Remember lipstick? Yeah, I’m doing that again.
Remember lipstick? Yeah, I’m doing that again.
Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are. We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still.
— Gretel Ehrlich
Through the storms of the weeks past, I have felt, noticeably, the need to again and again be in the presence of expanses bigger and larger than myself. The sea, many, many trees, amongst the fields and under an expansive sky.
The need, I think, has been to feel small and my size again because I felt very drawn out of my space, ballooning with the ongoing challenges and having them feel very, very insurmountable.
In the presence of something unmoving, larger, non-judgemental, I feel okay. I feel alright. I feel enough. And I feel alive and present again.
They call nature the ultimate witness because it stays, unchanging — the waves coming and going rhythmically, the sun setting and rising again and again, the trees going through their relentless lifecycles over and over — and un-opinionated. It speaks in silence, and reminds me often to just be, as I am. A quiet reassurance of being surrounded by and being in the presence of exactly that which is within me. Equanimity, sufficiency, calm.
It is an experience that I find hard to express in words, but is probably the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have ever had.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt this in a temple or any other religious space, but I felt it in Manali last year, in the giant wooded park we picniced in, in Paris. And I felt it again and again this time in Goa by the sea.
It induces a sense of expansion within my chest. And when I tune in and really feel it, it makes me want to sit up, puff my chest up, and feel my ribs part. Making space for that something. Expansion, I know now requires so much the ability to move beyond a dualistic bent of mind. It is such a struggle, but this is the invitation at this point in my life. To make room for a spacious, all-encompassing, gentle intuitive approach. To take my contemplations and inner knowing and allow it to flow into my life.
It’s been the kind of day that made me realise sometimes all I need is to get out without procrastinating, be with something larger outside of myself, get some fresh air, breathe, move my limbs, gab my heart out, and forget about my feelings for a while.
Of course now that the worst of the shittiness has passed, it’s been easier (and lighter) to reflect and look back on the silver linings in the shadows. The gifts amidst the tribulation.
Meeting myself in a deeper way, I’ve learnt yet again during this time, means encountering parts of myself I didn’t know I had, some that I thought I’d dealt with and dusted, some that I’d hidden away unconsciously, that make me hella uncomfortable to now see, leave alone embrace and sit with, will keep surfacing again and again. Until the work of looking it all in the eye without flinching, but with empathy, is done.
Making room for all those parts is harder than I imagined. Even after all these years, even with all the work put in. It has been humbling to remember yet again that this is not a big deal — just the human condition.
I’m flirting with the idea that meeting future versions of me may very well be surprising, sometimes just as discomforting. Can I look at this as training then? Preparing the muscles of courage, patience and acceptance for when I’ll really need to work them and do the heavy-lifting again?
Some thoughts I’ve got running about my mind and body today:
There is something about being seen/witnessed by the quiet power of nature — whether in the presence of an immense mountain, a roaring river rolling by or the great wide ocean — that gets the big thoughts going and puts them in small perspective.
Thoughts on friendship and aloneness abound once again. And I notice I didn’t say friendship versus aloneness. Because I see finally that I don’t have to choose. I can have both.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.
The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterable themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
— David Whyte
The last straw in the camels back of recent challenges in the shitfest that has been the last few weeks of my life, was my laptop dying on me a week ago. Second time in two months, at what is probably the worst time ever to put me in a space where I need to consider another expensive purchase.
I was distraught and annoyed of course. But mostly, after being wrung thru the grinder in similar fashion for weeks now, I found myself oddly calm and numb when it happened. It was like I’d forgotten what to feel. A switch inside my brain went off. And I decided to just give it up, stop trying to fix anything anymore and just give in to what’s being asked of me.
My work and my workout are pretty much the only two essential things I need my laptop for, both of which can be serviced on my phone. And so I just packed my laptop away and decided I’ll be without one. (hence the lack of posts)
Until a viable solution makes itself known, I decided I wasn’t not going to break my head or throw any more money at this. And I told VC to do the same. In the interim we’ve been to the beach three evenings (so far, I’m making good on this intention) in the last week. So of course I have had ample time to sit back and ponder. To churn up a cocktail of thoughts about this strange strange few weeks in what is anyway one of the strangest years of all time.
2020 is really giving 2016 (the last truly shitty year I had) some time stiff competition.
How is it that we want to succeed and reach great milestones, but we’re also afraid we’ll fail?
How is it that we crave intimacy and long for deeper connection, but we’re also afraid of being let down by people?
How is it that we seek heartful vulnerability and honesty, but we’re also guarding ourselves against shame and heartbreak?
Maybe the goal shouldn’t be to want to move from one to the other, in a way that casts away the old, but navigate the in-betweens and know that experiencing both (sometimes simultaneously) is 100% true for all of our lives.
A thing I’ve had to contend with lately, through the thick of these challenges: the notion that I have to “make it” on my own. The hardest part of it has been understanding that sometimes I need things that I can’t give myself, and I have the option to articulate my needs so that the people I depend on can show up and help me.
It begins with understanding the need. Beyond the physical, and digging a couple of layers below to see what situation from my past I am recreating, and how I can serve that in the present.
I have much work to do in this regard.
It does not strike me as a coincidence at all that in this most challenging month, I have had to in my my work with clients, keep reiterating the fact that growth involves coming apart, falling down, feeling undone, very often. Again and again.
It was clearly a message I needed to reopen force within must. It’s not an easy truth for anyone to embrace. And in the frequency with which I revisit this with clients, I found reaffirmation of the very nature of this process for myself. Timely reminders to handle myself with a little more allowance and kindness.
Over the years I’ve come to understand how much personal growth is non-linear, and I’m looking for a new word to replace Growth. One that doesn’t inherently imply upward/forward movement as a marker of success. One that doesn’t even infact look for a “marker” of “success”. One that is gentler and allows for flow in any direction. Because that is what the process has asked of me: gentleness, fluidity, and grace in picking myself up every time that I have fallen. All these years on, I am only just about learning this.
Sometimes when we make the choice to venture into the unknown—to break the old spells & quit dancing the old dances—we find distressing mental experiences waiting for us there. Fear, grief, shame and rage. All waiting to twirl their tendrils tightly back around our hearts. Hearts that have just freshly been cracked open, still raw from the experience of letting the hurt down.
Much of my personal journey has been in again and again meeting the experience — past and present — that trigger the same old responses of clamming shut, building that wall and shortly swiftly back to that solid heart that will not breathe free. The work has been in learning how to go soft. How to be soft. In showing myself again and again that it’s possible, safe, that I am not weak for choosing it, that I can do it. that in fact, I need it.
And because I have been at it for literally years now, I can recognise and I have a full body experience of moments where I feel thawed completely. Where my heart blooms open and life bursts forth, coursing through my veins, uplifting me.
This was one such moment. Lying in the sun in the driveway at home, one sunny afternoon after days of grey, grim, rainy weather. “Eating sunshine” with my blood women. My mother pacing about digesting her lunch, my sister catching the warmth on her face. Someone said something utterly ridiculous and it was funny, but not that funny and it set me off. I went I to a tizzy and a loop of endless giggles that rushed out thru my lungs, pushing my ribs apart. Coming out in gusts that made me shake and lose my breath.
long after the moment had passed I was still laughing, breathless, with tears running down my face. It felt for a moment like I wasn’t laughing anymore but that it was the laughter that had taken over.
I felt alive. Soft.
I recently came across a French word that struck me as delicate and beautiful. Not just in what it means but in the way it sounds and the form it takes — letters standing up tall but with a softness that shows a give. Touch it and it’ll bend, almost.
It means “to bloom”.
And this moment here is a moment of épanouissement that I will remember fondly for some time to come.
Because, je m’épanouis.
I’m in what seems to be an enduring phase of inwardness, aloneness, quiet and solitude. I want to say it’s another phase, yet again. But the truth, as I have been coming to terms with it, is that this is what I have been for the greater part of this year. I almost feel unable to be with people at this point. I find myself retreating even when I feel a covert urge not to.
One year ago: Surprises
Two years ago: I been moving calm, don’t start no trouble with me
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.
— Mary Oliver
There was something very different about the way in which I observed, enjoyed and engaged with nature this time away. It wasn’t conscious, didn’t inspire any effort and not something that came from a place of deliberation. It simply happened, and I noticed it in retrospect.
There is something very richly moving about being amidst overwhelming nature — whether in the size and stature, or the saturated hues, or simply the awe and power — when it towers over and shelters you. Perspective shifting. Life giving. Steady making. Love inducing.
After years of being drawn inwards, within myself, working on and learning to love myself, I feel a distinct draw outwards. A very real and specific desire to be in love with the world again.
Apparently it is Monday. And Monday has come and gone without a card pull and without a reading for the week. This is a first for my otherwise very-Type-A-about-routine-and-scheduled self. I’m a bit baffled at how this happened, but also secretly very, very chuffed. Because it signals a letting go and softening up against the many linear, rigid routines I box myself into. A constant tussle I have with myself.
Even as the process of loosening it all up, slowing down and going with the flow is in the works all the time, I am always acutely aware of the place of routine in my life and being. Routine is still what grounds me, brings me back to the now and helps me navigate my days. So it is a constant and fine dance between knowing when I am in charge of the routine, which is to say I can ease up and get lax when I choose/need; and when the routine has taken charge of me, when it begins to be routine for routine’s sake. Or worse — that bigger demon that keeps raising its head — routine for the sake of perfection, neat completion and a very fixed outcome.
And that’s probably why the way in which I have obliviously completely forgotten that today is Monday feels good. I’ve been fairly disoriented since being back. At first I thought it was just the sheer contrast in the realities between where I was and returning to Bangalore. And then there was the news which really hit me in a way that made my body clam shut tight. I made time to just ease back and not pressure myself to snap back as I might have (and then lauded myself for it too!) about a year ago. I am much better with going with the flow now — whatever it presents — whether it is that I organically snap back or it is that I need time and drag my feet. Expectations are lower and the definition of “normal” is loose and indefinite.
So, it’s been a slow return to some semblance of routine. This weekend was extremely relaxed and I felt myself slipping from feeling greatly at peace and at ease with myself, to feeling turmoil with the shit-fest that’s erupted yet again in UP. I’ve felt that sense of elation that comes from great personal contentment, alongside, simultaneously with, the confusion and brain-fog that came from (not reading, but still feeling)the news.
In all of that, I don’t know when Saturday turned to Sunday and Monday rolled along. My day, and week, began as every week usually does. Wake up, take my vitamins, soak my nuts and dry fruit, get in a workout, get on with the day. But I skipped the Monday addition of sitting down to pick a card and write out a message that usually happens somewhere between 7 and 10 am.
And I didn’t blink today, I had absolutely no realisation of this. It was only at about 3pm, when I finally checked Instagram, that I saw messages from two folks who checked in to ask where the message was, and one enquiring if everything was okay with me, that I realised what I’ve done.
It felt good, and special today, to have accidentally flaked off a personal commitment. I am getting better at choosing my goals on any given day without letting unnecessary guilt take over, and today felt like a milestone. An important physical manifestation of the process I have been traversing these past few weeks at therapy — finding solidity in softness rather than rigidity, firmness that comes from ease rather than self-made difficulty, comfort with vulnerability and imperfection.
Missing my Monday reading was a real-life imperfection in what is otherwise a project set out with a plan for perfection. We tend to think of perfection as an outcome, but I am beginning to see how perfection has its threads wrapped around the processes that work towards an outcome as well. And I would like to let go my need for a tight grip on that as well.
When I have managed to do that, I have found flow. The kind where I get engrossed at such a deep level in what I am engaged in — even if it is just resting, like I did this weekend — I lose track of time. And I really live for those moments of flow and absorption. Because something very energising and life-giving happens in those moments. This past weekend was like resting, but on steroids.
It is interesting that at just today, at therapy, I said to N that this slowing down to the point of almost letting everything (externally dictated schedules, rigid self-made routines, the noise of guilt, etc) in my world fade away, except that which I choose to focus on — which btw is not more than 2-3 things on any given day — is feeling more and more aligned with who I really am. But not just that, I noticed that I probably get this from my father. Because I recently witnessed him at work, at his desk and in his fields, in flow. In the way that I have only touched briefly moments lately. The kind of engrossed and consumed in handiwork that makes it effortless, easy and enjoyable and hours pass by in a blink of an eye.
I realise it takes a softness of being to be able to give in to that. To surrender to the animal within that some times just wants to go easy and listen to nobody else by the self. Not much in our environments otherwise encourage that, and I am working very slowly at unlearning the ways of my training, and learning to listen in, instead.
In the first instant after I realised I had missed today’s reading, my immediate reaction was a jolt of OMG like I had missed a deadline or a commitment. Some questions I asked myself then:
One year ago: All heart
Two years ago: It’s just another ordinary miracle
Three years ago: Just do the next right thing, one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home
Four years ago: Sticky trash
Been turning this question around in my head all of today: Who is really safe in India?
As a woman, I’m officially (literally, now) living everyday in terror that something will happen to me. That I will be targeted in some way or another for the way I look, for how short my hair is, for the way I live, how I dress, where I am seen.
I feel palpably like I am next in line, and they can and will come for me. I know it’s not just me that has started to feel a physically clenched way of being every time that I step out. I have noticed this in my body lately. I feel terrified in my bones, petrified in the sinews of my muscles.
It’s not just me.
Just going by the events of the last 6 months, it couldn’t be clearer: If you’re a woman, you’re unsafe. If you’re a muslim, you’re unsafe. If you’re an activist, you’re unsafe. If you’re a writer/poet/painter/musician/artist expressing yourself honestly, you’re unsafe. If you’e a journalist, you’re unsafe. If you’re vocal about your beliefs and values, you’re unsafe. If you feel like a minority in anyway, you’re probably unsafe.
If your work involves doing any kind of good for human beings, bringing justice or being involved in doing what’s right by citizens, you are most definitely unsafe. If you speak up against the powers that be? UNSAFE.
And then I think about people who live lives I haven’t been in touch with. Only read and imagined the levels of fear and lack of safety they must feel every single day. Doctors working through a pandemic? Unsafe. Kashmiris? Unsafe. Farmers? Unsafe. Skilled labourers? Unsafe. Dalits? FUCKING UNSAFE.
Our money isn’t safe. Our jobs aren’t safe. Our children aren’t safe. Our data isn’t safe. And none of the stakeholders we ought to be able to turn to for safety, for accountability, for reason and justice — are safe. Not the media. Not (mostly) the judiciary. Not the police. And certainly NOT our politicians.
So where do we go from here?
It took me 5 days of watching The Social Dilemma in jagged bursts, because I have been sleeping so well and feeling so easily rested that I kept falling asleep, before I could finish watching it. I have so much TV (OTT and youtube) to catch up on because of how little I ave used my laptop. I intended to take my Kindle along, but I conveniently (serendipitously?) forgot. And the phone lay mostly forgotten, except when I wanted to take a picture, and some Instagram stories, when network allowed it.
Since limiting Instagram use to less than 30 minutes per day, and choosing not to look at my phone for at least the first hour after waking up, there’s been a steady drop in screen-time. But this past week took it to levels I didn’t expect.
This wasn’t planned but I ended up using the phone for under 1.5 hours per day for the last ten days.
I’d be lying if I said this had no effect on my general contented, together, state of mind. It all ties in, it comes together, it adds up.
That old familiar wordlessness has returned. I’m beginning to see that it coincides with times when internal processes take over and/or a deep sense of contentment has arrived.
The past eight days has been a mix of both. What words I had, I directed to my family with whom I share this space. And it was enough.
It’s been hard to put in words the mix of feelings that have brimmed over for me. But if I were to be honest, I haven’t even tried. I’ve just been going with it.
Everything has felt just enough lately.
Find a way to be adrift and uncertain, pray your surroundings are beautiful, and hope that someone emerges who offers you some fruit.
— Helen Rosner
I’m getting so used to this cycle of things coming together and falling apart as a part of the very process of life itself. There is less alarm when things go askew, but there is great joy in the moments when they come together. Being with and experiencing my family this past month has been like that. Something came together, even as we coexist in our uniquely different ways, each with our idiosyncratic best sides that get served up only when we are with each other. To have room that allows for that, I realise, is a blessing.
I’m learning that the uncertain times, many times, precede the times when things come together. And so I take it when it comes around. I am grateful, and accepting of it all.
One year ago: Fries before guys
Two years ago: Say, say, say, hey, hey, now, baby
Four years ago: I had to talk about Coke Studio, just a little bit
I’ve been in a tizzy today. My otherwise lean daily existence that involves not doing more than 2 things on any given day was thrown off by an Instagram tag that sent a dozen folks into my inbox, ordering the coconut oil I have on offer. I’m happy for the flooding requests, but because they all came in at one go, I spent the morning fulfilling them all pronto. That’s all it took to throw my day askew — having to fulfil a bunch of orders that I had to organise and send off through Dunzo. I overshot my stipulated screen time by 3 hours because of it, and scrambled to do the other regular things I had to do like cook lunch, finish a submission, take two readings and catch a nap — in between it all.
There was another majorly development that caused massive disappointments for VC and me this morning, and I got my period, which also threw a spanner in the overall mood. I was in pain and in a tizzy, and sad all at once. At the end of the day though, said disappointment was reversed, and I momentarily felt the compressed collapse when your heart dives deep into your tummy, on a rollercoaster ride, and things were alright again in my head and in my world.
But I have ended the day overwhelmed. I’m glad days like this are the anomaly these days and not the norm. Because I cannot function like this anymore. I struggle to multi-task and I feel really stretched when there are too many asks of my time and attention.
Ended the day with this sweet cotton candy sunset, just as things were returning to happy around here.