plank for as long as I used to. I feel a definite loss of upper body (arms and shoulder) strength. This, I feel in just lifting regular shit. Like groceries. And water cans.

And I feel sad about that.

This whole loosening the grip on exercise — rather the grip the need to exercise had on me — and shifting the focus from cosmetic and appearance-based outcomes, to performance and health has been good for how I am able to go with the flow, it has meant getting in touch with the true nature of my energy. Which is not uniform. Neither is my motivation. It made me realise that all these years of regular exercise was only sustained because I had an unnatural standard that required going against the grain of my intuitive energy, my instinct, to make myself do it.

It’s interesting that at one time I was naive enough to consider some years in Goa, when I surrounded myself with a lot of fit, badass women, to be my fittest. Because I worked out super hard, six days a week. And didn’t see even half the results I have seen after I relaxed and found my own rhythm. It was terrible for my mental health and sense of self. The ideals and notions of fitness I absorbed weren’t the best.

Now, I take days off when I need to. I eat with balance. I have found what works for me by listening to my body. Most importantly, I allow myself to fall off the bandwagon. And somehow I am leaner and healthier than I have ever been. Even more than when I went on a massive shred.

I find different ways to exercise, because I have realised I need a new form every 5-6 months. Accepting all this has made a huge difference to where I am mentally. Because it means I have had to come to love the natural ups and downs that come with it. The jumping off and on the bandwagon when it happens naturally. Being okay with the effects that has and how it shows in my body. Managing the health implications of it all.

And being in agreement with that.

Because whatever I was seeking from working out the way I did, is now being fulfilled elsewhere. In a healthy way. And I feel more in tune with myself, with what my body needs in order for it to work for me, as a result.

I am at home in my body.

I feel like we are allies, where earlier I had to hack my body and be at war with it, beat it to shape ad make it do things I couldn’t do.

That same intuition is what tells me now that I am done with working out at home. I need a treadmill. And a rack of weights.

Two years ago: What good is it to live, with nothing left to give
Four years ago: About home

Monday Tarot Message: Go within, embrace your truth

Two of Swords is usually a cautionary card, symbolising defensiveness, or fear, or shutting down or being unable to see things for what they are.

Today, it speaks differently. Of an invitation to take the time to go within. To pull away from distractions (lies) in the outer world that keep us away from what is within. To dig deep into the joys and pain of our truth.

And this is quite honestly a stark, strong message for me, first. It’s amazing how this happens so often — I get a pertinent message most apt for what I am going through. As I am noticing and surveying the ways in which I move forward, I am reminded today that sometimes that necessary movement is to go within. Even if it is to a dark place that is has been potentially scary. It feels like I can do it this time around.

***

Truth here, is about instinct. A raw, primal inner sense. Intuition. The voice of that inner self. This is about allowing that self to guide us. To lean in to what we know to be true, but we let slide because of logic, cognitive biases, worry about perceptions and how we will be received. We can get intimate with that intuitive sense only when we befriend all of ourselves with nakedness, dropping facades and lofty aspirations we may have held. Coming to terms with ourselves just the way we are. Culling away outer layers and meeting what lies within and cultivating a deep trust with that self.

What we go searching for in the world around — belonging, validation, to be seen or heard, love or acceptance, surety  — inevitably brings us back to that self that lies beneath personas. Finding true alignment requires truth-telling. Owning up to our experiences, our stories, our vulnerabilities and all that has shaped us.

Allowing ourselves to be led by instinct, brings truthfulness in the way we conduct ourselves in the world too. Thoughts and feelings become unfiltered. Communication becomes precise. And telling the truth, about the smallest things, becomes natural, no matter what the outcome. Like others potentially leaving us, or their reactions that could be difficult to stomach, or steering into unfamiliar territory. But because this inward journey helps build a commitment to ourselves cemented in our truth, we may not waver.

What truth do you have hidden inside of you that want to embrace? How can you forge a commitment with yourself? Know that doing this means you will have your back in a way that nobody else in the world will.

One year ago: AWOL
Two years ago: You haven’t felt the fire
Four years ago: How many ways?

Rudimentary thoughts on Instagram

In the silent moments of the last few days, I’ve been introspecting about what I really get from social media. After having been completely off all forms, and a pretty strictly enforced daily 12-hour Whatsapp downtime for three years, this year I returned to Instagram. Purely for the sake of work. And it has been a useful and good way to step out into the world again. However, covid times, the lockdown and consequent see-sawing of my mental health has inevitably landed me back to the place where I spend an inordinate amount of time on Instagram. It is still within my daily 1 hour limit, but the fact that it feels like a lot and definitely adds a lot of unnecessary chatter in my mind has made me want to step back and question it a little bit

Some changes are necessary and in order, I think.

And once again it has brought me back to the realisation I had in 2017. That what social media inherently demands and draws us into — certain primal needs and patterns of wanting to be seen, heard and patted on the back — is totally at loggerheads with what I am trying to attain in my personal, emotional, inner exploration.

On the one hand, my therapeutic journey takes me closer and closer to placed where I have to examine the ways in which I curate my identity, how I make facets of myself palatable for the world, and what that costs me. Then, I have to work bloody hard to confront and undo them. And on the other hand, on a daily basis, my existence on Instagram needs me to “build an image”. A certain kind of image, whether unidimensional or not, serves to make myself palatable.

The two states are diametric and opposing ends of the spectrum. One requires me to make a habit of taking myself less seriously, be open to seeing the ways in which I can mess up, open up to the dark sides within me, the problematic shitty parts and get intimate with them, even. And the other requires me to keep those very sides hidden, projecting an image of being a sorted, mature, together person.

These days, as I contend more and more with the many ways in which I can be problematic, with notions and opinions that I sometimes find unbearable myself, I feel more ready to allow a softening to accept how much I am yet to understand, as well as the fact that none of my opinions should probably ever really be cast in stone. Because that is a fine way to kill potential for change and growth.

My politics have changed drastically over the years that I spent off social media. And the biggest gift of those years was that I didn’t feel the need to cling to any one side on anything. Being offline really taught me that I didn’t need to immediately (or ever) have a strong opinion on anything. That there were many things I didn’t even have to lend my voice to. That there were many things I was better off learning quietly, observing, reading, imbibing and not necessarily offering up proof of that anywhere.

I discovered the beautiful middle ground that gave me so much room for exploration and constant growth and WIP. Ascension. Of understanding that there is no singular truth, that everybody has their version of it and everyone has their right to believe wholeheartedly in it.

There is simply no space for this on Instagram, the way I see it. I find it impossible to inhabit that middle ground I feel within myself, online. Or at least I have not found a way to. I find most things I see on Instagram are either too shrill, fixed, polarised, and just way too sure, or I find a rather dilute idea of vulnerability that is in itself a performance towards building an image.

I am seeking a soft space where I can combine the self-assured comfort of vulnerability I feel within myself, but also find in myself sufficient self-consciousness to also put that out into the world, even as a part of the work I do.

Many things about the platform have changed since I quit in 2017, but fundamentally many things remain. I am honestly confused about the place it has in my life. I knew this day would come soon. And here I am.

I know what I enjoy about it, and I see what purpose it serves. But I also sense that I need to course correct my usage to suit my current headspace. I will continue to share weekly readings, words of inspiration and direction, and try and abstain from the rest that was spilling over into my stories. This is the draw. The lure of having to constantly show (not internalise, not imbibe, not quietly do the work) of how much I know, where I stand on issues, and how I feel about everything at large.

In my inner world I have been working hard to get closer and closer to knowing myself in a quiet, unshakeable way. A process that comes with nearly zero adulation. I was getting very comfortable with that necessary work and doing it anyway. And in the last few months of rampant Instagram use during the lockdown, I have felt it slowly slip away.

I find that in offering little bits of my soul, in this way, up for strangers to make assessments of me, I get slowly drawn into the cycle of forgetting who you am and waiting to hear and feel what others think I am.

I want to slowly move back to a place where I know and love myself just the way I am, in whatever condition I am. Falling apart or put together. I want to focus once again on what’s happening within, than the noise without. I want to return to honesty in the way that I was, before I got lured into this dance of making an image to make the numbers count.

Many more thoughts about Instagram, the Internet, and our personal stories are thrashing around in my head and I will unpack them slowly over the coming days.

Two years ago: Stay and stay a while
Four years ago: Into the blue