Little pieces of magic

In the early years when VC and I had just begun seeing each other, we weren’t too big on using the phone. We’d spend all day together at the same workplace, and inevitably a gang of us would head out after work for a bite or a drink (or both) and it was only the hours between sleep and the new work day that kept us apart. So we didn’t really need to talk too much in the after-hours.

In general, in life, VC isn’t big on communication. If something is pressingly urgent or needs to be immediately shared — these are the only two counts on which I usually expect a call. A barrage of messages, an entire conversation on SMS — this is an impossibility with him. The thing is, I am a big communicator. Not so much telephone calls (though I sense something changing here too), but I can have entire conversations on chat/messaging services. And I can make calls to VC for no reason at all.

Anyhow, with this long backstory out of the way, this is just to note that VC has suddenly taken to calling me for no reason. We’re suddenly the people who begin and end most days with a telephone call. Sometimes just to say hi, and bye. The thing I thought would never be possible: video calls. We make them now. Several times a week. And I have to say, I’m not the only one initiating them.

I am enjoying this shift in our lives. Where suddenly there seems to be a place for long, detailed, emotionally-charged chatting, baring our souls and sharing our biggest excitements and dejections of the day, conversations that go late into the night. This is the stuff we bypassed entirely in our relationship.

***

Sunday morning walk has become a marker of a good week. A thing to look forward to. I’ll admit the idli-vada is still the draw, but it does feel really good to be out in the crisp morning air when the sun has only just come out.

I nearly didn’t make it two weeks in a row and the joy of actually having made it, and having finished a walk amidst many, many giggles and all kinds of conversation with D, and that breakfast with a double dose of coffee at the end — it’s near perfection.

However, the thing that just laces it all beautifully for me, like a cherry on the top, is coming home and getting right back into bed. Under the quilt and all, to either read, watch some Netflix or just nap — it is just divine.

Last Sunday, I realised this is a small, seemingly insignificant pleasure, the joy of which I almost didn’t fully register. But it has become something of an important ritual for me, and it does lift my day, my week up in more ways than I realise. To acknowledge that this past Sunday shifted something.

***

I have also resumed yoga again. AND I FEEL SO GOOD. There is that sweet, stretchy pain of having used my body for something more than just sitting around, which has been my predominant state for the last 12 months. It’s been a little over a week and it’s hard to fight the constant thought of how woefully out of shape I am, of how the proportion of time it takes to gain strength, stamina and muscle versus the time it takes to lose it all is so goddamned skewed. But, I feel really, really good. I like the deep stretching, the twisty, bendy moves that turn my mind and body into knots, I love the peace in the pranayam, and I go through the entire class in anticipation of the deep relaxation and full-body scan of the last 7 minutes of shavasana.

I’ve had sore abs and hams and glutes pretty much after every class. And then I went and started getting out for a walk on the alternate days when I’m not at yoga. Plus there’s the Sunday walk. So yeah, I’m moving again.

Last year was obviously a year of sitting still, conserving energy. And while it has had its place in the whole process, I hadn’t realised just how much I love to be active, and how happy it actually makes me. On Thursday last week after a walk, I actually came home and burst into a hysterical fit of laughter and cried happy tears from the sheer surge of endorphins like I haven’t felt in forever.

As my next Goa trip approaches, I’m wondering about my options to keep the exercise going. And almost like on cue, my kickboxing trainer messaged me out fo the blue. We hadn’t interacted in upwards of 6 months, and he just checked in on me suddenly, just like that.

I feel like it was a sign.

***

L was down in Bangalore after what feels like forever. Actually, the last time she was down was when we met and hung out at M’s wedding six years ago. Six years isn’t very long, but it feels like an age simply because of how much has happened in the years between. We haven’t been inactive touch through this time. We pretty much fell out of touch entirely, and I only surfaced to get in touch with her last year when I visited Pondicherry and this year when I was in Auroville — to see if we could catch up. Both times she was travelling, and we went back to our regular lives.

So we met, and I realised only after we met that she had made the entire trip down to catch up with me, and another friend. I am so used to assuming nobody would ever do that for me, that I had just taken it for granted that she had some other business to deal with in Bangalore and was catching up with me on the side.

We had a lovely hang. It was meant to be a quick coffee at Koshy’s, but it ended up being a long, long, chatty time. And when we weren’t done even after our coffee was done, we walked up and down Church Street chatting some more. Then ducked into Blossoms and bought a bunch of books. Still no sign of calling it a night, we went back to Koshy’s for dinner.

It was just so affirming. Here’s someone I have just not been in touch with, we have lives that are wildly polar opposites of each other, and yet when we met we picked up effortlessly. The conversation wasn’t stilted, the connection was warm, genuine and lingering, refusing to end.

In all my years struggling to get a grip on the loop of friendship and loneliness in my life, I’ve focused on the lack so much. It only takes a day like this to turn it all around.

***

I also caught up with S and D — we hadn’t done this since the course ended. I came home just so grateful. Here are two people I only got to know about six months ago, we don’t have history. I don’t know too much about the intricacies of their lives, and vice versa. But we’ve connected on a foundation of authenticity and vulnerability, just by virtue of doing this course together and experiencing each other’s worst selves in a closed room. There’s something special about that kind of bond. There’s warmth in the hugs we give, there’s a glint in our eyes when we talk about what we’re dealing with, and there’s the incredibly rare and wonderful bit where we meet like this, over coffee, after 3 months and waste no time in pleasantries, jumping straight to OMG I’m struggling so much this month!

***

I’ve been practicing reading the Tarot for myself for months now. Ever since D got me started last year it’s been a regular feature/habit and gradually growing interest in my life. At the start of the year, I told myself I want to do this more — for myself and for others. This week, I did four readings for four different people. And each of then were an utterly enjoyable experience for me.

What I love most about reading the cards is how there’s almost always a message for me in every reading, how much it makes me tap into my intuition and how much freshness it brings to my life as a newfound interest.

***

This is gratitude for all that has shifted this week. Something about a cycle closing — I’ve been feeling this since the turn of the year and the last full moon that gave me a burst of energy seems to have also completed some kind of shedding that has been in process. I’ve been so wrapped up in thought and working on processing it through my head, that I’ve lost contact with my feelings and my body. I realised today in an instant that I have loosened up physically, as much as I have relaxed about certain tight corners in my life.

Maybe it’s new. Or maybe it’s been there and I hadn’t noticed it because I’ve been so busy looking for cognitive answers.

***

This is gratitude for the winter. For the walks. For the parks. For the morning air.

For the strawberries that I could make jam with.

For this blog and the fresh connections it has brought to my life.

For friends who’ve been there in ways I have been unable to see. For new friends. For new people who are there, just as people, and that’s okay.

For friends who have come, are in the process of leaving, and also those who have left. For teaching me not to hold on so tight. For finally showing me what I’ve been fighting and how futile it is.

For therapy and N and how hard she pushes me.

For the crayons I bought, for the pictures of myself that I dug out and the drawing and writing that came from it.

For the numerous times that I found myself at Airlines this past week. For the coffee.

For home. For amma and for how much time we got to spend together since I’ve been back.

For R, S and H and how they’ve taken me under their wing. Counting me in whenever they go out as a family. It’s incredibly heartening.

One year ago: Pretty lights
Two years ago: Because I want to remember
Three years ago: Saaru-anna

 

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Learning to let go

I held myself back because I thought that’s the only way to meet heartbreak.

I held myself back because it helped me cope and (feel like I can) move on from the pain.

I held myself back because it made me (feel) big, strong, capable. And grown up.

I held myself back because was honestly just easier to close my heart up and withdraw.

I held myself back because I thought it would help digest and dissolve all the difficult feelings within myself.

I held myself back because I thought I’d be too much for people around me.

And now I’m trying to learn to let this, too, go.

What makes you hold yourself back?

***

Had a severe oh-ffffff moment hearing that Mary Oliver has passed on. And immediately remembered her through one of my favourites. Which, ironically, sums up what all of last week was like for me.

I did think, let’s go about this slowly.

This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t.

— Mary Oliver

One year ago: Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Two years ago: Work. But also life.
Three years ago: Hope

New light

It is possible, I have realised over just the last 24 hours, that VC was there all along, and it is I who have learned to let myself go and be held and helped instead. This dropping of my own weight from holding it all in and holding myself up, has been somewhat pivotal.

I accidentally encountered a term last week, in casual conversation, that perfectly describes this phenomenon: allowance.

To be in allowance — or the degree to which I am willing to permit myself, in this context — to receive this support. The allowance to feel fully, to allow my emotions to show, even if it means showing myself in a light different from the one I have been used to has been an unexpected plot twist.

One of the frightening realisations I have come to recently is how often I go through difficult times all by myself for no fault of anyone else’s but my own. All because I almost never allow what I am feeling to brim over and be seen. I rarely allow for help — whether it’s a listening ear or physical assistance or just an act of kindness, not random but in response to something I am feeling.

This is a script that has dictated much of my life. I’m seeing more and more how even though the circumstances and specific details of our lives may be different, this script has dictated much of my mothers life too. And similarly, my grandmothers too. A chat with amma the other day made me realise it probably goes beyond that too — my great grandmother was an outlier and a beacon of achievement and women’s liberation for her time. Her mother in law too, did some immensely formidable things. I realise I carry within me the spirit of what was once the definition of strength — to get through difficult times with a smiling face, to be put together and move on. It’s almost hardcoded in my DNA, much like the colour of my eyes, the tilt of my smile and the way in which my skin reacts to the air around me.

These are inherited stories, a collective culture of achievement, a legacy that I am compelled to step into and further. But the more grounded and secure I feel in getting to know myself, the more I feel ready to encounter and face the difficult emotions.

The more I listen to the voice within me wrapped beneath layers of this consciously learned and unconsciously inherited behaviour, the more I want to redefine what strength, achievement and happiness means to me. The more I want to open up to the authenticity of my emotions and consequently, the desire for help, the desire to no longer face life alone.

There are two threads to this. One, the capacity for admission and allowance for experiencing pain, grief, difficulty, sadness, rejection — the whole gamut of difficult feelings that I was almost afraid to allow myself to feel. Two, the consequent, chronic absence of people when I most need them. They’re separate, and yet connected. The truth, as I’ve come to painfully realise, is that all those difficult emotions are the flip-side of every experience of joy, love, happiness, togetherness and connection. They’re two sides of the same coin, following each other in a an infinite loop. It is impossible to separate the two, and so to live a life in constant negation or denial of the difficult is to make absolutely no space for emotions that are intrinsically 50% of me.

This script is another facet of the strong narrative. The deeply compelling belief that to feel difficult feelings is to be weak, that expressing them would amount to making a fuss, that making space for them would mean a life soaked in sadness, that asking for help would mean that I am somewhat incapable and an small. One thing leads to another and pretty soon it begins to feel like my entire life is a big fat lie. Because there’s no running away rom how often I do need help. How much I do need space to express myself. How much I do need to feel everything.

And so, the work then is to unpack the script. And very, very slowly rewrite it in a way that erases the notion that uncomfortable emotions will consume me if I face them. Because everything passes. Just like the sun needs to set and darkness must prevail, before a new dawn rises. Trees must get unabashedly naked for new life to sprout. The earth must be painfully parched to fully enjoy the gush of that first rain.

The work is in trashing the “suck it up” impulse that’s so quick to swoop in and call the shots. It is in, believe it or not, building a capacity not just for joy but also to invite deep sadness and the whole host of difficult feelings. To really see myself and my capacity to feel in a radically new light.

This requires strength. Just not the kind that comes from building an armour around myself, but from letting myself show. These past few weeks I’ve tasted that strength that comes from knowing that virtually no difficult emotion is so big it can overpower me. I’ve found security in my body and intuition that is beginning to tell when it is time to let my guard down, drop my weight and be seen. I’ve found safety in meeting grief and sadness and staring it right in the face, making absolutely no attempts to hide it.

I’ve held the words Vulnerability is strength really, really close to my heart for over two years now. But it is only now that I am slowly beginning to experience what it means. Vulnerability is in allowance. In seeing and being seen. And something tells me I’ve only just, barely, barely scratched the surface.

***

Title inspiration:

One year ago: Block rockin’ beats (Wayanad, 2017)
Three years ago: Come undone

Breathing space

VC is going to hate it and maybe tell me off a bit, but this is an appreciation post. For VC and the way in which he consciously or unconsciously always becomes the safest space in which I can allow myself to just be. Just the way I am, at my best and worst moments.

I’m saying this today because the couple of weeks have been sort of emotionally tumultuous for me. I’m going into previously unexplored, untouched territory at therapy and it has brought out a lot of (so far) unexplained grief and anger from a place so deep, so old and just so far beyond that sometimes it feels like I cannot take this outpouring all on my own. Very quickly I have realised that I don’t have to. Because VC has been there, listening, watching, sitting in quiet companionship while I just feel it all for what feels like the very first time in my life that I am allowing sadness to just sweep over me. Without questioning where, how or why it is all happening.

I’ll get to that later, I tell myself. For now, I just want to feel it.

It’s taking everything out of me to just be with it, without either having to stuff it all back inside me and put on a brave face, or allowing it all to dribble over, to hold it in the healthiest manner possible. And of course since I am only human, and already very vulnerable at the moment, there have been many a slip up where I have unraveled and much of these emotions as bubbled over, spilling all over the space between us.

So this is appreciation for VC always being my punching bag. My object at which I direct all these displaced emotions. Appreciation for how he somehow takes it all, and yet knows just when to tell me to shut up and watch what I’m saying. Shaking me out of an emotional nosedive, at the right moments, bringing me back up for a breath of air so I can see clearly again.

I am constantly talking about how emotionally incapable and stunted his family experience and upbringing has been. I’m actually the one who has had the privilege of an emotionally sound childhood where almost no feelings or opinions were too much (some of that may have changed after my teens hahaha), while he has come from a background of absolutely not acknowledging any depth of emotion at all. So it’s true, for the most part. But I guess not all of that has to endure. These cycles can be broken, patterns can change, new ones can be learned. And while my way to navigate these sensitive spaces may be to take a course or go to therapy, his is in practicing listening. And I see this work out very well for us on days that VC surprises (and humbles) me with his capacity for empathy and understanding. For just the way he listens, without offering counsel, advice or verbal responses.

There is great strength in having a body like that to just have it out at and know that I will mostly always be heard. I do not acknowledge this other side enough. I don’t talk about him. I haven’t had the space for much else but me and my thoughts these past few years. It’s been forever since I really wrote a Things About VC post.

Perhaps this side was always there and I have not had to lean on it as much as I have these past few months. Or maybe it’s a change, and a side VC is discovering himself. Maybe this change is a consequence of just making some space between us, so we’re able to be better to and with each other. These past few weeks that I spent in Goa with him, and even since being back, I have felt more than ever before a sense of being held just as I am, safe in this nothing-is-off-the-table equation. This is so new. And I am very grateful.

One year ago: Obscured by clouds (Coonoor, 2017)
Two years ago: Two new pieces
Three years ago: People puzzles

Deep dive

I took this picture on a day when I was finding it hard to look myself in the eyes. It was a day when I had to remind myself that going through change also sometimes means seeing sides of myself that I may not want to, aspects I have forgotten because I’ve buried them away so deep such a long time ago, things about me that I didn’t see coming or haven’t prepared myself for.

But see it, I must anyway.

I take pleasure in my transformations, I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.

— Anais Nin

Few. Sometimes not even I myself understand how many, it seems.

So, this gentle reminder to go easy. To take my time. To take pleasure in this transformation. To actively participate with gentleness, in creating a channel. And to observe, witness and be present to all the women that may emerge.

One year ago: I have my books and my poetry to protect me
Two years ago: Inconsequential posts you really don’t need to read
Three years ago: This and that

This being human is a guest house

Breaking down two words in my head for a couple of weeks. Two simple words — I’m okay. Dismantling them, mangling them, turning and twisting them around in my head. Observing how often I use them, when the reality is so far from that truth. How many times I feign strength in saying them, just so I don’t have to show what I am truly feeling. How many different variants of these two simple words I have in my vocabulary, that help me sidestep the full strength of my emotions, settling for a comfortable white lie. How often telling myself that I’m Okay, is only so I can feel a temporary regaining of strength to get on. and, my God, I’m flabbergasted at the many, many, many ways in which they’re inadequate. Inaccurate. Insufficient.

I’m not okay. I haven’t been so many, many times that I have effortlessly let these two words roll off my tongue.

Realising slowly, with soul-crushing clarity that I’ve spent so long aspiring to be a strong woman. Strong like the women I was surrounded by all through my growing up. Strong like the women who choose the partners they will spend their lives (or not) with. Strong like the women who earn their own living, live on their own terms. Strong like the women who don’t take bullshit when they’re groped on buses. Strong like the women who lift weights and scream strong is the new skinny. Strong like the women who look down on Zumba and turn to kickboxing. Strong like the women who don’t cry as much as they might feel like. Strong like the women who suck it up and deal with their emotions themselves. Strong like the women whose mantra is Bring It On. Strong like the women who respond with I’m okay, no matter what happens and what adversity they’ve faced and overcome.

These are women in my life. Women in my world. Faceless women in my mind. Pretty made-up faces of women on TV, in the movies, online. These are women all around. Women I know. Women you probably know too.

And I’ve spent my whole entire life trying to be one of them. Fighting some labels, clinging to others. Redefining some. Creating new meanings of my own for some others. And the bargain, I’ve become pretty damn hard. Frozen. Cold.

So can you imagine my horror when the very definition, the foundation, of what I have been trying to be for only like just my entire life came slowly crashing down? Falling apart brick by brick, with a slow and painful realisation that this chase for power and strength, when pitted against The Other — men, bosses, mother in laws, mothers, friends — is but a clever and unmistakeable glorification of strength as an aspiration. This hungering for power, no matter how small or subtle, that every woman knows only too intimately is in itself the biggest tenet of patriarchy.

Every single day, for the last maybe 10-12 days, I’ve felt like another layer of this patriarchal hangup has been stripped away form my brain. And I am nowhere near done. As I peel back the layers, the my jelly-like throbbing heart beats faster and faster, awaiting its inevitable expose. This is a frightening as hell process. And everyday I have thoughts of backtracking and abandoning this unravelling that I have begun. Because to be exposed, raw, open, soft — a beating heart that’s alive for all to see as it is — is the most frightening thing I have ever known or done.

And I wonder if it is frightening because it calls for a strength I don’t know if I have? It’s the sort of power that no gym has ever prepared me for. I have absolutely no capacity for this kind of softness, handling my own heart with tenderness and love that this calls for. The job description is already intimidating.

It’s taken me only 34 years, and we’re only nine days into the new year, but I already know that this will always be the year I will spend rediscovering strength.

Finding vulnerability. Being soft. Faltering, fumbling, falling apart. Learning.

Making space to feel with my heart (and not my head) again. Giving space for the warm, fuzzy heart that’s buried under layers of strong to feel pink and fragile again.

To love. To cry. To be real. To unpack my backlog of unprocessed emotions. Discovering the gallons of grief that flow out when I drop the I’m Okay. Touching the tears that flow when I stop saying I Can Do This Too. Gently picking up the flowers of guilt and pain that fall when I say Enough.

Now I know that all of this requires strength. And it is going to bring more pain, fear, loneliness and grief to begin again. To start learning to be soft now.

But I also know that guilt, pain, fear, loneliness is as good a point to start, as any.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Rumi

One year ago: Day 9: The hardest part

Changing seasons, changing reasons

Feeling the feels and thinking lots of thoughts about death of a phase, moving on to new horizons, finding new ground and growing into new skin since yesterday.

Maybe it was the massage I had yesterday that set of this feeling of having shed something. Or maybe it’s the energy of the first week of the new year that still feels like the dregs of the old, leaving on its last legs. I have actually been feeling this energy of something finishing since the last big full moon of December. Or maybe it’s the near end of this trip — that has in so many, many ways been life-altering — that makes me feel like something new has been set in motion.

Nothing confirmed it — this inner knowing of what was one young and tender, having grown, and what has grown and fulfilled its purpose eventually meeting a logical end, this feeling of the continuous cycles that keep finding their peaceful completion — like this splash of pink and white that’s taken over a curry-leaf tree whose time is in sun is clearly done.

This overgrown burst of colour that’s brimming with the kind of audacity that only be found in youth. The loud, look-at-me-flourish vibe that overshadows and drowns out what once was a wee little pot-sapling no higher than my knees, forced me to see what is.

Today, I went back to visit an old neighbour and dear friend, and quite by surprise found a parking spot right next to where it has grown into flourishing tree in it’s own right.

I’d planted that little sapling in the ground in the home I last lived in, in Goa. And something about witnessing this transformation, to see the blossoming tree full of life in all its glory, hit home today.

One year ago: Day 8: I’m just too good at goodbyes
Three years ago: Day 8: On waiting

Day 365: December

Eyes wide open

On the first day of this year, I wrote a post that was meant to be a low-key, low-expectations, chill sort of post with things I wanted from the year. I look at it now and think wow, that’s really not low key. But I also look at it and think damn, a lot of that happened and got done.

I wished for more honesty. Of myself and of with people around that matter to me. I think this happened in some measure. More with myself than with people around me — that’s still learning process for me.

I wished for more vulnerability. This happened, in waves and troughs. It had it’s peaks and dips. Thanks to the course and now therapy, I’ve become aware of how much more I want of this and am keen to go deeper.

I wished for the ability to deliver my promises, on time. I think this was specifically related to work, which I didn’t know then was going to be the least of my priorities this year. But the little I did, I was fairly good about. Deadlines were met more often than not — this was kind of a big deal for the eternal procrastinator that I am. But best of all, slowing down on work and trying new things gave me some clarity about the kind of work I am now willing to put my mind to, and the kind I absolutely don’t want to do for some time to come.

So I didn’t swing back smoothly from yet another hiatus like I’d wished. The hiatus saw an unexpected extension. And then a detour. I didn’t pitch a single story after February. I changed course and did different kinds of writing, but yes, I did deliver better first drafts, quicker. Unexpectedly, I’ve become a little more aware of how to work smarter instead of harder.

I wished that VC and I move ahead in our business plans with alacrity and focus. And this happened too. Just not in the manner I imagined at the time I wrote the post. Life happened, and business followed in entirely different ways.

I wished for courage to break out of patterns I have with friends, to break old patterns that keep me from digging deeper and giving (and receiving) a higher level of kinship. Oh jeez, this one was a toughie. 2018 saw more people in my life than I have ever had in many, many years now — I reconnected with old friends, I made many, many new ones. And the best part — not all my friendships were alike like they once used to be. I have entirely different friends for a range of different activities. I know this happened because I’ve opened up. In some ways. But I’ve also realised in what ways I haven’t. I’ve realised why I still feel a deep loneliness that cannot be filled by numbers, despite how much the people landscape has changed in my life. I hope to sit with this and understand it better in the coming year.

I wished for simplicity. In the smallness of my day to day life as much as in the bigness of the things I chase. This wasn’t entirely true for me this year. If anything, I let go and lived big, thrilling in extravagance and all things an older me would deem unnecessary. And maybe a lot of it was, but from where I am now, I see it as a necessary step in the curve in getting to the point of realising and being honest about the fact that my life is anything but simple. I am privileged as fuck, and simplicity is a construct I crave for. A construct that makes my life look like something it truly isn’t. I hope to crack this one some, in the coming year. Finding some balance and a middle-path to a life that is simple, mindful and eco-conscious, while also being realistic and real about the inherent privilege that allows me to even have this train of thought and make this an aspect of focus.

Ending the year in Goa has set the wheels in motion towards this.

I wished for a little more travel. Not just holidays, but chances and ways to experience life outside of the set patterns that we know and exist in. And this happened. Oh how this happened. 11 out of 12 months featured travel this year, going west as far as Europe, east to Thailand yet again and closer home as near as Goa many, many times over, each trip so different from the one before. It opened our hearts up, it tore me up some, it made me desperate and it settled something in me too. And it contributed a fair bit to VC’s and my decision to live apart.

I wished for just a little bit more discipline in terms of daily habits. This was a big fat no. Very early on I gave up trying to be rigid with myself about this because I realised it wasn’t going to be a time of any sort of curtailing, but of flowing with the flow. I hope to regain some balance around this, and it’s interesting to see that the habits I want to inculcate in the coming year are things I didn’t even know I’d want to do 12 months ago.

***

If this is a post measuring all the ways in which I’ve grown this year, I have to say bullshit to everything above this line. Most of all, this year I realised that my need to measure and make goals and projections, no matter how well-intentioned, is also a manifestation of a much more deep-seated tendency to over-achieve. This plays out in everything I do, from making myself write a post every day (and I did it without missing a single day this time around – ho hum) to finishing a reading challenge, to wanting control over my home and routine and sometimes that of VCs too, to hyper curation of everything. This year, quite unconsciously and unknowingly, slowly parts of this began to fall away until in December I was left wondering what there was that I could hold on to and how I could measure this year. I was looking at nothing tangible. Absolutely nothing.

Only experiences. A whole treasure chest of them.

And suddenly, I no longer wanted to open and revisit them in a look-back post. I just want to let them be. I want to slow down and just be. With no finish line in sight. This year, I did a lot of things under the broad umbrella of working on myself. What I didn’t know I was also doing in the bargain was laying the foundations for this already.

I dropped the need to hustle. I rewired the part of my brain that believed the hustle added value to my life. I allowed myself to change my mind over and over and over. I allowed myself to choose the easier path without feeling like I had somehow failed. This was wildly new.

I chose to do the quiet work of building on myself. The work that brings in no bucks and has no visible results to show.

I became comfortable with the idea of giving myself to the business of I. So it was a lot of me, me, me 100% of the time.

I finally realised this was entirely okay.

I learned that not everything has to — or will — turn out matching the projections I may have imagined. Some journeys don’t have fixed destinations. Only milestones that keep changing as I go along. I learned to observe how the journey has contributed to me. This doesn’t render the effort or time spent useless. These are not small steps. These are all big, important parts of the journey.

And this, while difficult to learn and digest, has been precious.

I became willing to open my eyes wide and keep my heart open more often than not.

I found myself a little bit. Outside of being a wife, sister, daughter, friend. I got addicted to learning and growing into me. And I realised this journey will only keep teaching me how much more I have yet to learn and grow.

One month ago: Day 338: November
Two months ago: Day 305: October
Three months ago: Day 284: September
Four months ago: Day 246: August
Five months ago: Day 219: July
Six months ago: Day 184: June

Seven months ago: Day 152: May
Eight months ago: Day 134: April
Nine months ago: Day 92: March
Ten months ago: Day 60: February
Eleven months ago: Day 32: January

One years ago: Crossing over
Two years ago: Day 366: December

Day 364: Expand your mind, take a look behind

Next year, I’ve decided I’m going to ditch the GoodReads challenge, stop obsessively compiling a to-be-read list and just pick up and read whatever catches my fancily, on the go. Organically. The hyper-curation has made my to-be-read list so long and unwieldy, it’s almost intimidating. And I’ve missed out on reading things as and when they’ve cropped up and struck a chord. By the time I get to said book in the list, the moment of inspiration has passed and the impact is lost.

Things that didn’t go to plan this year: finishing 40 books, finishing every book I started (I abandoned and/or didn’t read continuously about 5 books this year — including the one in this picture) reading on holiday (I read nothing in Europe and nothing this time around in Goa). Things that did: read more fiction. Which further tells me to let go of the plan, in general. And flow with the flow.

That’s my plan what I’m looking for next year. But for now, here’s a list of all the books I read this year. A list like I did last year and the year before last. I’m aware this is still a reflection of an obsession for completion making me do this, but I also do this for myself and for anyone else who might want to pick a book up from something they’ve stumbled on somewhere in this blog, but it’s impossible to find at a late date.

Here goes.

  1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  2. I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
  3. Ravan and Eddie, Kiran Nagarkar
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine, Gail Honeyman
  5. The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
  6. UsDavid Nicholls
  7. The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
  8. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
  9. The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte
  10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
  11. Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig
  12. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
  13. Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
  14. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  15. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
  16. What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
  17. An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  18. Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
  19. The Language of Baklava, Diana Abu Jaber
  20. Ballad for a Mad Girl, Vikki Wakefield
  21. Landline, Rainbow Rowell
  22. All the Good Parts, Loretta Nyhan
  23. Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
  24. Not That Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, Lena Dunham
  25. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney
  26. Barbara the Slut and Other People, Lauren Holmes
  27. The Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi
  28. French Milk, Lucy Kinsley
  29. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
  30. All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven
  31. Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, Cara Nicoletti
  32. Cyber Sexy: Rethinking PornographyRicha Kaul Padte
  33. A Room of One’s OwnVirginia Woolf
  34. Born a CrimeTrevor Noah
  35. Gachar Gochar, Vivek Shanbhag (Translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur)
  36. Normal People, Sally Rooney
  37. 60 Indian Poets, Jeet Thayil
  38. Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

All the books: 2016
All the books: 2017

Two years ago: Day 364: Redemption reading

Day 362: Be kind to the growing mind

What a ride it’s been this year, all the wheels and various moving parts of my being moving to nurture a mind that works for me and with me. A mind that has the ability to stay when everything about my body (and brain) wants to flee. A mind that has a capacity for joy. A mind that has tasted strength in vulnerability and wants so desperately to let that creep under my skin. A mind that has come so very far, and is longing to go the journey ahead. A kind mind to call my own.

I’m just so very grateful. For everything.

Two years ago: Day 362: Time

Day 359: Lay down all thoughts

I’m taking the downtime to really put it all down. Rest my mind a little. I’m not succeeding all the time. But I’m still trying.

This year was filled with more new experiences than any other in a while. And yet, this year I came face to face with loneliness. I don’t mean that as a lack of people. I mean loneliness like this cloud that chases me around, always looming like a darkness waiting to descend. I mean really facing and acknowledging the truth about this pattern of loneliness that’s like a theme that threads through all the stories in my life.

This year, I gained weight again. And despite all the positivity I’ve felt about my body, there have been days when it has bothered me. When I felt fat and ugly.

This year, despite everything I’ve realised about boundaries and saying no, I said maybe instead of a clean no, more times than I care to admit.

This year, I worked on myself more than I ever have. In fact I’ve worked so hard at it, I cringe at the word work, despite all the good that came from it. I need a new word.

Despite all that work, right at the end of the year I’ve woken up to some pretty groundbreaking realisations about myself. The kind of realisations that have left me on very shaky ground the last few days.

I’m more self-sacrificing than I’d like to believe.

I’m not as comfortable with vulnerability as I thought I could be. In fact I’m so quick to build an armour of defence, when I’m feeling vulnerable.

I’m not as good at forgiving myself as I am at forgiving others.

I suppose the good thing is despite realising all of this I’m mostly left feeling and thinking, so effing what? 

The one thing I know for certain is I’m more open to change and growth than I have ever been before. I have that. And so, tomorrow is a new day, next week is a new year. I’ll live, I’ll try again. I’ll keep trying and I’ll grow.

One year ago: Morning song

Day 358: Relax, take it easy

It’s probably a combination of end of the year lethargy and dealing with the chaos that has been getting the house set up and hanging with friends and dealing with things that are coming up for me in therapy. But the result is I’m feeling that taciturn energy-saving mode again. There are things to say, I’m writing furiously in my journal. But I also want to just stay with it and keep it within for just a bit. Just let things be and marinade in it slowly. Witness it and see what happens, for a change.

I’m feeling like I might abandon this post-a-day habit just short of the finish line that’s just next week.

I’m also not going to finish my reading challenge for the year. Just a few books shy of the nice round figure.

There are times in my life when I have chased goals and round figures and taken great joy in producing (to myself) a report card at the end. This is not one of those times.

Two years ago: Day 358: Home is where the yellow roses are

Day 355: All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

I was initially quite unsure about living so far away from Panjim. From civilisation and amenities, and the comfortable life that I had created for myself the last time around. My life depended a lot on accessing the things I need the most, after all. It still does. But five days into being here, three of which were spent driving around all day in the far north, have made me realise that the kind of things I depend on (and would like to make a part of my life in Goa) now have changed.

Second chances come for a reason. There’d be no point in re-creating once again, my life as I knew it back then. And yesterday, I realised I’m happy for this chance to be away from Panjim.

For one, from the few times I drove through, it feels unliveable. It has all the chaos and claustrophobia of Bangalore, almost. And it’s slowly losing its quintessential charm, which breaks my heart.

Second, I’m closer to the beach. Given the snarling traffic jams and multifold increase in traffic, I’m pretty sure living in Panjim would have meant close to no beach visits. I’m hoping that will change with the easy access I now have.

Three, I’m feeling far more inclined to the idea of Goa as a different life from the one I have in Bangalore. I’ve been wondering why the quiet life in Goa attracts me, and I realise all the reasons I list are of things that are so unique to being away from Bangalore. It’s futile for me to come here and lament the lack of, or try and recreate a little bubble of city-life conveniences. Yes, life here means driving out on my own for every little thing. It means precisely 2 restaurant delivery options. It means spotty Internet. Maybe that has a place too. In many ways the struggles of getting this home up and going have taken me back to the way things were when we first moved here. When Panjim itself was far less fancy than it is today, when it presented far fewer options, and everything took much more effort and involvement than it would have needed in a big city. It was partly stressful and partly annoying, but I know how that played a role in softening me some. In building some resilience and patience. And I’m beginning to think this second chance is actually a chance to do-over those parts of myself too. To brush off the city-slicker cynicism and get my hands dirty and in touch with the roots again.

***

All of the above thoughts inspired and festered on a day-long jaunt in North Goa yesterday.

S and I caught a blissfully lazy, late breakfast. Much like we used to some weekends from a life in another time.

Of course that meant we had to lazy around, drive around and kill time to make space for the large and satiating late lunch that followed.

And then we finally made it to the beach. Which was just lovely.

As always with S, there was music. Lots of good music.

And as always with Niyu, out popped the watercolours.

I could get used to this again.

Two years ago: Day 355: Too much nature ho gaya

Day 352: I kinda feel like I saw the light

Hi, Goa.

It’s nice to be here with with a palpable absence of the anxiety and cold feet that I’ve had on the last few trips I have made.

There’s many things about this trip that ought to have sent me into a tizzy. But far fewer things are. And the tizzy is only just a small flutter.

I am looking forward to the downtime with VC, despite carpenters crawling around my home with no place for me to even sit.

As with every consecutive trip I make to Goa, my heart breaks a little bit more to see things changing so rapidly. I’m not coming from an idealistic place of believing nothing should ever change. But I do feel the price we’re paying for all of these changes is far too high. And I feel like not too many people seem to be seeing it that way.

Day 327: Maybe it’s the weather or something like that

Broody, grey skies have caught me thinking a lot about what my idea of a good person is, and have been aghast to see how my own goal posts move — widening and narrowing depending on who I am thinking about. Some initial self-judgement later, pondering over my own experiments with getting “better” I realised that this idea of a good person doesn’t constitute a fixed set of things that I can tick off on a list. Yes, there may be a few non-negotiables, but they’re few. For the most part I’ve witnessed that I look for goodness, in myself and in people around me, as an enduring practice. And the goal posts do shift. Depending on changing beliefs, changing notions of what is acceptable and what is not. First off, it has meant making room to change my mind, to alter my beliefs, even if it sometimes feels like I am letting myself down. Then, a constant, and here’s where I slip an awful lot, attempt at honesty with myself in facing imperfections and choosing to either embrace the ones I can or alter the ones I need to. 

I have sometimes wondered if this business of self-maintenance will ever get easy or end. Every time that I think I have made progress and I find I’ve slipped or some new development has presented itself, putting me right back to work again, I wonder how much longer it will be before my internal-facing mirrors will be completely clear. And that’s when I realised, it’s perhaps never? This is and always will be an ongoing side-plot in my life. The life that is always running in my mind, parallel to the one I live in my body, going about the motions of existence. It requires practice and constant focus and indulgence, much like anything else I try and do well — cooking, writing, working out, I suppose.

This has meant an immense relaxation in the expectations I have f people, and how much I judge (I’m working on toning this down too, all the time, every day.) them. And so, similarly, the “good people” they come and go. They seem great sometimes, not so great at others. I’ve realised looking for goodness used to be about finding perfection, and now it’s about looking for those who share the light to keep on trying, and to keep getting better. The ones I hold close are those who share my love for this constant striving for examining and looking within. For every time that we’ve slipped, we remember to get back up and be better. The goodness then, is in the trying, I think. It’s in the pursuit, rather than the outcome. 

Two years ago: Day 327: Regular programming