Be water, my friend

Clearly, there’s a theme emerging this week.

And I love it when this happens — all roads pointing to affirming one thing, one message. Reinforcing something new that has just fount its way to me.

Two years ago: My heart is abloom
Three years ago: Joyful
Four years ago: Off the saddle

 

Wanderlost?

The promise of a getaway looms. And it got me thinking of the last time we traveled. It was at the end of last year, which honestly feels like it only just passed us by.

I think wistfully of the amount of travel I had the privilege of last year. Thinking of the ease with which I made umpteen, nearly monthly, visits to Goa, four mini holidays across the year three of which were in the last three months of 2019, I can’t help but feel what a distant reality that now seems like. Forget travel, even a trip to one of the city’s favourite bars to get a drink seems remote right now.

How and when will we go again? Move, travel, spread ourselves in corners of the world.

And what will become of the idea of travel itself?

Where will we go to quench our neverending desire to explore, photograph, exploit, destroy, flaunt the miles to which our restless feet and beings will take us?

How will the industries that stem from this need of ours transform, and how quickly? What will it mean for travellers like us?

I have a special dislike for what’s become of the word wanderlust. But today I think wanderlost, might be a modification I am willing to allow.

One year ago: Plain joy
Two years ago: Shine a little light on me

We’re going through changes

So it’s not just me. The Economist has this amazing piece on how Covid has changed lifestyles significantly. It’s safe to say this is not a mere passing trend, but change from within that is here to stay for a while longer than just the next fad. It was very comforting to read how the world over, we have turned to cooking, cleaning, DIY and home-making, craft and arts, gardening, pottery, baking, embroidery and knitting and the like to find some semblance of peace amidst the chaos, and our centres in the face of being thrown off kilter completely.

I realise that this too is global. Not just the destruction and chaos of the pandemic, but also the troubling churn that is also an opportunity for transformation that it is offered us all.

This impetus to find different ways to be has been triggered within us all partly from realising how undependable the current ways of the world are. How fragile and illusionary they are, how little support they offer. And most importantly, the gaping holes of inequity that have been exposed.

We were never meant to slave away like cogs in a relentless capitalist wheel in the way that we do. Running on the hamster wheel endlessly, chasing after one milestone after another, like mirages in a vast, desolate desert. But we were willing to cash in on whatever it offered, in the belief that it will somehow remain forever. This was the road to happiness. But how quickly all of that went to shit. And how quickly the discomfort struck each and every one of us, in some manner or another.

I wonder if the changes I am seeing — and I truly am seeing them in folks around me — are in a small manner coming from an awakening. A slow, slow return to the certain primal ways we were meant to exist in. Working with our hands, nourishing ourselves, finding pockets of rest, looking for joy in things other than making a living, doing the things that matter to our lives first, before feeding corporations became the only means to making a living.

Thinking about living and life first, and allowing the means to organically emerge from there. Rather than retrofitting the means to a living, to the kind of life we are then saddled with.

In my own space, I know that the slow down that this has caused has permeated more than just the pace at which I function. I have been more observant, more aware, I feel more in-tune with the world around me, I feel fiercely about certain tenets I now want to live my life by, I see the ways in which my internal and external worlds echo and mirror each other, and therefore the need to find balance, moderation and sustainability.

This didn’t just come out of nowhere. It came from getting down to the basics again. From literally getting down on my hands and knees to clean my home, chop veggies, grow plants, dig the soil, water fresh blooms, wash my loos, clean the dustbin, mindfully stock and store groceries amongst other things.

It made it impossible not to observing keenly what it takes to live life, and what (and how much!) I lost from dissociating from the acts of basic living completely. In outsourcing, I severed that connection to the very hands-on acts of living life. Putting food on the table, keeping a hygienic home, being curious about how much I consume.

Somehow, this made me aware of the plurality of life around me. The diversity in resources. And the pressing need to bring back balance to our relationship with it all. Watching nature, whether in my little balcony garden, or at the vegetable and fruit vendor, or in the millions of thought bombs I have read about these things (because everybody is talking about it now more than ever), has really made me realise the need to pause. Pause before I act.

Now that I am back to running outdoors, I catch myself literally watching, observing, looking up at the trees more, noticing blooms, catching unlight speckling through the leaves, smiling to see flocks of parakeets rushing from tree to tree, finding joy in withered, yellowed trees as much as lush, verdant ones. Watching, seeing keenly has shown me what natural resilience looks like.

Isn’t it amazing how it is the trees, birds, water, animals and insects that are thriving in the middle of a pandemic, while we are perishing faster than we can keep track of. We’re cowering into the corners of our homes, shrouded in masks and scarves to keep safe, while something else, something outdoor, stronger and more resilient than us is enduring.

There are lessons in survival in natural cycles. In balance and organic timing. In patience and timely growth.

The more I notice and become aware of these things, in the quiet moments when I am catching chai on the balcony, or running in the park, or simply watering my plants for the day, the more it percolates in some way into my life, my actions, my habits, my beliefs.

I cant unsee the glaring evidence that balance fuels survival, harmony breeds joy, equity births prosperity. So, in my own little way, working with my hands and doing the work has been an attempt at bringing balance back into our lives. A practice in adopting a more benevolent attitude, a slower rhythm that runs in respectful pace alongside my world, not trying to always get ahead.

And it is also impossible to ignore the joy that has come from it. You’ll know by now how much being involved in gardening has been the mirror I held up to my own internal processes. The clarity in thought, the ability to hold the murky days, keeping my head up even when inside I am going under, finding space to hold the sadness and pain that has come from all of this, working with a focus on what I want to do and why the work is important to me — I believe it is a function of returning to who I am. All thanks to stripping down to the bare necessities, and surprisingly finding inexplicable satisfaction in doing mundane chores.

The tide is turning.

***

Post title lifted from old favourite song that has an apt sounding line, but in totality has absolutely nothing to do with this post.

One year ago: Gratitude fix
Two years ago: August

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

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

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

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

Go dark, go deep

It’s been hard to function optimally today. Just one of those days when the news feels heavier to take than I anticipated. Even though I haven’t looked at it much, the idea of what’s happening in the country today is giving me a physical reaction. An experience in my body that I have no words to explain.

I have had a busy few days. Lots of demands on my time but it’s been difficult to stay on top of things and accomplish any of it. My body keeps slowing me down and asking for pause. Perhaps to listen? To pay attention to what I’m feeling? And when I give in and pause, like I did today, I have been overwhelmed to the point of just wanting to lie down.

Today I feel heavy with accumulated grief. And broken, from the pain of this land I’m supposed to belong to. I feel disconnected within.

I was flabbergasted and simultaneously pacified when I found this today, trying to read up on Jung’s work around the divine feminine and the deep shadow. Flabbergasted because it’s resonates what I expressed in my post yesterday. Pacified because it makes sense.

I know that collectively working in the depths of the shadow is not a possibility. Not with the levels of hubris our leadership displays and emboldens in our people. The kind of bigness that leads us to believe we are the self-proclaimed benefactors of an imaginary God? When did we get so omnipotent? More than the divine source, protector of all life itself?

Is anyone else having a hard time processing this reality? This grotesque celebration of what is essentially the demolition of peace and hope, in the name of a building a structure that literally has no roots in reality, and exists on a purely mythological context? This ugly statement-making, evil message-sending like rubbing salt in still unhealed wounds, that is doing this on a day that marks the abrogation of 370?

How is this even happening?

I feel like the lights are turning off slowly. We’re going dark. I just hope some part of this means we’re going deep. Deeper into the shadow because I believe that is the only place from which the real new days, better days, hopeful days and peaceful days may emerge.

If I am being honest, I don’t feel as hopeful and optimistic today, as I’m trying to be.

I just hope I can be proven wrong and that we live to see a better day. To celebrate them in a better way. Laying the foundation stones on a legacy of hate and fascism, is not something I thought I’d see in my adulthood. And it doesn’t give me much reason to believe either.

One year ago: Content
Two years ago: Hold on to this feeling, when dreaming of leaving
Three years ago: Book ends
Four years ago: Stack overflow

Broken

I’ve spent the day feeling a bit heavy and sad about hitting the one year mark since 370 was abrogated. Thinking about how even one year down things are far from hreturned to normalcy, but slipped further into chaos, actually makes my eyes well up. That it is all just shrouded in silence, an entire state silenced, forgotten brings up so much grief for me. It hurts deeply, somehow.

I went for a long walk this evening. It wasn’t planned. But I needed the quiet and the time to be by myself and to just let my thoughts flow as the tears did.

I don’t know where we are going as a nation. This thought is not just troubling but very unsettling. I think of myself and how little time I feel I have, and wonder if I should be wasting it away in a country I no longer feel is my own.

The desire to leave and find elsewhere is real. Sure, every country on the planet has issues today, but I can think of at least a dozen where I feel safe, on the basis of my priorities in life at the moment.

I watched some videos of Shaheen Bagh today, feeling terrible that I didn’t make it there to witness it in person when I could. I cried watching the women, smiles on their faces, using their bodies to resist. How long will women continue to be the most vulnerable? How long will women have to stand in revolt, starting with our own bodies, within our own homes and further out into our streets and cities and lands beyond?

I know a fearless state is potentially nonexistent. I don’t know if I can ever be completely devoid of fear, but I like to dream of a land where these basic fears won’t chase me. A fear of speaking my mind, because I think differently. Fear of believing in things opposed to that of the status quo, the majority. The fear of looking, living and feeling differently from what “I’m supposed to feel”.

Fear of carrying my life around in a woman’s body. Fear of not conforming. Fear of letting too much show, having said too much, or feeling too much. A very real fear of never being able to live unguarded — physically, emotionally.

***

This is the reality we live in. The country is being ripped to shreds in every way possible. If you’re tuned into the news, you’ll know in how many, many, many ways. So many ways, it hurts. So many, many ways, it feels impossible to even think about how we’ll begin to make amends. It feels like an attack, and it feels very, very personal. Even I in my privileged bubble, feel afraid. And I feel rage. And I feel helplessness.

 ***

Most of us live in constant conflict with our shadow selves, whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s that deep dark place that holds all our vulnerabilities, our triggers, our fears and shame safe from being out in the open for all to see. And so we live in a way that denies its very existence. But that only amplifies and strengthens it. That which is kept under wraps, finds all kinds of ways to surface and be seen. And I think this is what is happening in this country. Generations of keeping our hypocrisies, our chasms and the fault lines of our sick, sick culture under wraps is what has brought us to this point in history where our shadow side as a nation is on full display.

As with any churn, a deep unsettlement ensues, bringing up both the sweet and sick, the benevolent and maleficent, the good and evil in (un)equal measure. In my personal journey, I have seen how working to excavate my sense of wholeness or personhood has required me to sit with my shadow. The dark spaces that hold these not so pleasant parts of me. And I wonder if as a nation this is our time of reckoning. To sit with the ugliness, call it what it is, not wish it away, not side step it, but sit right with it, name it and wait for the great churn to complete its tide.

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is this. There is no getting to wellness without discomfort. Similarly, there is no getting to healing and wholeness, without first experiencing the many ways in which we are in fact broken.

On the eve of the day that marks a year since we snuffed out an entire state, erasing very specifically the experiences of millions of a certain community; on the eve of a day when this country will celebrate the inauguration of a temple whose very foundation is steeped in carnage; I feel broken today.

I feel broken.

Four years ago: So green

On the cost of domesticity

Pulling out this post I wrote in mid-April, but never finished. It is so interesting for me to see that even between April and now, how much has changed in not just my thoughts around productivity, but the way my life is moving in an alternative way to make space for sloth, rest, repose and rejuvenation.

This is just a disclaimer to say the content still holds, but the feelings are not current.

***

One of the scripts in my family is high worth attached to high productivity, efficiency, being a woman who is a go-getter and always on top of everything. It’s a great motivator, but also a subtle killer in the long run, I’ve discovered. Productivity across the board — from applauding efficient women who run their homes and hold down jobs, hailing devoted mothers who put their families needs above their own as “good”, to admiring outward focused woman committed to “serving” others (even at great personal cost) who have the ability to just give give and give, and take on some more, even when their plates are full — is greatly admired, coveted and covertly sold as the benchmark to aspire for. These are traits that are held up as hallmarks of being good women worth emulating, worth noticing, worth embracing. So obviously, women committed to themselves aren’t looked upon very kindly.

The last few weeks have felt like an infinite loop of housework, cooking, cleaning, planning, and managing work in the pockets I can find, while also culling out some downtime right before bed. It’s made me think a lot about how first of all so much of this is assumed to be the woman’s department. Even while VC has taken over the dishes, helps by dusting while I clean, gets into the cooking, does laundry, and waters the plants etc, I find myself instinctively still reaching over and above and trying to either assist him, or offering to do his share too. He’s tired of telling me that his attempts to help me are futile if I help him back.

I stopped myself in my tracks the other — wondering why this is so hardcoded in me? And I know part of it this early and deep lesson in equating my worth with my productivity, makes it very hard, almost impossible, to gracefully and thankfully take help. And over time it has made living up to my own ridiculous standards hard enough, but also terribly run down every effort and willingness on VC’s part towards being an equal part of this home.

I only woke up to this harsh realisation sometime last year, that this is not only a sorry state of affairs, but a huge disrespect to him. So even as I have been reworking my beliefs around not equating my worth does to how useful, productive or desirable I am, it is extremely hard to stay on track.

In the constant cycle of domesticity that has consumed us these past few weeks, I see how much of a struggle it has been to cull away time for myself. Even if it is to just lie back and stare at the ceiling. There always seems to be something more urgent that needs my attention. I’ve not had as much time as I’d like to sit down and write my blog posts in peace, for example. Writing time is pushed further every day and sometimes I write out a rushed post just before bedtime. I’ve been reading and important book about money with S, convening over video calls to discuss, but after a good beginning we haven’t made any progress in the last 10 days. I usually spend a significant amount of time thinking about my Monday tarot posts, but since the lockdown they’ve been all but hurried posts banged out in the nick of time. There’s a book for my course that I need to finish, and I haven’t even gotten around to starting it. This is the stuff that creatively nourishes me. The stuff I’d happily be doing when I have outsourced the house work.

It got me to thinking about how my mother did it all. How much she put aside to tend to us kids, keep our homes and family afloat and happy. And my mother was extraaaaa. We’ve had a full childhood with a lot of hands-on family time, picnics and holidays and activities and time spent together. Very focused, dedicated, active, deliberate togetherness, that must have taken a lot of emotional and physical energy to keep at. My sister and I were challenging in our own ways, and I know we kept our parents, but more my mother, on our toes at various phases of our growing up years. I don’t actually remember a single phase where my mother wasn’t quick to respond though. To get on her problem solving, troubleshooting, go-getter hat on to fix whatever it is that needed fixing, or soothe us, feed us, cuddle us, and do whatever it took.

And it got me to thinking about what the colossal creative cost of that might have been. Especially for a professional vocalist like her.

I wondered about how much talent, creativity and potential we’ve quietly snuffed over generations by channeling energy towards chores, family and the like. For generations before that didn’t have the luxury and privilege of outsourcing as much of it as I do, it must have ben 100x worse. Sure, it made women be creative about their domesticity, and many have rocked playing that role to the T. But I think of my own mother who was clear she wanted to focus on her family, and put her career as a musician and vocalist aside till we were old enough to go off on our own. I wonder what the emotional cost of that has been. If she was frustrated from it back then, she never let it show. Or I was too young to know. And now, as an adult woman navigating the age by which she had two children to care for, I can no longer deny that cost.

But from a few weeks of having to fight for my time, sometimes feeling resentful that there seems to be so little of it these days, I’ve been asking myself, how many more would women be able to dig into themselves and the depths of their spirits and creativity, if they didn’t have homes and families to tend to? How many more successful artists would we have?

And of course, it all comes back to this oft-asked and long-unanswered question: can creative lives thrive and flourish around the central axis of families that need feeding and children that need caring and homes that need looking after? Sure, they can co-exist. I am a product of such an environment. But can they thrive? I can’t help but wonder how much more art and music and poetry and writing and cooking and whatever else we might have had access to, if women weren’t taught early not to hinge their worth and likability with domestic productivity. I cant hep but wonder how much easier it would be for girls and women thereon to then go find themselves, scratch all their passions and be their whole selves minus the angst of having waited a minimum 30 years to get to the realisation that there was something more to life that they’re missing out on.

I believe that one of the common traits successful women artists have is the ability to shake off criticism around caring for themselves. And maybe at some level it is giving up the urge to be liked in the way that society, their families, the world at large would like them to be. Maybe it is about knowing so deeply what they are made of and what is important, life-giving, and non-negotiable for them to survive, that they would not give it up for the world.

That notion of what’s likeable, it’s beyond old and tired now. I realised many days into cleaning up that the thrill of being efficient, having a schedule, having things so much cleaner than before, doing it all was so old and so boring. And when the day came when I was feeling depleted and quite drained from not having done a satisfying amount of anything nourishing for myself, I felt a smidgen of that cost I keep talking about. The price women pay. The cost of doing it all.

And I don’t know if it’s worth it. I realised that I was actually quite okay to have a slightly dusty home for two days in a row if it meant I can catch up on reading. It quickly became okay to eat Maggi for dinner, and let some veggies go to waste now and then to just not enter the kitchen for a day. I didn’t feel bad for VC for having to do the dishes on top of everything else he has to do, because er, it’s no different for me.

***

That was April. This is now, and too much has changed to even enumerate it. But reading this post in the drafts made me happy because I see how much has. We are now down to sweeping and dusting at best twice a week, mopping once a week. Maggi has become a staple like sugar and atta and rice in our shopping lists. Take out induces nearly zero guilt, compared to before. And I have enjoyed many, many, many days of lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. In fact, I was just telling a friend the other day that I think I spent much of June horizontal — and I don’t even mean that metaphorically.

I might complain about the banes of being locked in and everything that it has changed in my life a lot, but I cannot lie — it has been an extremely powerful time of change for me. And for us, as a family and a home. In claiming something very essential for myself I see what has been freed up, what has come alive, what has become visible.

I’ve been pursuing slowing down for years, but it took the world around me also slowing down, coming to a halt, to receive the much needed impetus to do the same. When I did, so much changed, so deeply and so quickly. So if I may for a moment fully own and acknowledge the immense privilege of it all: the last four months have been an extremely valuable time.

And maybe sometime soon, I will write about all the ways in which this domesticity has actually taught me to value the work itself, the invaluable contribution of people I have casually outsourced it to all these years, and why I’m trying to do without it for some time to come.

One year ago: All my worries seem so far away
Two years ago: My moves are slow but soon they’ll know

The unbearable pain and joy of being oneself

I’ve spoken so much about loneliness, and some (perhaps a little unintelligibly, for a reader to grasp) more about the changing face of loneliness as I have moved through discovering myself. What was once an acute loneliness for people, a tribe, bodies, a sense of being one among many, has shifted to a different kind of loneliness that is frankly a lot less worrying than it used to be.

The old loneliness used to get me so down, because I felt so helpless and not in control of the situations and circumstances I faced with people that led me to feeling that way. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong or how to prevent it from happening again. The new loneliness is very private, inward. And it is a loneliness for something else. Much less tangible than people, a crowd or a sense of wanting to be in the company of other human beings.

What’s different in recent times is a sort of distance I feel between myself that feels the loneliness, and the part of me that witnesses it. I no longer feel like I am being put through the wringer when loneliness comes. I see it, I feel it, I let it wash over me.

I don’t quite have a full grasp of what it is I am lonely for, and I am not in a rush to figure it out. I know it is taking shape slowly. This ease in letting it be, do it’s thing, is new. And liberating.

But what I do know for certain is what has changed. And that is a solid inner attitude and certainty about no longer abandoning myself. I’ve spent a lot of my life letting myself down, choosing everything else over myself, pleasing people to the greatest degree and practicing so many other such forms of abandoning myself. Routinely and continuously. It has taken a lot of introspection, slowly letting those old ways down, opening up to the consequent feeling of being exposed, and feeling lonely  yet again — just in an all new way — to get here.

I feel like the loneliness may never fully go away. It feels existential, treading a nebulous zone, while knowing in the pit of my stomach that in the end we’re all alone. So I am on the right path.

That I can have connection, intimacy, love, belonging and respect. That it cannot come at the expense of myself. And that this is the unbearable joy and pain of feeling truly and completely at one with myself.

One year ago: Second chances
Two years ago: Don’t worry about, don’t speak of doubt

Change needs a chance

More space to invite peace, has meant more space to access hope, for me. And in that hope, I have realised it means giving change a chance. It means sitting with the uncertainty of it. The distress of it. Again, without judgement or intention about how to move through it. A process that isn’t always smooth sailing and pretty.

This message comes to me time and time again, in different aspects of my life, through different situations and also in varying measures of intensity and urgency. And lately, it has come so often, I know I cannot ignore it anymore.

People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.

I found these words by Rebecca Solnit (from Hope in the Dark) that hit the spot, felt especially right for this time and they have given me fresh energy to dig my heels in and commit to doing the work anyway. My work, starting with me. Because aren’t we a collective of individuals anyway?

I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope a lot these days. What it feels like. What shapes it takes, what ideas come to kind, how my body feels and responds when I’m feeling hopeful. And it has been surprising to journal this. Invariably this train of thought takes me to the ingredients of hope. And change. And what it might take to get there — to these ideas of a changed world.

In swirling thoughts about all of this, I feel more and more close to being in agreement with the inherently broken, flawed, imperfectly perfect humanness of us as a species. I see more and more with gentle eyes, why we behave the way we do, why we are the people we are and why our beliefs make us do the things we do. I see a traumatised human being in Narendra Modi. I see incredible unprocessed pain in bigotry and potential for healing and integration in those hanging on to and peddling hate (on both sides of the spectrum).

Suddenly, I have noticed that the raging anger that came in waves has turned to exasperated and confounded laughter. I cannot excuse the impossible levels of injustice, and I am in no way justifying them, but I find my reactions changing. Softer, not in power, but in the gaze with which I view it.

This is a very unsettling place to be. Because it almost makes me sympathise with all that I have held as the “enemy” for so long now. I almost don’t want to allow it. I don’t want to allow myself the softening because of what it has meant to my old brain to hold on to polarities. But I see now that some part of that holding on also means not allowing new possibilities. And that is no longer an option for me. I have got to give change a chance. Beginning with me.

In seeing the connection between peace and hope in myself, I also realise that if the hope for peace in the world at large is the goal, everything about the way in which we remain in our polarities has to change. Everything about the way I remain in my polarities has to change.

One year ago: Breaking the silence
Two years ago: Follow me down to the valley below

There is no better place

Peace, in the last couple of weeks, has come fleetingly. But when it did, it came with a giant embrace that totally engulfed me. I noticed that when it came, it was always on days or phases when I allowed myself to fully respond to all the ways in which I am being called to face change. When I put my mind aside, and responded through body and heart, moving with it to the full extent that seemed necessary. Doing what felt important spontaneously, without intention, little judgement (I try!) and as little planning as I could possibly manage. This is the manageable, internal part. But there is also the external component. And so that all-consuming peace that comes with a hum of happiness has also come from accepting with grace — I am only just learning I have this within me — that the world around me has changed. Irrevocably so. And that it will continue to change.

It takes constant reminding myself in as many different ways as possible: There is no “better” place. Just this, here, now. Hang on to nothing. Stay curious about most things. Be open to everything.

Much easier said than done. And certainly something that needs continual chipping away and internalising, through examining my resistance to it and enjoying the effects of what happens when I drop that resistance for a wee bit. None of this is easy. But what I know for certain now is that it is totally possible.

Four years ago: Chettinadu vignettes

On listening

So much has been said, and continues to be said, about mental health, exalting the dire importance to “reach out”. Though well-intentioned, the sheer number of posts that have just casually offered this as a silver-bullet — “please reach out” “you are not alone” “my DMs are open” — have left me a bit uncomfortable. First because what does it say about us that this has to be explicitly stated, after someone has passed away by suicide? And second because I’m wondering about what after the person reaches out? Assuming that they can just get over whatever it is that has stopped them from doing so, that we seem to think just reiterating that they should reach out will help — what next?

When we offer a listening ear, how do we listen? Can we really listen? And more importantly, are we in the habit and practice of doing so with presence and empathy?

Can we listen without immediately pathologizing the human tendency to feel feelings, sometimes more intensely than usual? Without offering solutions or judgement. Without wishing tough emotions away.

My guess is we are mostly not. Because we live in a country and a culture that isn’t used to looking at vulnerability of sharing in a healthy way. We are not in the habit of looking at mental health as a product of societal and cultural polarities (amongst many other things) that contribute a great deal to ill-health. We mostly don’t have it in us to cultivate a systemic view of life that accounts for all of this.

So how do we listen better? Just listening, for a start. I’ve been wondering about this. Not for my work, but for life, as a whole. Listening with the ability to put myself and any discomfort that may arise from it, aside for a brief moment, to give my presence to the other. To be patient, and bear witness, as I listen.

I don’t have any hot-takes or immediate answers. Just my own questions around this, most of which arise from my experiences of not feeling heard and seen. I know that the collective changing rests with every individual changing, slowly, one step at a time, over time. And so maybe we begin with ourselves, and our experiences with being heard, and looking at how that was for us. I know that it is only through living and experiencing this that answers will emerge.

PS: Not the first time I have pondered about listening, it seems.

One year ago: My own person
Two years ago: Home where my love lies waiting

Notice the rage, notice the silence

I listened to the frightfully articulate Resmaa Manakem on his On Being podcast yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Many threads of my personal journey are beginning to be woven into the landscape of the larger political canvas of our very existence. It’s becoming loud and clear to me that the person is deeply political, seeing as how it is a journey of clarifying my person values. I cannot shy away from this anymore. And that truth gets a little more cemented every day.

This past week, being up close helping with the movement of migrants — sourcing and delivering food and other essentials — realising in how many ways we have actually failed our society, I have really had to look at economic and caste Inequality and Inequity, the very fragmented shards of our broken, broken system right in the eyes.

What’s hit me the hardest is that these are lives (thousands and thousands of them everyday, just wanting to get home) and yet everything about the process, every step of the way forgets and negates that basic fact. The scenes at one of the many hubs around the city where migrants are being registered and organised to get on to the Shramik trains leaving the city, are nothing short of refugee camps. And seeing it all has made my heart heavy. Really heavy.

This is just Bangalore. I think of other cities, other hubs, other states, and the scale of our collective failure as a country is too much to digest. Everyday is excruciating, and the only thing giving me energy and hope in the mind-blowing coming together of communities in Bangalore that I have witnessed. This is something I am quick to forget. It’s easy, when all we see and consume is a steady diet of bad news, high on shock and horror.

I’ve had to come to terms with just how deeply systemic, cultural and utterly entwined divisiveness, subjugation and heartlessness is. Because of the work I do, cognitively I can pin this to trauma. My brain knows this, but my mind and my heart just won’t have it. I want and expect better of human beings. And yet, the reality is something else.

The podcast is a fantastic listen. For anyone interested in a shockingly accurate perspective of what’s going on in the world — and really this lies at the heart if every kind of inequality. Resmaa’s words speak right to this truth.

Trauma decontextualized in a person looks like personality.
Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits.
Trauma in a people looks like culture.

When you begin to look at healing a “thousand-year-old” trauma of a people, you’ll see how it is mirrored right down to the traumas faced by individuals, at the level of the personality. And there’s hope when I see it that way.

He is fantastically clear, speaks powerful words without mincing them. He speaks of Race, but he could very well be speaking of Caste, our very own thousand-year-old collective trauma. And that’s what touched me the most. The universality of What Hurts, What’s Broken. And I hesitate to write this because there is so much talk about taking away space from Black Lives right now. I don’t mean to take away space at all. I know absolutely nothing about that fight, to even try. But I also see commonality, and in that way, what’s going on across the planet also hurts me.

It’s been an emotionally heavy couple of weeks and I see how it has reflected in my writing here. I used to feel a bit apologetic about that, and even express it here from time to time. But one thing that’s become very clear for me very, very recently is that healing involves leaning in more into what hurts. And this blog is a space where I will be doing that.

Like Resmaa says;

Notice the rage. Notice the silence.

The podcast too, reiterated that for me. There is no looking away form the discomfort and hurt of where we are as a race. We can begin to heal by looking at ourselves. The personal, is political. We are a traumatized lot, and because we don’t want to stop to heal, we continue to pass it on. And because we are a delicately balanced lot, existing in a precarious system of inequalities, we’re always retraumatizing the most disenfranchised amongst us, making them relive the worst atrocities, every single day.

Closer home, we really can’t talk about Development without talking about healing, without doing the work to own up to and re-contextualizing this trauma. And I realise how bloody far away we are from that. These are truly dark ages. This past week I certainly felt like we have regressed, slipped further below, dragged ourselves backwards as a nation.

Give the podcast a listen. It’s essential for every human being, I’d say.

One year ago: The written word 
Two years ago: Only happy when it rains