That’s how growth is

One reason I love tracking my daily posts back to one year, two years, three years ago and so on and so forth is that sometimes I make little discoveries that only I can revel in. Discoveries that would otherwise just slip away, pass me by. And I like making these discoveries, because in their small, subtleness there is sometimes a colossal shift to be found. I say found, but of course I mean experienced, in a way that only I can.

That’s how growth is. I’m back in the classroom again — the final, final leg of it all and it’s brought to the fore all sorts of bittersweet feelings about endings and new beginnings and just how immense this entire journey of tow years has been for me. Someone put it beautifully in class today:

I may look the same on the outside today, as I did last year, but on the inside I feel completely new.

And that’s how it has been for me.

So when I stumbled on this post from one year ago — frightfully, down to the day — on a day when I was going through all those same emotions and conundrums, albeit a whole year later, I got to witness exactly HOW MUCH I HAVE CHANGED. Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout there, it’s just THAT potent.

To see how I held being in that same space of tension differently, and how I managed myself, is heartwarming. The clarity and clear sense of personhood I feel as a result, liberating.

One year ago: Move
Two years ago: Day 212: I eat the city as I leave the scene

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

Same same

Still here, finding the tiny silver lining in the midst of a pandemic that’s raging out of control and has our authorities foxed. Focusing on staying well, staying safe, staying indoors and staying positive.

And it’s a tough ask. I mean last week the health minister just threw his hands up and said only God can now save us from this message. Today he says he alone can’t be expected to do the work.

Then why for you became Health Minister, saar?

Even WHO videos are now pissing me off with how absolutely wishy washy, unreliable and ineffective they’re beginning to sound. Just so much hand-wringing and nothing more. Even seven months since this thing broke out. How is this a 2020 reality?

Virus aside, though, I’m still intermittently in awe of alllllllll the ramifications of the way in which life has been toppled over and all that we are having to contend with.

There’s so many things I hope I never take for granted again. Hugs, for one. Sunlight and fresh air. Just human presence, is what I miss the most I think. Poor VC is bearing the brunt of all my need for human contact, facing frequent assaults of love. But yeah, I can’t unsee some of the fundamental ways in which life has shifted for me. Fourth month of doing all home chores by ourselves and we’ve stacked up a whole load of lessons learned but also tricks and hacks to make this work. I don’t think I can go back to the old ways of waste and excess (in so many little things) in a hurry. Eating meals at the table has been such a joy. Working out at home has been a revelation. And I’m only just scratching the surface. A lot of the changes we have made are small and private and I don’t want to be virtue signalling by talking about them at length. Also, I know this has been the process for many, many people. Everyone has had their own set of learnings and have changed their lives in important ways.

So I’d be lying if I said this painful time hasn’t been without gifts.

It’s just taken me a while to assimilate, look back and acknowledge them. Despite feeling fully the privilege it speaks of to be even doing this. For too long I let the guilt of that privilege stop me. Until I recently realised privilege too is a gift and I’m wasting it by letting the guilt paralyse me. I can instead acknowledge it, own it and let it move me to actually do things.

I ranted about just wanting to go out on my Instagram the other day, and it took absolutely no time for someone to point out that staying in is a privilege! like I was ignorant about or hadn’t possibly considered that truth. That presumption aside, it reflected exactly my own thought process around this. How stuck I have felt from just acknowledging my privilege. And what a shift it has been to accept and own it and instead move on to thinking about how I can use my privilege positively and constructively. Even if just for my own life.

(Also, acknowledging and agreeing with an inherent privilege doesn’t make the feelings of wanting to leave, any less true. Why do we insist on existing in stark binaries so much? The two states can absolutely coexist!)

Heard this Pico Iyer quote the other day on a podcast, and it hit home why some times, some parts of this shit show begin to make sense. And some times it feels good too.

Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.

Three years ago: In which I end up without a phone
Four years ago: Rainy day feels

200

More thoughts on growth learnt from watching my plants:

  1. Growth is so, so, so dependant on laying a nourishing, fertile foundation and cultivating a safe, healthy space for it to continue
  2. Growth is mostly small and subtle, miraculous in it’s shapeshifting subtlety
  3. Growth is beautifully silent
  4. Growth is bloody magical
  5. Growth, whatever kind, however it happens, is gorgeous. And absolutely worth working for

Casually hit the 200 post mark today, and felt all kinds of happy all over again, to have this space to journal, doodle, scribble the meandering growth curve that I am on.

Even though a lot goes un-articulated, undocumented (and that is fine) I am happy I have this space to note some of the surprising twists and turns, inflection points and important milestones of this journey because of the all-consuming way in which I have built it around my life itself. Not a side-project, not work, not a hobby. The very centre of my life itself.

One year ago: Retrospect
Two years ago: If everything could be this real forever
Three years ago: Perfect love
Four years ago: Barely moving

At home in my body

Last evening, I spontaneously snuck in a workout because I had just as spontaneously skipped it in the morning, in favour of spending the morning being very, very homey. Even though I’m doing the same workouts, my energy is about the same, the same struggles persist and most else remains the same — something subtle but important has changed.

It hit me like a tiny pin dropping in a silent room, last evening. Sharp, cutting clarity — My body feels much more like my own. I really feel how I inhabit it.

My body feels different in the way it moves, and I feel much more connected, and in tune with how it moves.

What has been conscious and intentional over the last few months is a shift in how I approach my physical practices — exercise, and all the other body-focused habits I keep. I’ve become much, much more loose, comfortable and fluid in how I keep them. Even so, I can’t pin point one thing that made this shift happen — it’s a combination and culmination of some mindfully cultivated aspects, but also some surprise — and I can’t say when it has happened either. My sense is it was a gradual flow, a loosening or melting perhaps.

In the moment that it hit me, I was bouncing around my living room, freestyle. Eyes closed, enjoying a loud AC/DC song. Previously, even “freestyle” has been rigid, where I come from. Lines, points, beats, bars. This is what I know, and I feel it is also what I have absorbed deeply.

But yesterday, I felt a flow that was definitely surprising and new. Fluidity, like a splotch of paint that’s running amok and cannot be corrected or fixed to stay within the lines. An unruly, unfettered energy that coursed through not just my limbs — that I usually associate as aids of movement — but my whole body. My neck, my chest, my waist, hips, torso. Even my eyes, closed, felt warm and full of energy.

What I do know is, the past few months have made me befriend my body in a new way. It’s shown me a new level of faith and gratitude for my body. Gratitude for everything that it endures and allows me to do — the stretch and the misuse included.

But also faith, that it is mine and on my side. I’ve found this in a truly embodied way, and I feel it in how easily I have been able to slip and slide through the energy ups and downs, listening keenly and leaning in to whatever my body wants and asks for. Conversely, having it respond with ease and grace when I need it to. I feel so firmly that it needn’t be punished, tamed or moulded harshly into being something else. Just what it is, will do.

It’s my inner gaze that’s shifted — a little softening in how I see myself. Tender, where I was once rigid. Gentle, even as I feel strong. Easy, with how I use restrain. More welcoming of the idea of human fragility, even in my body, where I once chased a strange notion of invincibleness.

All of this was never part of my plan. I didn’t even know there was healing to be done as far as my relationship with my body goes or how it impacts so many other things in my life. I’ve always held the physical somewhat separate from the emotional, despite ample training and experience that has shown me surprising links between the two. I didn’t think I “needed” a deeper connection between the two in myself. So in that sense, this was not part of the plan.

But that is just it: healing takes surrendering to the process as it happens. Minus any pre-planned notions and ideas about how to proceed or what to focus on.

At this point it’s hard for me to say if surrender has brought me here, or if getting here has shown me another gift of surrender.

Of course, the regular exercise has made me leaner and more toned than I have been in a long while, and I will not deny how good I feel. Confident, healthy and happy in my body. But there has been something more. A sense of oneness. Like arriving at a meeting place between the infinite world inside of me and the finite body that holds it. It’s a feeling of having yet again come home. And it feels very, very whole and contained this time around.

Rooted and fluid at the same time. Strong and tender at the same time.

And it’s inspired a kind of revelling and enjoying of my body. A little more unabashedly than before.

One year ago: Days like these
Two years ago: Always somewhere, miss you where I’ve been

The only journey is the one within

Things about keeping plants and growing things that I’ve said before, but I am going to say again:

  1. Five years ago, when I first gave growing anything a shot, it was already a process that gave me so much more than just produce. I was growing methi, pudina, palak, garlic chives and cucumbers at one point. It was a lot of good stuff to put in my food. I don’t remember a lot of the little details — like the cucumber plant — but the memories that remain are of the process. The wonder, the expectation, the excitement, the magic, the patience, the satisfaction. The wonder. The wonder.I don’t think I’ll ever forget the giant metaphor for life that tending for and growing things has taught me. I summed it up as patience, but really there was so much more. Lessons in nurturance, tenderness, beauty in rawness and imperfection, in taking time. And this is what has stayed for years on.
  2. Over a year and a half ago, the bug to garden came back. With a vengeance this time. And it has remained, steadfastly, since. And yet again, I found resonance in the what was happening in my garden, with what was happening within me.I wrote:
    It feels like my own experience of coming to (new)life, unfurling, stepping into a new seasongrowingflowering seems is reflected in my plants too.My plants have been life-giving and inspirational all through. A great way to get back to my roots, literally, and find observe and revel in life at the source.
  3. When VC moved back from Goa last year, the only thing we shipped back home were my plants. And it is a decision I rethink and feel extreme gratitude for almost every week.The number of pots we now have has significantly increased, and encroached multiple balconies, and indoor spaces. We now have enough plants to rotate and shuffle them around the place. And not all the plants that have been added on were bought. I have not just figured out how to multiply and propagate many of my plants but also figured out I can do it myself, contrary to prior belief about having a black thumb.My plants are the single biggest gifts that keep giving. I have received unending joy through them in these months gone by. Not just the green value they add to my home, but in the process of tending to them, nurturing and bonding with them. It is totally a trip to watch them grow, as closely obsessively as I do. Like they’re my literal babies.I now call my balcony full of pots a “garden” and it amuses Niyu and VC no end. But, it is what it is. Full and lush and happy making.
  4. I ended last year with the clear realisation that I was certainly feeling drawn back to the Earth, to roots, to more natural ways of living, in more ways than one. It’s a theme that has shown me many a parallel between the external reality and the internal landscape of my emotions and personal growth.
  5. And then this year, again and again, through observing nature abloom around me, as well as growth spurts within me — big and small — I have re-learned some old lessons about growth in a new way.These words I wrote here ring so true:
    Being in tune — whether it has been in taking to plants and dabbling in a bit of gardening, watching the moon and observing my mind and body through the cycle, running when I feel like it and lazing when I don’t — has affirmed in many a way again and again, that growth has it’s own pace. It’s own milestones. It cannot be rushed by an externally kept schedule.To ready yourself to bloom often requires long periods of inaction — whether you think of it as germination, autumnal period of your life, hibernation for self-care or whatever you will — it signals the necessary time of pause. Of stillness that is needed to first drop below. To peel. To shed. To let go and leave behind. In order to heal, nourish, nurture what lies beneath. And eventually to move on and about. To reach out. To evolve. To thrive. To bloom.

The other day, in a marathon session spent with my plants, I potted some spider plants that I had left to drop roots in bottles of water. If they were babies then, they had turned into literal toddlers by the time I got to potting them.

The bottles still had their labels on which meant that while I was topping up the water (often quite disinterestedly) every so often, I didn’t really have a view into what was going on within. Truth be told, there wasn’t much growth to show for on the outside either, which is actually why I hadn’t moved to do anything with them sooner. I was waiting to see some obvious signs of growth.

Externally.

Until that day, when I pulled the pesky little babies out the water.

It’s literally the most obvious things. Plants sprout shoots. We know this. And yet I couldn’t believe my eyes. Upon unentangling and loosening up the roots, I couldn’t get over how long and how lush it was.

All this beneath the surface, hidden from view, with nothing to show for it above the surface — I felt impossibly moved at the thought of how much action and activity happens in the quiet, hidden recesses of the internal world. With no real signs, no fan fare on the outside.

It felt resonant to my own therapeutic process, my journey the last so many years. Intensely private, quiet, only for me to see and know what I am chipping away at ever so subtly. Weeks and months go by with no visible change. And even when change comes, mostly I am the only one to know it, and hold it within me.

It reminded me of the personal, quiet, often lonesome and non-performative nature of true growth.

Not the first time I have cried over my plants, but the sight brought me to tears to see parts of my own life these past four months reflected in the plant. Being physically isolated, restricted, cut off has definitely cut away another layer of distractions for me, taking me deep within in a way that has been deeper and quieter than before.

I have shared little with friends and have mostly felt a lack of words to explain the nuances of my emotional state. It has seemed calm on the outside, but within, I have been through some extreme emotions, ups and downs and emerged from it all much more solid than before. I’ve witnessed the tiny roots and shoots nudging forward within me, forcing their way through my ribs and lungs, making my heart expand ever so slightly, a little bit more every day.

My therapeutic process too has been different lately. Few, almost no, words. More body work. Dream work. Art, movement, physical and other forms of expression. And through it all I have steadily noted how my movement has been inward. Going deeper within, even as I stretch out.

The lack of specificity, tangibility, the unseeness of the process I am currently in has been challenging. It has required of me a curiosity, patience and tenderness that I didn’t think I could ever extend to myself. It has been like falling in love with myself all over again.

It feels special, this privateness. I know it speaks of my capacity to hold my growth, and hold myself through it. Perhaps a day will come, when quite like a baby emerging out of a birth canal, or the spider plant being pulled out of the bottle, something will happen that will stun and astonish me at how much has changed, out of view.

How much growth happens beneath the surface. How much the roots matter. How much going within, is the key to growing tall. How much this silence and inwardness has made me feel rooted and centred.

How much growing outward requires the deep, difficult, yet essential journey within.

Right on cue, I found Rainer Maria Rilke put succinctly in simple words what I have stuttered along for too long here.

The only journey is the one within.

Everything else is noise.

Two years ago: Lost and found and turned around
Four years ago: Down and out

Monday Tarot Message: On the human need for safety

One of the main goals of the subconscious mind is to keep us safe by encouraging and reiterating safety in the Status Quo.

So, impulses for growth, expansion and evolution often make us feel torn between staying in or stepping out of our comfort zones. This is what that familiar feeling of not knowing when or which way to go, when considering change, is all about. Waiting for your mind to cue the right time or opportunity is to commit to that status quo — as safe as it feels — indefinitely.

Today’s message is: Whatever you feel called towards, even if just a hint or a glimmer, respond. With a small step. Begin now.

The allegiance to comfort zone is hardcoded into our physiology and psyches. For those of us who come from ancestry fraught with difficulty, deprivation or insecurity (read: experiencing wars, partition, mass persecution, famines, floods, severe economic difficulty etc.), the message to stay in the comfort zone to keep safe is inherited, valid and deeply embedded within us.

It may manifest as fear of change, disproportionate to current reality. Or as illogical and seemingly unreasonable preoccupation with things going wrong. Or, conversely, as an obsession or hyper-focus on security and staying safe.

However, this safety mechanism can often fortify our resistance to grow — a process that lies almost entirely outside the comfort zone.

Whether it is considering a career shift, making new friends, pursuing learning, developing new skills, overcoming a fear, or healing old trauma — it is your subconscious’ job to show up in numerous ways to encourage you NOT to. And it will. Very often, it will also succeed.

I’m all for fearlessness in embracing change. Growth requires a certain willingness and bravery to encounter the unknown. But it’s important to also understand that feeling safe is a crucial human requirement. When we acknowledge this very basic need, we can respond with a kind of bravery that is soft and tender, that makes space for it as a necessary vulnerability that makes us human; rather than bravado that discounts it and in the process may push us to be reckless or dangerous.

Understanding our need for safety teaching us our natural limits and therefore how and when to push them in a way that works for us. Negating the real need for safety disconnects us from what may work for us. This may be the subtle difference between the call for blind, miraculous, all pervasive fearlessness; versus moving mindfully towards growth, even as you experience fear every step of the way.

The fear probably won’t go away, but we can learn to move towards our dreams and desires by inviting fear to the table and trying to learn what it can teach us about ourselves in the process.

Even when we feel called to grow, we cannot respond to our heartfelt desires, without tending to the need for safety. The key is to identify experiences of stretch that can serve us well, and to move towards them in a slow and safe way. Awareness — of what and when resistance is triggered — and mindful steps towards safe choices that affirm the benefit of letting our guard down in favour of that stretch, towards growth and evolution, will serve well.

One year ago: Taking myself to new places that my mind doesn’t know are good for me
Two years ago: Long as you remember, the rain been coming down
Four years ago: 100 Tinder Tales reveals dating apps give women the upper hand

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

Rolling with the punches

Woke up at 5.50 am this morning. By woke up, I mean first opened my eyes. I texted the relief work group, forwarded some important updates too, and then dozed off back to sleep. Then, I actually woke up, eyes wide, not-going-back-to-sleep at 7.30. I planned to get out of bed, get going, work out in the morning today. I like doing mornings that start early, because I can work out before the rest of the day gets ahead of me.

So, that was the plan. VC left for a meeting far, far away at about 8.30 am today. At close to 10 am I sent him this picture, with the words: Still here.

Today, I moved very little. And slowly. It’s fine.

My idea of productivity, and planning, is slowly but surely being tested and dismantled in the minutest way, on a daily basis, these days. I am loving it.

Today was a good, do-little day. I am getting better at being okay with them, when they come. Even if unexpectedly, throwing my plans completely out of whack.

I notice this because even just six months ago a day like this would have been classified a bad day. Now, they’re just different kinds of days. Days that I need to approach differently. Let loose my plans, let go my intentions.

I’m noticing the words I use to describe my days, and all that it tells me about how I really feel. The words are loaded sometimes, and if I look beneath the surface, they tell a story of what I actually mean when I use them. Sometimes when I say I had a “full” day, I don’t just mean that it was chockfull with activity. I also derive a certain sense of usefullness and worth from that fullness.

Today was that kind of day. And it came on the heels of a full-on full day. Yesterday, I spun around like a top, quite unintentionally. I didn’t have a moment to spare. It wasn’t planned that way, it just spontaneously ballooned into that kind of situation. But it made me notice the different in how I see a full day now. It doesn’t fill me up in quite the same way that it used to. I don’t even look to it like that anymore. When I couldn’t wait to get into bed to wind down and chill for a bit after, it hit me. I have slowed down, a lottttttt. A lot more than I planned to hahahaha.

What yesterday looked like:

  1. Woke up
  2. Morning chores about the kitchen
  3. Put a load of laundry on
  4. Shopped for veggies
  5. Cleaned out the fridge and veggie tray
  6. Swept, mopped and dusted the whole house because it was jhadoo-poccha day
  7. Cooked a very basic lunch
  8. Dried out the laundry
  9. Ate lunch
  10. Went out with VC for what was meant to be a very quick jaunt to see A couch, it turned into a three hour venture (spent mostly driving around because there’s still not as much traffic out, and we took the opportunity to finish seeing all our options rather than step out again and again)
  11. Came home in time for tea, made some tea and sat down for the first time all day to enjoy it in peace
  12. Marinated some meat for dinner and did some other preps
  13. Cooked dinner with VC and was looking to Dunzo some food to a friend, to no avail
  14. Made the quick decision to drive over myself. Thankfully it’s not too far from home
  15. Came home just in time to make some rice. Niyu was making the salad as I walked in, bless her
  16. Ate dinner and finally got to relax

Finally, when I had the opportunity to get into bed, like I so wanted, it began to pour. So I felt tempted to stay up a bit. I have grown to love my home and my solitude in the post-10 pm glow of my living room. VC turns in early most nights these days. I get to be by myself, in silence. So yesterday, I sat up and painted/journaled for a bit.

It was that kind of full day. And today was so different. Of course I also realise so often that I am blessed to have a life that allows me this. I mean, imagine cancelling and giving in to a slow day if I had a child? Or a pet? Or a day job? I am so grateful for the life that I have cultivated such that I can allow myself this, without feeling entirely useless.

I’m enjoying the varying and growing sense of ease in rolling with the punches that is my mental and physical energy see-saw. This is probably normal. We’ve just been conditioned not to look at it this way. Even now, there will be a day when all of this chilling will catch up with me and amount to a body slam to my self-worth, when I’ll deem myself useless and unproductive and wasted. When my life seem pointless. But that too is conditioning that I am trying to slowly dismantle and rework. It is crazy that I do not look at full days like the one enumerated above, and feel like I haven’t been productive. Isn’t it crazy?

One year ago: Warm
Two years ago: Take a minute, I’ve been sitting here and wondering
Three years ago: What coming home feels like: seeking solitude

Your tenderness is valuable

Some weeks ago, N and I were talking about how emotionally spent we’ve been feeling all the damn time these past few months. And she said to me “If there was a season for feeling feelings, this is it”.

I couldn’t agree more. Unexpectedly finding moments of tenderness when I’m not trying to be put together, or keeping my frailty at bay, choosing “strength” and productivity over all else, has been a whole new world for me. Because it has opened me up and allowed an onslaught of every single emotion possible. Not fighting, figuring out or trying to overcome any of them has meant I have felt everything very deeply, as might be obvious to those of you who read this blog.

I grew up having a lot of role models for “strong” women. And I put the word in quotes because while they were all impossibly strong and showed me what grit, determination and a sense of ambition outside of themselves can do, as I’m growing, I understand what that strength has cost them. The loss of tenderness.

As an adult, I realise I know little about being tender or soft. I have held such strong, unidimensional ideas of strength (and therefore weakness too). I see how easily I used to equate vulnerability and tenderness with weakness, because I was so focused on keeping it and myself together, through everything.

Lately, I’ve realised “weak” is a word I no longer like to use. I don’t see weakness anymore, just different colours and kinds of strength. This is especially apparent as I’m having to learn vulnerability. It’s been a hard and painful journey of unlearning that definition of strength. Looking back, I wish the women I looked up to as a child has also modelled strength in tenderness. So I could have seen the power of vulnerabilities and letting them be seen.

I have known and believed for years that Vulnerability is Strength, and maybe I even practiced it a little. But it wasn’t until very recently that I have embodied the very idea of it in a wholehearted way that has broken me apart. Because it has let me shatter the various personas I hold, in order to be seen as a certain kind of person. Sorted, sometimes. Loving, caring, available sometimes. Unaffected, strong, most of the times.

I have been on this quest for years — waiting for a moment where suddenly I’d just be able to feel all the feelings. Little did I know it’s it takes time and practice. That it isn’t an achievement that I’ll gain, like arriving in a point in time. Rather a gradual process, like standing at the edge of the vast expanse of an ocean and allowing the sea to gently lap over me. Toes first, feet next, making me heave and gasp with overwhelm. But soon enough, it gets easier, familiar, fun even. The sea that seemed threatening is suddenly inviting. Joyful. And before I know it the waves have washed over me. Drenched. Heavy. And strangely — buoyed, uplifted, held, strong.

These past few months, I have felt the depths of sadness, agitation, helplessness, anger, grief, heartbreaking rejection and terrible loneliness with an intimacy I haven’t allowed myself before. I believe allowing myself tenderness had something to do with it. And somehow through that tenderness, I found a kind of strength I haven’t ever felt before. A strength, from vulnerability, that I haven’t allowed myself either. It has taken everything out of me to begin to show myself, in these vulnerable states. To say, I don’t feel well. I miss you. I am hurt by what you said/did. I don’t want to have it together today. I wanted you and you weren’t there for me. I shrink when you say that, and I don’t like shrinking. Please don’t say that to me again? I’m really, really lonely. amongst so many other things.

And so many weeks and months down, it is slowly manifesting in a bodily awareness of being fully (differently, somehow) in my skin and deeply aware of my changing world.

This is a note to myself, but maybe you need to hear it too today? Your tenderness is valuable. Your tenderness is the path to strength. Your tenderness can set you free.

One year ago: Tender
Two years ago: You live, you learn
Four years ago: I don’t feel sorry about posting pictures of my life

Outdoors

In the midst of all the madness last week, I managed to wake up early, put my mask on and head out for my first outdoor run in over three months. I swear, I cried a little.

And because I felt so good, I went again, the very next day. It was raining, a typicaly Bangalore morning, feathery drizzle all the way through my entire run. It felt so great to be outdoors, and so good to be running in the rain.

It’s all the exercise I could manage. But it gave me a burst of energy and good hormones I so needed. I took the weekend off from volunteering, and lay low. Feeling feels. Journaling, painting, listening to music. Eating greasy Chinese take out. Crying and laughing. Sleeping. Not exercising. Just listening.

Then Monday came around, and I knew from the moment I woke up and stepped out of bed that it was going to be better. This week, I’m looking forward to gently getting my exercise and cooking routine back on track. Infections are spiking in Bangalore again and I’m not feeling so safe to head out again for a run. It was short-lived joy, but I think I’ll pass for now. Back to those home workouts that I’ve not done in two weeks now. My fridge was a mess, overstocked, but chaotic with nothing cohesive to make a meal from. I cleared it out and set that right over the weekend and already, I feel so much better.

As much as I am raring to get going, I clearly am not ready to dive into the deep end, so I have had to reign myself in and stay with what I can do and what my body and mind is allowing for. This whole experience has been a live lab for all my learning in boundaries, empathy, holding space for the other while also making space for everything that it rakes up within me. And I’m quite pleased with how I have pulled myself through it. Not punishing myself, but staying very close to what I need and taking it when I must.

Two years ago: Love on the weekend   
Four years ago: I’m only procrastinating to avoid the discomfort

Transition

At a macro level, I see everything that we’re going through as a race and as a planet, is a massive transition. A portal that popped open when we were least expecting it, ushering in some deeply uncomfortable events that are shaking the very foundations of our existence — across the board.

It’s impossible to transition through this sort of change quickly. It’s really forcing us to slow down, in more ways than one. Asking us to look for meaning beyond the obvious, cliche interpretations of those two words — slow down.

Even as things are opening up and we’re seeking normalcy (whatever that may be — I don’t even know anymore) I see how unsettled things still are. Something important has happened in this period, whether one is conscious of it or not, it has happened. It feels at times like we’ve woken up from a long nap. And sometimes it feels like we’ve been thrown off a plane and have had to land abruptly, hitting the ground running. And no matter which way you’re experiencing this — as extreme slow, discomfort or a series sudden, quick moving shifts — this is a transition.

The foundations have crumbled, the cracks of inequity are visible, the the dust is still in the air and won’t settle for a while. We have much to do. And this feels deeply like a call for change. For examination. For introspection. For walking the talk. For doing the work. For stretching ourselves. For getting off our collective asses.

And. It’s becoming impossible to ignore how connected what’s happening at the micro level — at the level of my personality and within me — feels connected to what’s around. Whether, and what, I choose to do anything about it or not has become secondary. Through the entire lockdown I found myself much more willing to face the anger and angst, grief and hopelessness that was coming in waves, because I felt very sure that it was the only way to know what to do next. That a process and a path will show up. And it has, for me. Just last week, in a spontaneous collection of some kindred spirits getting together to mobilise food, medicines and other essentials for the thousands and thousands of migrants leaving Bangalore everyday. Suddenly I am in the midst of the operation, and there is an energy and a channel for my emotions.

Hopelessness thaws and turns to hope. Stuckness finds movement and energy. And in all this, that connection — between what’s been happening within me, and around me — has strengthened, more than ever before. Beyond just the cognitive understanding that this connection exists.

I also carry within me this strange dichotomy of emotions every single day. A bittersweet space where hopelessness and hope somehow sit side by side, where anger and joy are holding hands, and where stillness and action have found a way to coexist. Within and without.

This year came out of nowhere, and it is being the best teacher, asking of me things that I have been building and working towards for the last couple of years. I am at a threshold of sorts, and this entire shitfest in all it’s glory — energetically, emotionally, environmentally, economically, politically — feels like an invitation. Every single day it calls me, gently asking for my presence in some way or another. And I feel that something has shifted yet again, in the way that I am now willing to show up.

In so many, many ways I feel like the last 3-4 years, the turn that my life has taken, the things and people I felt drawn to, the issues that have occupied my energy and impacted the choices I have made, the work I feel called to do and how it has influenced my place and sense of identity in the world — it was all a massive preparation for this moment in time.

While there is urgency, there is also a capacity to slow down and wait for the call. I want to bring my voice to all that is churning and being spoken about and I also want to take time to read, learn and listen.

This is the way I think I can participate in this transition. With eyes wide open.

This work of dismantling old orders and frameworks of being is a crucial part of growth. Much like dismantling old beliefs and processes. It is the first and most important step to establishing new ways of being. New orders. New intentions. New, egalitarian ways of coexisting. Within and without.

We cannot go there without first eliminating the rot that no longer serves us. Whether that is within us, or without us.

For the new to take birth, the old needs to quite literally die. And the forces that hold power and keep this imperative death from happening, will have to be challenged as they are today. It is no different in personal work. Looking within, seeing all that we hold on to, the fear that holds us back, the walls we build to hide behind — all of it needs to be challenged — so we can emerge into our full power.

This is not an easy or beautiful process. No healing is uniformly positive, in that way. And I see how there is this constant attempt to make the process of change look beautiful and charming. It isn’t. It’s messy, challenging, painful and very, very exhausting. Whether you’re healing a broken heart, or a broken political system.

This is true at the level of the individual as much as it is as a collective. As a society, country, race.

So much of popular spiritual talk — meditation, mindfulness, self-care — is centred around positive vibes only. Almost as if that’s a ticket to circumvent the difficulties that are bound to come up when you begin this process of healing. Whereas, now more than ever before, we have to be willing to really face up to the violence and destruction of this churn we are in the midst of.

Revolutions, personal or political, always, always shatter the status quo, the superficially held facades that cover up the gross fault lines we’re always working to hide and avert our gaze from.

That transition has started. The rot is being swept up. Look around you, start in your neighbourhood, pull out and look at the country, look at the divisions, look at the people who hold power, and pull back some more and look at the environment, the world at large, other countries, the planet as a whole.

This transition begins to feel staggering. And if you look close enough, you’ll see your place in it. But you have to look. And you have to be willing to face the discomfort of what you’ll see. Within and without.

There’s going to be a lot more trauma, injustice, pain and suffering (which will almost entirely be borne by minorities) being churned up. We brought this on. And now is not the time to turn away and avoid the mess that we created. Now is the time to bring ourselves to the centre of it in whatever way we can. To listen, to unlearn, participate and relearn, reconstruct, heal and hold space. To show up. In whatever way we can.

Either way it feels like there is no way to go around this mess. Only through it. This call to focus on inner-work, suddenly seems such an imperative and essential stepping stone to connection, harmony and peace in my outer world. And I see how the challenges in connection I face at the personal level, are so implicitly reflected in the way the planet is struggling to find peace today. How much we struggle to meet one another in a harmonious way.

Personally, last week, I had a very powerful experience of what not just fully owning up to the truth of my feelings, but showing myself as a vessel of those emotions, did for me. It was painful, but so freeing.

Denying reality, only pushes connection away, widens the gaps and creates silos. Showing up along with the full force of our power (and that includes the good, the bad, the ugly, what we’ve felt, what we’re capable of, and everything in between) is possibly the only way to begin to connect again.

And the first step to showing up is to meet this transition for what it is. A call to step in, step up.

Four years ago: Awash with monsoon memories

Authenticity is expensive

It’s been a confusing day. A day that has shown me very intensely that many times the price to pay for absolutely honesty and authenticity is loneliness.

Because people show me time and time again how they cannot value and hold it.

How they cannot handle it.

How they absolutely will compensate by bringing in their projections.

How easy it is for me to feel like the problematic one.

How quickly I feel responsible.

And how all of this can drag me back to my old narratives in a jiffy.

I’m fuckenn sick of people’s projections.

One year ago: Meeting myself   
Two years ago: Serendipity, do you believe that this makes sense?

On anger. Again.

I have been deep in anger territory with my self work and at therapy. Really touching the red-hot scalding spaces of previously untouched anger, and staying there long enough to see what it can show me that I have been unwilling to see this far. And so it is no surprise that the way the world is spinning out of control for many months now, just escalating and unravelling every single day, has been feeling very personal and triggering some deep emotions in me.

I hold these emotions close. Not very many people are privy to it. I’ve also learned late, to choose who to share my vulnerabilities with. And even so, when I find expression for this angry, red-hot, scalding anger that I have never experienced before, it isn’t pretty. It isn’t well-presented, or articulate or easy to digest. And so the response is often one of two things 1) whataboutery 2) suggestions to do something constructive with my anger.

Both valid. Maybe. Maybe. But more often than not these days, I am leaning fully into expression of previously unexpressed emotion, just for the fuck of expression. Fuck the action. For now, if I am tapping into generations of unexpressed anger, I am going to take my time befriending it. And I am not sorry that sometimes the expression of it is not pretty or put together.

I am not always sorry that I unravel, let my mouth run loose, and break down, the way that I have been the last few months. It has been building slowly since December, and some days I really get to the point of wondering how much more I can take.

Today, I saw these words by Maya Angelou and they spoke straight to my heart.

You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.

I think I may be making the distinction between pure anger and jaded bitterness — a space I have occupied for too long, mistaking it for anger. I know for a fact that isn’t obvious on the outside. Especially not to people deeply discomfited by this development within me. But in my bones I feel it. There is energy in this anger. It is slowly and steadily building, and I feel okay in not knowing what the way forward holds or what I am being called to do next.

I am okay because I know deadly solid within my core, that it is only through doing and experiencing authentically, that a way ahead will emerge.

Two years ago: Life has a funny way of helping you out
Four years ago: May