An opportunity and a gift

Yesterday, I had an opportunity — a gift, a mirror held up right in my face — to reflect on my tendency to judge people too quickly.

Both ways — when I formulate a hasty negative opinion or perception, and positively when I just accept someone as a wholesome package without applying my own discernment — there is scope for slowing down and taking my time to decide how I feel about people. This time will give me the chance to remember that everyone has a story, everyone comes with their share of baggage and idiosyncrasies or they’re just dealing with stuff that makes them sometimes behave a certain way. This time will give me the opportunity to really discern for myself which side the scales stack up and how I truly feel about someone, outside of what the right way or popular way to feel is.

In general I’ve been feeling that the measures for a good person can’t be absolute. Goodness or kindness is not a state that we can attain and arrive and and remain in forever. Goodness is a scale, there can be innumerable parameters and we fare differently on each one of them, at different times, depending on the circumstances.

Being good is not a fixed, set in stone state. Far too often, I am quick to accept that if someone is good to me, they’re probably never going to disappoint me. And far too often, I am proven wrong. The opposite happens too. When someone who I have judged as intolerable and had an averse reaction to, suddenly surprises me with an act of goodness that touches me.

What happened yesterday was an invitation to re-examine my definitions and to allow for some play in the blurred lines between “good and bad”. There is an inherent duality in all of us. Nothing is so water-tight and absolute and more and more I feel I must trust my individual intuition before over the popular opinion about people, and go with what I feel rather than what I think. More and more I feel I need to move away from the limiting understanding that being a good person is a a fixed, unchangeable characteristic and move into seeing being good as a practice. A way of life that is is exhibited more times than not.

I’d be best to view being good as a work in progress, an ongoing practice. And the key elements of this practice to me are, acts that display an active engaging with honesty, consistency in vulnerability and transparency and an openness for compassion towards each of our inherent imperfections. This seems like a good base form which to operate from, for now. This gives me so much scope to grow, to understand and see myself a little deeper everyday, even as I am engaging and learning from interactions around me. Because really, if I have accepted that I am a constant work in progress that allows me to slip up and learn from it, surely it can’t be too hard to grant others the same benefit too?

In all of this, I can’t help but notice that increasingly, I am leaning on my own individual sensibilities, rather than going with the crowd (even if the crowd is just 1 other person). That used to be my pattern, and it said so much about my attitudes and tendencies towards belonging. This, on the other hand feels grounded, yet weightless (in a free-from-the-weight-of-expectation kind of way) and I’m taking note as to what this might mean about my evolving sense of belonging in and to myself first, this quiet but strong side that’s emerging, and the promise of a start of something new.

One year ago: We keep this love in a photograph

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Taking a moment

New learning: It’s okay, sometimes better in fact, to take a moment (or several) to respond to a request, suggestion or new idea that has been put forth to me.

As someone who was (and sometimes still is — this is constant WIP) so wired to respond with urgency to give, to agree, go with it, I have been largely unaware of the how much that has meant putting my truest desires or even just basic feelings aside. And this is done in an effort to be adjusting, accommodating, to be a sport, to be always willing, hassle-free, and easy.

But it always comes at a price of discounting my true feelings or responses. The urgency to respond soon, and always be willing for fear that I’ll keep the other waiting or come across as complicated, is just another way to make myself more palatable. Likeable.

It can be in the smallest things from picking a place to meet a friend for coffee, to choosing a city with VC to live in, or agreeing to help a friend with something they’ve asked of me, being present in a place I’m unsure of. Constantly putting myself out there for the other, before myself, means to constantly minimize my needs, and over time can become an insidious habit that adds to the disconnection and dissonance (between what I want to what actually happens) that I have experienced as an adult.

It’s easy to assume that the opposite of “self-involved, self-obsessed, selfish”, and it’s easy to brand all these things as “bad” for us. But a a ripe old freshly-turned-35 adult, I’m learning that it’s okay to take time. Time to check in with myself. To figure out what I really feel. What I really want. Before always responding in a rush, with an affirmative. And if that comes across as selfish sometimes, that’s okay too. To hide that would be to hide the truth, to be inauthentic.

Checking in with myself to at least acknowledge what I really feel about anything (even if I choose not to go with them) before I let a hurried cursory, apt response roll of my tongue, has also been a crucial key in connecting to my authentic self, and therefor finding authenticity in some relationships.

I grew up in a family where a lot of us, especially us women, have the ability to fake always being fine, willing, energetic, ever-ready troopers down to the T. This has meant growing up imbibing the idea that this is required of us, of us women. All the women in my family, my role models and women I have looked up to, I have seen as doers, always ready, picking up and getting shit done. And I’ve wondered how they’re always so willing. I know now that many times they’re faking it without even realising it.

We’re all committed to playing this role that is expected of us, in various degrees. The flip-side of this, of constantly roleplaying at what is expected means to very often not say what we truly need or feel. Whether it’s needing help, admitting to feeling in over our heads, facing disquiet or disappointment, inviting grief or sadness even. To do it means to show it, and I have grown up worried that showing it will be too much, too different or too upsetting for the other to take.

For so long, I have been so uncomfortable with keeping people waiting while I thought about a decision. I have hated disappointing people (with the truth). I really worried that I was too much for too many people. Can I get back to you? was something I couldn’t say enough, because I feared it communicated that maybe I didn’t want what the other was expecting of me. It communicated the truth, mostly. And what’s wrong with that, I wonder now.

Realising and learning this new possibility is step one. Inculcating this as habit is work that remains to be done.

***

A little throwback here, because I realised it’s been exactly five years since I wrote this the day He Who Shall Not Be Named was sworn in as prime minister. I called the post Black Friday, and I remember how dark the day actually felt. At that point I didn’t think things could sink any lower. Five years on things are so much scarier in my mind. We’re back at the same point, with an opportunity to face the politics of hate-mongering, religious fascism and bigotry yet again. To kick this normalised everyday violence and hate that we’ve gotten so used to seeing and feeling so powerless about, out the window. And somehow, I feel even more hopeless and powerless this year than I did back then or ever before.

One year ago: And the stars look very different today
Three years ago: Flame of the forest

Renewed relationships

It’s easy to get that comfortable in a relationship that we feel we have each other all figured out. And maybe we do, to a large extent.

If there’s one thing spending these past 6 weeks in Goa with VC has shown me, it is how refreshing it to also allow for growth, evolution and surprises from your significant other. I’ve been so consumed in my own growth, so much so that I had to physically remove myself from our partnered life and live separately, that I may have forgotten that the space and time apart could have done him wonders too.

In our eleventh year of being married, and almost thirteenth of being together, I’m surprised, humbled and so grateful that there is room for freshness, still. For surprises, for new developments, for renewed excitement, and the possibility of uncharted territory opening up once again.

I did not see this coming. But somehow, here we are.

There’s a lot of surprises that came from this trip. All totally unexpected, some very wild, but I think this has been my favourite surprise of them all.

One year ago: April

Quiet

Feeling all kinds of quiet today. It’s been that kind of day. Quiet. Listless. And a bit heavy. I have opened and closed this window three times over the course of the day. Wanting to write, because there is much that can be said, probably needs to find a way out too; but also wanting to listen to the moment, which right now is protesting writing, to remain listless, bored, even.

I want instead to just be. Be quiet. And let this feeling stew.

Leaning on David Whyte for post completion here, because this is how I feel today. I had a long and heavy therapy session today, and ended it with a sense of having arrived, which brings with it a heaviness of relief mixed with thankfulness and sheer collapse.

The Well, David Whyte

Be thankful now for having arrived,
for the sense of
having drunk
from a well,
for remembering the long drought that preceded your arrival
and the years walking in a desert landscape of surfaces looking for a spring hidden from you for so long that even wanting to find it now had gone from your mind
until you only
remembered the hard pilgrimage that brought you here,
the thirst that caught in your throat; the taste of a world just-missed
and the dry throat that came from a love you remembered but had never fully wanted for yourself, until finally, after years making the long trek to get here it was as if your whole achievement had become nothing but thirst itself.

But the miracle had come simply from allowing yourself to know that you had found it,
that this time
someone walking out into the clear air from far inside you
had decided not to walk past it anymore;
the miracle had come at the roadside in the kneeling to drink
and the prayer you said,
and the tears you shed
and the memory
you held
and the realization
that in this silence
you no longer had to keep your eyes and ears averted from the
place that
could save you,
that you had been given
the strength to let go
of the thirsty dust laden
pilgrim-self
that brought you here,
walking with her
bent back, her bowed head and her careful explanations.

No, the miracle had already happened
when you stood up,
shook off the dust
and walked along the road from the well,
out of the desert toward the mountain,
as if already home again, as if you
deserved what you loved all along,
as if just remembering the taste of that clear cool spring could lift up your face
and set you free.

One year ago: Please don’t go
Three years ago: Things about VC that I never want to forget #16

Summer

This year, the first in many many years now, doesn’t feel like it is zipping by me while I clamber to catch up with it. I’m aware May may have felt like it came too soon, wasn’t it just December last week, but this year I feel like I have experienced  what a slowly ripening mango waiting in my fruit bowl. Sturdy, bright, ripe, and yet gently giving in to age and time. There is life in that passing, and it shows in how it lives even as it passes.

Of late, life has the quality of that of light suspended through the gap in my curtains on a bight summer afternoon. It’s laid back, it’s still, and it is full of life.

This morning, I realised that perhaps this is a function of age too? And of this extremely fortuitous place in life that I am in, where nothing is too fast or too slow. Things just are, and they’re passing. I’m aware of it, but it is without the manufactured urgency and/or FOMO that has come to be synonymous with time itself. I’m grateful for the slow, empty, pensive weeks I’ve had since getting to Goa, which have undoubtedly contributed to this internal slowing within.

One year ago: Simple things
Three yeas ago: Summer evenings

I feel you

Amazed, and happy to see how feelings have gone from being a source of overwhelm, triggering my perfectionist need to solve everything and get to the bottom of it all, to just things that happen, occur and give me cues to deeper emotions that lie below the surface. It’s pretty darn fascinating how the human mind can train itself to deny an entire set of feelings, because:

  • one assumes it will be difficult/too much for others to take
  • one grew up with a negative value attached to said feeling
  • one was made to feel ashamed for feeling a certain way

But the good news is the human mind is easy to train, and all of these patterns can be re-jigged. Doing this has made me realise that not only does listening in to my feelings give me useful cues to my emotional state and what needs to be seen there, enhancing my healing process, but also greatly improves my capacity for empathy and connection with others.

I’ve noticed that the emotions I find most difficult to see (or tend to judge) in others, are usually the ones I have most discomfort with in myself. So really, the only way to begin to connect better, is to built my capacity for empathy. Starting with myself and towards my own emotions. When I am able to accept in the best possible way, the difficult feelings I find in myself, I am able to see and acknowledge, maybe even accept them in others.

In my experience, this has impacted the quality of my relationships for the better. People tend to trust and open up more about what they feel, when I, the listener, come from a softer, less judgemental space. When I am able to say me too or I hear you with honesty. When I am not in a huge rush to label these feelings as issues that need fixing. Or treat them like an unpleasantness that needs to end soon.

It’s difficult to do when so many of us have grown up being told to be happy, positive, strong and other variations of these. Somewhere along the way, it makes us believe our worth is not only attached to cultivating a veneer of constant happiness (at the cost of negating all the times we feel sad, helpless, angry, lost, etc) but that it is also attached to ensuring that others feel that way too.

It’s taken me a long time to realise that it isn’t helpful to others, especially those I care about, if in my efforts to “help” them I am contributing to negating them altogether. Sitting with these feelings, just really feeling them first, rather than dissecting and analysing them, fixing, solving or moving ahead in a rush, is a good place to start. This is such a fundamental building block to vulnerability, and true connection.

One year ago: What are they talking about, on the weekend?
Three years ago: April

Engineering bigness

Mulling over yesterday’s post still, which came from a game I played on Sunday with a group of complete strangers, and I’m sitting with a lot of stillness and a very real, almost tangible understanding of the absurd duality that comes from seeking vulnerability of and from myself.

It’s taken me on a path that’s unearthed my deepest fears and insecurities, things I’ve hidden from myself and the world for so long, things that when they surface would otherwise make me shrink and hide, but now come with a sudden comfort and power, of wanting to show up as I am (fear, insecurities and all), seeking connection, seeking the warmth of people, desperately wanting conversation and camaraderie.

It’s a path that has hurled me into the depths of a kind of loneliness I have not experienced until now, but also brought the strangest, most unexpected and delightful connections my way. Connections that have redefined my understanding of friendship, of relationship and of empathy.

It is a path that has made abundantly clear how important, joy, love and intimacy actually are to me, and how little of it I have been settling for so far. It’s a path that has also made me see that the path to joy, love and intimacy does not side step fear, insecurity, self-loathing and judgement.

I recently watched and enjoyed Brene Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage which was all about embracing the most human desire — belonging — and how it is impossible to experience that without facing how much we are held back by shame, fear (of criticism) amongst other things. What she said particularly about how fear and shame makes us compromise our authentic selves so much, making us believe we need to change who we truly are in order to belong, really hit me. She gave it a lovely phrase — engineering smallness — that really hit me like a ton of bricks.

As the idea of taking up (more) space has been the centre of much of my explorations through therapy and in life, I’ve had a series of realisations about how much I have been used to playing small. Whether under the garb of adjusting to something or someone, making my emotions and myself more palatable to the other, in believing this will allow more of everything in my life — there has been a thread of be small, be quiet, be less that has held my life together so far.

Part of working through this and re-engineering bigness, allowing myself to step into the power of my authentic adult self, has been in accepting and understanding that the work doesn’t lie so much in fixing anything about myself, but merely accepting all the duality that I hold within. The loneliness alongside the desire for companionship. The old, old fears alongside the newfound confidence. The loud joy alongside the sombre stillness. The new, voracious appetite for a new tribe and community alongside the familiar comfort of solitude.

I have spent so much of my life forcing myself to choose one or the other, shrinking myself down, limiting myself to horribly polarised labels, and ultimately dimming my light. Owning my power, realising my potency, has been an enriching and revelatory process of realising that I am so much more than I have hitherto believed I am or can be. And when I embrace, own and hold it all in a good way, in a deliberate and true way, I feel big. I feel like an adult. And absurd as it sounds to be admitting this on the back of my 35th birthday, this is the first time in my adult life that I have witnessed what being an adult is like. And the more I find myself operating from this space, the more satisfying my engagements, relationships and intimacy with people I love are becoming.

One year ago: Another day, just breathe
Three years ago: Retrograde rant

A seed of life

It gives me incredible solace and a sense of contentment to realise that I’m finally at that phase where I am seeing and living through evidence of changes that I have so far only desired and dreamed of bringing into my life. It has been a long and winding journey, and for probably the very first time, I am at a point where I can really see all that has changed, how much of what is, was not to be just a few weeks and months ago.

It is thrilling to experience this transformation as it happens, and it gives me goosebumps on a daily basis, of late. This is the stuff that was mere dreams — that frankly felt impossible — some years ago.

There is a sense of one phase ending, and being on the cusp of something, once again. I am feeling a palpable sprightliness and upbeat energy that comes from the freshness of birth and beginning.

On the one hand there is the undeniable energy of oneness and coming together, of loops closing, of open ends finding a logical settling, of the chaotic ebb and flow having found a natural rhythm, now gathering some steam and churn. Of a slow emergence, as it were.

And of course that also comes with a sense of an ending. The subtle ache of time finally catching up. Of finally, really having to let go of so much that was, so much that has been a comfortable way of being. Everything that has brought me this far. And so, I also carry a little listlessness. A downward energy that makes me want to slowdown even more, sit, mope a bit. Revisit again and again all that I am slowly handing over and moving on from. All that I used to be, and all that I am leaving behind.

Physically — within me — as well as in the things happening in my life I feel a sense of endings and beginnings playing out simultaneously. On the one hand I feel a churn of some impending change that will spark off its own set of movement. And on the other, this deep desire to stop, not move.

This is a slow process, and today I realised that maybe this is just it — this is my process and it takes time. I have only just become aware of this — what I have always passed off as too slow, time-consuming and belaboured set of events and done my best to avoid — is actually the process, the work, at work. To be born again means to take space anew, after all. It means that which once took up all the space, must scoot over to allow for the new to emerge. For the new to become. And there is no way for this to happen fast, or on autopilot.

It’s the strangest dichotomy. And to live it and feel it in my body the way I have been — in a swinging push-an-pull sort of way — has been so fascinating to witness.

One year ago: Turning 32 and the salt water theory
Three years ago: Acts like summer and walks like rain

35

This has been a pretty significant year for me. But quite unlike significant times in the past that have had an unmistakeable flourish, this has been a quiet sort of significant year, with flecks of change, the tiniest shifts and movements flowing in, unnoticed. The sort of change that mostly only I and the people I am closest to know about or will likely notice.

For far too long I’ve been very shy about admitting how much I love my birthday. But the honest truth is that I love having a day dedicated to me, to look back on how far I’ve come, to give myself a good pat on the back, and to take stock and feel optimistic and really hopeful about the future. I’ve been fortunate to have this happen every single birthday thus far. So, even though I haven’t really admitted it in as many words, my folks, my sister and my husband already know how only too well, how much I love this day. To the rest of the world, I’ve always played the omg-it’s-just-another-day-it-doesn’t-matter act pretty damn well.

So, today is that day again, and I’m off to the beach to celebrate how grateful I am for the gift of another birthday, another year to travel around the sun.

I’m grateful for all that this past year has been — for the lessons it brought, for making me see that growing up sometimes requires looking back, accepting transgressions, grief, hurt, difficulties, but absolutely looking ahead and making amends gently, slowly.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to temporarily disengage from the forced cohabiting arrangement of marriage, and for all the realisations and insights that came out of this experience. It’s been quite the game-changer this past year, enabling me to stretch myself and come into my own. I’m so grateful for VC’s understanding, support and acceptance of this and all that came, and continues to come out of it. I really cherish and hold close his ability to accept me as I am, as much as the woman I am becoming (which I am sure sometimes feels like not at all the woman he married hahahaha), and the constant state of work-in-progress that is our lives at the moment.

I’m grateful for therapy that has so wonderfully tied together the various threads that currently bind my life and being, in a way that no amount of conversation with friends or family can, no amount of reading the best books has, and no amount of trying to figure this out on my own could ever have.

I’m grateful especially for my body. In the past year I have seen what happens to it when I deliberately, totally let go, allowing it to balloon and flourish in surprising ways. I began to notice age in some places — in the way the suppleness and flexibility I took for granted now resists when I push it, the way the skin on my face doesn’t spring back as easily as it used to, the way my digestion has visibly slowed, the tiger stripes that really stand out now, the way getting back to exercise was a bigger uphill task than I ever imagined it could ever be.

And yet, I’m grateful that with a little work, my body still does the things I want to do — whether it’s working my way up to a 5km run again, nailing push-ups again or doing a cartwheel on a whim. Yes, still got it.

I’m grateful for the awareness that all of these changes have come gently, slowly, with little to almost no panic for a change. There has been a very conscious awareness, yes, and it’s made me prioritise taking care of myself and my body in a way that feels very intentional. I’ve always had an eye for eating well, a penchant for fitness and staying fit and healthy, but somehow this feels very different from before when I held many fantastic (unrealistic) notions about my body.

I’m grateful that the rush has died down some. The rush to get somewhere, do this, be that, do more — that constant buzz in my head reminding me of time rushing by and there being so much left to do is dormant for the most part, and I’ve figured out how some tricks to shut it down, when it tends to get active from time to time.

This past year, I re-discovered deliberation. It’s brought a certain slowness and a calm, an ability to move with intention, that has really been another game-changer. It’s made me free-er in choosing which way I want to go, more open in accepting everything that has come my way, and just light and easy going in embracing it all.

A younger me might roll her eyes and scoff at me for turning soft. Maybe she’d balk at how little I hold on to anymore, and how fluid I’ve become. But it is what it is and it seems to work for me.

***

Just one birthday ago I wondered about whether I’ll ever really feel my age. For most of my life I haven’t felt exactly my age. I’ve always felt extremes — either too wise and old beyond my years sometimes, or just so young and naive for my age. This was mostly brought out in situations where I had other people my age to compare with. I’ve lived a large part of my life feeling like I never quite fit right.

This is changing, ever so slowly. I realised recently, that thanks to this newfound comfort I have begun to feel over the course of this past year, I have truly begun to feel my age. Not that I miraculously make myself fit, but that I am comfortable just the way I am, whether I fit or not. And so more often than not, it does feel like I fit.

Nothing feels out of sync, things don’t stick out and irk me as much, differences don’t hinder my experiences. I hold desires for doing more but the desperation to get there fast is slowly fading. I’m re-learning patience all the time. I’m comfortable in my skin, in my body, in the way I am, and the way I feel for the most part.

I don’t know if it’s a function of age or growing up, but I’m keenly aware that my time here is limited. So limited that I feel a strong need to make the most of it. Which is not so say I’ve drawn up a bucket list of impossible things like scuba diving and bungee jumping or visiting 10 countries in the next 10 years, I must tick off. I want to focus my time in spaces that matter to me, on things and people I love and am drawn to. I want to try and always say what I absolutely mean, be more honest, articulate and truthful in the relationships that matter, and try more and more to tell those people just how much they really mean to me.

I’m being constantly shown how often I need to redefine the many catch words that I hold on to — markers of things that are important to me — Peace. Success. Happiness. Care. Love. Strength. Joy. I’ve also learned that happiness and joy is not, and never needs to be, linked with perfection. Or success. Of any kind.

I am mostly bumbling along and stumbling over myself along this journey, but if there’s one thing I’m truly proud of, it’s how much I have been able tame that inner perfectionist in me. I’m grateful for having learned that it’s okay to change my mind. I’ve embraced softness as far as possible, in every area of my life that I can — softness with people, towards myself, with my body, with my dreams, with my emotions. I don’t see the need to be the kind of strong or hard that I once aspired to be.

This past year I relinquished control over the grand plans, a lot. Life has become so much about living the small everyday things, cheering myself on for the little wins, revelling in mundane daily happinesses and the utter smallness of it all. I’ve really been feeling this is where that joy — that I’ve so long believed lies in chasing the grand plans, the big picture, the distant future — is at. Right here. Now.

The nowness of life hits me on a daily basis, and it stays and lingers in a way that has made me feel very, very secure and steady. I put this down entirely to the course I did last year that altered my compass, pointed me closer to my true north. It’s made me see things so very differently, shifting my very perspective on everything, on life itself, 180 degrees. And there is just no unseeing it, no turning back. It has been like opening the curtains on a view I’ve known all along, but suddenly everything is brighter and beautiful.

Year 36, I’m so very ready for you.

Past birthdays: one year ago, three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago.

Vulnerability and validation

As I find myself discovering how woefully limited and inadequate my understanding of words like authenticity and vulnerability have been, I’ve been having experiences of discovering newer, different meanings through recent experiences.

A massive penny-drop moment happened last week when I caught myself saying the other day, “I’m being pushed to be authentic in ways that I haven’t been…” and “I feel like life is giving me opportunities for vulnerability like never before…” and N gently nudged me to check Who’s pushing you? before making me see that this is merely life occurring as it always does, nothing special pushing me to do or be anything different, nor any divine plan or occurrence that is whipping up moments for me to show up in. Most importantly, N showed me that life is occurring as it always does, and I have stepped into a new way of being. And this really hit me like a ton of bricks, overwhelming me because I realise these are the moments of evidence, the lived experience of all that I have been seeking — vulnerability and authenticity.

The thing with growth and change is it very rarely occurs in sudden, singular mind-bending or life-changing moments. Most times, it is slow and steady, constant and so gradual I don’t notice it. Sometimes it is so mundane, it passes me by in moments when I’m not even looking. When N pointed out that this is the product of the work, the relentless focus and determination and asked me to really own that power and not pass it off on life, or destiny and fate, I was overwhelmed to the point of tears.

I realised my notion of what “power” is, and what “owning it” looks like is so largely defined by a very pop-culture addled and Internet-driven brain that unless it came with an aha moment that I could capture in a byte-sized, hashtaggable, YAASSSGIRL style, or something I can dissect and write an entire post about, I will probably miss it entirely.

Power is quiet. Asserting and owning it, even quieter still. And right in there, I discovered a new aspect of authenticity for myself, that I had neither known or experienced before.

Authenticity, vulnerability and a deeper honesty — all very quiet too.

***

It made me also realise how important that validation is for me. For us as humans. And very quickly I looped back to something I’ve been thinking about a lot since the start of the year. N has nudged me in strategic, timely fashion to question why I put out what I do, and the nature of what I choose to put out. I have seen my writing on here change as a result of it.

How much of writing this blog every single day, logging inane details about this journey, is for validation? I don’t have any definite answers. I know it isn’t for social-media style instant validation and gratification. I don’t have a like button active, I do not check statistics much, and I mostly no longer bother about the quality of what I am trying to say even.

There is also the fact that I am no longer an everyday life-blogger, dishing out details about the happenings in my life. I may talk about it here and there, but it is not the basis of my blog anymore. I simply don’t think my life is that interesting anymore. So many posts go live in utterly vague, airy-fary fashion, and make sense to nobody but me because I write them as a marker of something I want to remember, not necessarily communicate in detail to an audience. And even if I sometimes choose to be really honest, bare my soul and get really detailed about the actual happenings f my life rather than just talk about my feelings, am I really 100% honest, authentic and vulnerable on here?

So why this medium with an audience then? Why would I not go private? Or write this in a journal? Again, no clear answers, though I have increasingly been keeping a journal too.

I’ve been reading a lot about how globally the search for vulnerability and authenticity has peaked, and how confusing doing this in the age of social media has made it for our generation. I have many thoughts about a lot of what I have seen and read, but I’m boiling it down to two things that have stayed with me:

  1. If I’m seeking vulnerability in my real life, why do I need to measure it by how vulnerable I can be online?
  2. Have we somewhere forgotten what the word — vulnerability — really means? And are we mistaking it for sharing?

It’s a little sad to imagine that the extent of exposure to social media has changed and reshaped the very definitions of some words for us as a culture, to the point that I’ve had to un-learn and re-learn some meanings altogether. That sounds like a profoundly first-world problem to have.

If my recent experience is anything to go by, vulnerability doesn’t have a single catch-all definition. I’ve discovered vulnerability in newer ways that I hadn’t considered ever before. I’ve seen how wide and all encompassing the word is for such an array of experiences — experiences that I cannot even begin to detail on here. Experiences that are personal, that I don’t necessarily want to detail on here.

If I’ve realised the quiet power of authenticity, vulnerability and a deeper honesty, I cannot possibly be unpacking it here in detail, or screaming it from the rooftops for all to see and know, right?

I’m finding more power, and sense, in quietly holding, containing it.

The fact that I am still questioning what I am doing on this blog, only points to my own discomfort with a standard I am unconsciously holding myself to. Why does my search for the authentic and for a deeper vulnerability in my real life necessarily have to translate into vulnerability online (whatever that is — in the age of general over sharing the lines are blurred)? Why do I need to perform my vulnerability and stretch it on here?

I don’t.

***

On the weekend, S and I had a nice big chat studying some Instagram posts by someone who considers themselves to be posting with a high level of honesty, authenticity and vulnerability, and it has become exceedingly clear to me in recent time that it is near impossible to be vulnerable with an audience. Vulnerability just simply isn’t for the masses. It cannot be painted on and performed, on tap.

It’s something hard won, an evolving thing almost, that morphs over time and with deepening experience, and most of all can only be exercised or experienced with a select few. A chosen inner circle, who have earned the right to be privy to it.

So I wonder again, why does this audience matter? Superficially, I can say no it doesn’t. Considering I get almost no feedback for what I write here, it doesn’t. But I also have to say that as a creative person, a writer, the odd time that on the rare occasion that I do get a deeply insightful comment, or a heartfelt email from someone who could relate to something I wrote, my day is made. It warms my heart to think I touched someone.

There is obviously the aspect of human nature of us all having stories, and wanting so desperately to be heard. The goal for me now, is to first find ways to be heard in real life, to share my stories authentically with those who deserve it, and who will hear it, rather than turn to this blog as an escape (like it used to be).

When I got off social media, I was driven mainly by the growing chasm between life online and offline. I know this is a sentiment many people share. The efforts to correct that by focusing on getting real in real life will do. I don’t know why I’ve felt the need to make my focus reflecting or projecting my reality online, as a marker of true authenticity.

Where have we gone wrong?

I’m still figuring this out, and certain that my thoughts will change and evolve with time, but for now, here we are with only some clarity.

Am I seeking deeper vulnerability all the time? Yes.
Do I want validation for it? Sometimes, it’s nice, yes.
Do I really want to be that vulnerable online, like I am trying to be (and being) in real life? No.
Are the two linked? No.

Three years ago: Birthday weekend in progress

Unfurl

Summer has its own version of lush around here. I see it most glaringly in two things — mango trees that are vibrant and bearing over, crouched and groaning under the weight of the season’s load of mangoes, full of big bunches of bright, neon green freshly unfurled leaves; and bougainvillea that begins to excessively bloom in profusions — everywhere. Bougainvillea has this amazing tendency to show up, erupt almost, in the dustiest most barren spaces, and is there anything that says summer more than mangoes?

The highway outside my home is being constructed, its a dusty old mess and a serious eyesore, except you’re driving down this dreary stretch of nothingness an concrete and suddenly, at regular intervals your eyes find repose in eye-popping burst of bright pink, dusty orange, white, mango yellow and ashy bougainvillea that now punctuate the barren drive.

It is such a pleasing sight. And this sort of life being seen against all odds, making its presence felt in the most impossible places, screams summer in Goa, for me, like nothing else does.

My “garden” is abloom — and I mean that literally and metaphorically. Perhaps the two are linked. I begin my days with my plants, watching every new leaf unfurling slowly, tracking buds as they slowly open from one day to the next. And I’ve been quietly witnessing with a beating heart, how coming into life is such a delicate, tender process that needs so much attention and love, yet takes its own time. Everything in it’s moment in sunshine, not a day more or less.

It feels like my own experience of coming to (new)life, unfurling, stepping into a new season, growing, flowering seems is reflected in my plants too. The sense of a blossoming, supported by an essential grounded-ness, a standing up tall and seeing the light, facing the gusty evening breeze, feels as wonderful within me, as it does to watch in happen in the little pots that line my terrace.

Within and around me, I feel a visceral sense of a determined new life, claiming its time and bursting at the seams.

Despite the punishing afternoon heat, I got out yesterday to celebrate a milestone by having lunch by myself. I drove around a really pretty part of North Goa, almost transfixed by the verdant views all around. Have things been this lush for a while and am I only just noticing them, I wondered. Or has something changed?

It’s beginning to feel like a really wild celebration of love and life. Much like the celebration within me right now.

One year ago: Bad news never had good timing
Two years ago: In-stages
Three years ago: See Lanka

Routine

The heat has gone up a notch. But it still feels only contained in the afternoon hours between 12 and 5, when it is blindingly bright and searingly hot. To so much as look out makes my eyes hurt. So I have mostly stayed in. Ever since I told VC I don’t think all this staying in all by myself is doing me much good, he has been gently encouraging me to get out. Living much closer to the north now means it is actually much easier to access all the little cafes, bistros and restaurants that I used to lament were such a drive away when I lived in Panjim. But the heat has made it impossible.

After 6 though, things begin to change. Maybe it’s where we’re located, in a mini valley of sorts, halfway between the top and the bottom extremes. And maybe it’s something about a summer wind that passes between 6 and 7:30 everyday, transversing this area just so, so there’s a dramatic difference. The trees rustle wildly, and often I’ll hear things crashing in a home nearby. Today, in a perplexing occurrence, an unnamed towel has landed in my terrace. I look out from within my home and feel such a thrill to see all my plants dancing about, and holding on for dear life.

I have to resist the urge to step out and enjoy my terrace, the real attraction in my teeny-weeny home, to be honest. But, 6-7 pm is peak mosquito time. I imagine they all lie in waiting for the heat to subside, much like I do, and set out in full force to enjoy the wide open at 6 pm. So I cook during this time instead, slowly buzzing around my little kitchen, tending to slowly softening onions or lazily chopping a salad, hoping to be done by the time the mosquitoes are done. I open out the doors only at 7 and for a brief 25 or 30 minutes I sit outside on our low, falling-apart chairs, music on, either writing or browsing, or simply doing nothing.

The aromas of a just-cooked dinner tend to hang around in my home — the sizzle of tadka simmered in ghee that was poured over a hearty dal just minutes ago, or pungent onion vibes cutting through the air, the sweetness of a salad dressing that i whisked together and left lying on the counter. It’s just another small, simple, inconsequential part of my day. But in these three odd weeks here, it has already come to be an important part of the day. It’s become routine. It’s become another one of those markers of my days, pegs that make the day even. Full.

My therapist asked me how I’ve been feeling. It’s been a while since we last spoke. And so I told her it’s been up and down, honestly, with spurts of not really knowing what exactly I am feeling. But there has been a pervading feeling of fullness, of wideness and of grounded-ness over all. I’m discovering that the ups and downs are also a part of the routine, and that not every down needs dissection. That even in the downs, I do not have to float off or melt away or be snowed under. There are pegs to my day, to my being, they hold me down and keep me steady.

It has been up and down, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m really happy. I am in a good place, without having any one thing to pinpoint as a reason for it. Is this routine too?

***

I’ve learned that honesty can be very hard. But not impossible.
That it can be harsh, brutal even, but it need not be unkind.
It can be difficult to take, but is most often, essential. That it is impossible to be honest and expect it to always be received “well”. But none of this diminishes the value of honesty.

***

One year ago: Today I don’t feel like doing anything
Two years ago: I get by with a lot of help from my friends
Three years ago: Bits and bobs

Belonging

I’ve been thinking about belonging a whole lot these past few weeks, and how much it has everything to do with finding clarity about what you can and cannot live with, as much as it is about realising what you absolutely need in your life right now. As I sit in Goa, every day tossing about a new sense of comfort in this very space that has been a source of anxiety and has tested me for too long now, I actually have found more and more clarity about where I truly belong, and what makes me feel at home. Right now, that is Bangalore. Because in Bangalore, I have all the things I need at this present moment in my life, to feel safe, secure, worthy, happy and most of all…like I belong.

S and I have been directly and indirectly talking about this a whole lot. And just this morning I said to her, this idea that what I want is tied to a place has dictated my movements for so long now, and I am only now realising how limiting it has been to diminish this discovery to geography alone. Very soon after relocating from Goa to Bangalore two years ago, I realised what I was really in search of was absolutely not related to the city I was in or where I was going to. It had everything to do with me, what was going on with me, and how I would choose to respond to those inner cues. That shift in perspective has made all the difference and has been so enriching.

And so while I use Bangalore and Goa as markers to distinguish two very separate parts of my journey, the real journey has been with myself. I’ve said many times before, how every small step, every big milestone in the two years since, the little changes, the monumental shifts, all feel like taking one step closer to coming home to myself. And that’s what true belonging has come to mean to me. To know myself, to dig deeper into an authentic experience of being me, to find comfort in all that I hold within.

At this point, VC is on a similar path too, and it’s fascinating to watch what is emerging for him, and how it is so similar to my own journey from 3-4 years ago. As much as I have been talking about this — with VC, with S, with D — in direct and tangential ways, and as much as I have tossed thoughts about in my head on my own time, I realise this idea of belonging and all the acrobatics we do to understand it and get behind it has been a huge preoccupation for me in recent time.

In my own life, in my body, in my being, I have sensed a change too. And it is undoubtedly having a massive impact on the relationships in my life. Both, really close and immediate, and those that are on the fringes threatening to fall away. This is natural. This is a byproduct of knowing belonging in oneself. It is frighteningly isolating and empowering all at once. I have struggled to talk about this coherently, choosing to talk instead about everything from exercise and food, to plants and the beach.

So imagine my surprise, and relief, to wake up this morning to this beautiful piece of writing by N, that put into exact words just what I have been feeling viscerally these past few weeks. This has been the journey for as long as I remember, before I even gave it actual conscious meaning and an actual place in my life. This search for worthiness, for love, for purpose — has all been about finding a place to belong. And I have spent so long trying to look for it all over, in places, in cities, in people, in groups, when all along I was right here waiting to welcome myself. N recaps this journey — coming home to myself — succinctly, touching every emotion that I’ve felt, every milestone, and beautifully conveys how scary yet exciting the journey has been.

It has been like bursting forth to new life. Like blooming anew. Like shedding skin. Like finding new reserves of self and self-worth. Like growing.

Sharing her words here, with permission.

You’ve felt unworthy of love your whole life so you cling onto anything that will help you feel accepted, loved, and respected.

Anything.

Friends who don’t feel like friends but meet social requirements for friendship.

Careers that don’t fulfill the soul but look and feel shiny and successful on the outside.

Dysfunctional relationships with people who seem to dole out bite size portions of respect and love .. but  only when you meet their expectations.

Money, power, expertise, a beautiful face, a fit body, your work, toxic relationships, social circles hold you hostage. All because they make you feel like you will hear the magic words one day: I love you. You are worthy.

Well-meaning loved ones seem puzzled by your constant need to be right, to be praised and to get credit for anything and everything you do right.

Then one day you decide you’ve had enough.

You stop trying so hard. You begin to tune out the noise and look for worthiness within yourself. Turns out there was enough within you and you didn’t need to go out looking for it in all the wrong places.

You begin showing up as yourself in the world: self assured & confident yet vulnerable and authentic. Love and acceptance begin finding you from unexpected places.

A stranger sees the light in you minutes after meeting you.

New relationships come together out of thin air – they satisfy your every need and make you feel supported and held. Like you always hoped you would be held.

Some old relationships take on a new meaning and depth.

You begin finding what you’re passionate about and what makes your soul sing not sigh.

You hope your newfound wisdom will help you mend all your wounds from the past. But you find that the residual pain, the wounds, the scar tissue will take a long time to heal.

The loved ones, the society, the work fraternity, the workout buddies – your former source for scraps of love have moved on without you.

They could throw you a bone while you hustled for their love but now that you’ve given up on that game you don’t meet their expectations.

You’re surrounded by love but it’s hard to give up seeking approval from the same old places. The places where you know you won’t find your worthiness.

This hurts. You howl in pain. Your wounds awaken and torment you. “If only they loved me as much as I want them to” you tell yourself between sobs.

You’ve been through this before. Looking for love and worthiness in the wrong place.

But this time is different.

You’ve already found a well spring of love and acceptance  inside you. It would be wonderful to have it pour in from everywhere but the amount you need is right there in your heart.

No more no less.

Life and its players will continue to fail you with their expectations and conditions on love.

That’s their role in your life.

They are here to remind you that they are a poor substitute for that undying love you can feel for yourself.

One year ago: Just a stirring in my soul
Two years ago: More books and a mini Bangalore update

Three years ago: Mean things I want to say out loud but cant

Loud

Today, I had what I thought was a perfectly normal, if slightly loud, conversation that one has with a client. It started off as a clarification of miscommunication from both sides, but very quickly turned into a shouting match that took an unnecessarily emotional turn. I used to be someone who would get very worked up by confrontation of this sort, but I now much prefer having things out in the interest of a better outcome (even if that outcome is that I lose a client). But today, somewhere in the midst of decibel levels rising and emotions flaring, I realised that what was playing out was a story, a script. Something I have been a part of before — conversations with clients/colleagues where there is an unmistakeable undertone of a power equation threatening to be toppled simple because one party decided to come clean and ask the tough questions.

I used to be afraid of this kind of confrontation, no matter which side of the argument I have been in. I am not a fan of ruffling feathers (and losing a good thing) nor have I been a fan of being at the receiving end of a confrontation. But today, I initiated it. I didn’t even realise how naturally this had come to me today, even as I was doing it. And suddenly, in that moment when I realised what was actually at play, I had the blinding clarity that I refuse to play a part in this repetitive script in my life again.

It was suddenly no longer about missed deadlines, miscommunication, ironing out wrinkles so we can work it out going forward. It was about reclaiming my power from a person who was hell bent on irrationally taking it away. I have never been surer of how right I am in an engagement with a client. And today, I really had it out.

The conversation was difficult. It touched a very raw nerve, gave me a headache and tested me emotionally so much, I burst into tears when I hung up, even as I was so relived to have ended that contract. Now that I think of it, I think they were also tears of relief. But when the call was done, my temples were pounding, I needed a tall drink of water and immediately took myself to my air conditioned bedroom to cool off.

There’s suddenly so much happening with me, in this area of power, space and boundaries. It comes in waves with such intensity and is revealing itself in little and big situations, inspiring a host of different actions and reactions on an everyday basis. It is making me do things every single day that surprise me, push me, elate me, exhaust me.

This situation, this conversation and this outcome (ending a contract on a telephone call) would be so very unlike me. Except it doesn’t feel unlike me anymore. The more these situations present themselves, the more I am pushed to see this side of me that also exists, that has been lying locked up, that needs to be seen, the more I am forced to see what I really am. I’m a mix of it all. I am as aggressive and can fight loud and aggressively for what’s right, as much as I can be compassionate and let you have your way on a day when I feel kinder.

Today I may have shaken myself up a bit. This probably the first time I really stood up to a client who was being a bully. It’s the first time I really made myself heard, without relenting in the moment and saving up all my pent up aggression for a politely worded email sent much later when enough deep breaths were taken.

This new side, I find aggressive, loud, shrill, even hostile sometimes. But, I realise how much of this is conditioning. Conditioning that makes me believe these qualities must be hushed up. That I must be coy and cooperative as far as possible. That I must sometimes relent in the interest of work, and money. But I am so much more than that.

I am sometimes angry. Fierce. Unreasonable. I am all of this too.

When did anger get such a bad rap? Why is it looked down upon so much? I see now that anger and rage, when expressed, are clues to dig deeper. And invariably, when I do, I am compelled to change something towards a better outcome. Anger maybe a trigger emotion, but it’s certainly a catalyst for change. So when and why have we become so comfortable with pushing it away?

I feel loud and large today. It is like stepping into a side of me that has been a long time coming. But on the flip side, I feel emotionally very vulnerable and fragile. And yet, kind of empowered. I feel new.

One year ago: All the small things
Three years ago: Essay aftermath

Separate, yet connected

The biggest takeaway, for me, from this past weekend has been the realisation that I suddenly know what it is to be separate, yet connected. To engage, to relate just enough and connect, without losing myself wholly, or disconnecting either.

Somewhere along the way, all these weeks and months of owning the words and turning them around and around in my head, I suppose the inevitable has happened and it has sunken in just a wee bit, into my being.

For a decade now, VC and I have consciously believed that we are not one of them, and unconsciously kept ourselves away from extended family on his side, as a whole. I suppose there is a time for everything, and this past weekend was as much about testing my renewed capacity for this kind of togetherness, as much as it was for me to create a space for myself, just the way I am. I have always feared doing this because of how different I am. But I realised this past weekend that I’ve reduced different to be a weakness. Unknowingly, that difference became my strength over the last three days.

I’ve only ever thought of belonging in this family, as requiring losing myself a whole lot, and so I’ve always kept myself at a safe distance. Something happened this past weekend that made me realise what it is to be almost wholly me, rather fearlessly, and still believe that I can be one of them. Surprisingly, I received nothing but love for it.

I feel I have a better sense of what it is to live and let live now. The two may be separate and very different indeed, but they needn’t be mutually exclusive. The two, they can coexist in the strangest, most bizarre and satisfying ways.

***

It’s a bright hot day outside, with an over-zealous wind in the air. I’ve picked up toppled pots several times, watched my curtains billowing violently almost like they’ll snap and fly away, and I’ve devised many methods to keep doors from slamming. I have work to get started on, but all I’ve managed to do in between all of this is lie down and doze off from time to time. It seems almost ridiculous, but between the emotional stirring from the weekend and the excessive time spent in the water and the harsh sun, I’m totally exhausted. After pondering about why I’m so tired for all of today, I suddenly realised what I am feeling is a deep vulnerability hangover.

One year ago: Where is the love?