An opportunity and a gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year ago: We keep this love in a photograph

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Happy bytes

The instructor on my workout video has this refrain whenever the workout hits a particularly tough or burn-inducing spot. Right when I’m wincing at that last rep, about to give up, he’ll go Just go to your happy place! and two months ago when I began using this channel, I’d chuckle, roll my eyes and have a giggle at his morbid sense of humor.

This morning though, right in the middle of all that burn, something like 45 burpees in, when he said Just go to your happy place! I suddenly got it. Even in that eye-popping, muscle-stretching moment, while I was melting nose-first, when I could have been seeing white spots in front of my eyes, I had such an endorphin rush I burst out laughing. In a truly happy, full-body guffaw of sorts.

I’m so happy that I’m back in this old familiar zone, even though I feel like a whole new me this time around. Where the exercise isn’t a pain or a chore (like it had become through 2017-18), and is in fact a joy-inducing, happy-making activity I am willing to put other things aside for, dedicating myself mind, body and soul.

***

Speaking of happy places, it’s been five years since P and I made the Goa Happy video, our little contribution to the literally thousands of local spin-offs to the Pharrell Williams song that took the internet by storm in 2014. So I revisited it!

If you watch closely you might even spot me hahahaha.

***

I spent the weekend with D, because VC went away on a bike trip with work buddies to Gokarna. I think after food, therapy and tarot, the thing we’ve started to discuss the most is plants and gardening, and as usual (as always — I realised I’ve always left her home with plants or cuttings or both, on this trip) I came home with so many new things to pot.

I came away earlier than I usually would have. Ostensibly to catch a Sunday nap, wake up in my own home so I have the mojo to cook and settle back in, rather than be washed out by Sunday evening blues as it tends to happen to me.

What followed though made me want to stop and think, What Sunday blues?! because I woke up from my nap and went straight out into the terrace. I planted a whole bunch of fresh cuttings of plants I wanted that she’d painstakingly made for me, I repotted some plants that have grown too big for their pots over these few weeks, and I did sundry round of tending to everything, picking out dead leaves, watering, loosening soil and the works. All this while listening to Coke Studio that has made a timely pre-monsoon comeback in my life, right on cue.

The evening light was beautiful, and we’ve had a warmer couple of days so there was the residual heat of the day, as the sun is getting the full effect of the last of it’s rays in. My terrace was strewn with picked weeds, dry leaves, piles and trails of soil from all the dirty work, pools of water, muddy footprints. The sun set in a glorious pink yesterday, and when I looked up I was a sweaty, muddy mess. Such a joy. Such bliss. I didn’t realise I had kept going long after the sun had set, until VC walked in and laughed at how engrossed I had been.

***

Last weekend I cooked pork ribs for the very first time on my own. Following no recipe, winging it as I went along, throwing things in intuitively. And it turned out beyond delicious, if I can say so myself.

This has been happening a lot of late. The draw to go experiment, without too much planning, going in and going all the way. Some days are for the simply comforting givens like khichdi, and some days we pull out all stops and go the whole hog.

Either way, the kitchen has been a huge source of comfort for me these past few weeks. I’ve said so much about the peace and quiet and solitude staying in Goa offers me. And as much as I have enjoyed it, last week I realised I am ready for the hustle of my Bangalore life again. But this kitchen joy, the steadiness and joy that it brings to me, is something I want to try and keep going in Bangalore. Even if I am cooking in Amma’s kitchen, or even if I’m cooking for just myself at home.

Today, I’ve just cooked a marinara sauce, fortified with minced carrots and smashed stove-top charred red and yellow peppers, with smoky cumin and coriander and lots of red chilli flakes. I tossed up some frozen meatballs in some olive oil, and I will put them together right before we eat, mopping it up with millets and a salad.

***

After the bursts of those quintessential curly edged long green leaved mango trees, delicate frangipani and bougainvillea, we’re at that time of year where the gulmohar trees have come alive in all their glory. Literally everywhere, there are these clouds of fiery red, leaf-less trees, curvy and orb like when seen from a distance, eye-hurting flaming red when seen up close.

***

I’m all set to go back to Bangalore. I feel like this time of rest has been amazing, and well-timed and I am so refreshed and ready to get back to regular programming. I’m excited at the blank canvas sense I have for the next few weeks, and I feel certain I need to be in Bangalore as it unfurls.

Looking back, I’m so happy for the unexpected twist that brought me to Goa earlier than time, and kind of set a very different tone to the way the last two months have gone. It was unpleasant and challenging at the time and induced a fair bit of anger, frustration and resistance within me at the time, but as usual, as always, I can only connect the dots looking back.

It’s abundantly clear to me that there was no escaping this time, or the gifts it has brought, foremost amongst which has been the quality of the time VC and I have had together this trip. It’s been different. There was a quiet, reassuring and steady quality to it that hasn’t been there for a while — probably ever since we moved to Bangalore two years ago — that I didn’t know was missing until we somehow have regained it while not even looking for it. And so while I am looking forward to going back to Bangalore, this time around I am already feeling the pangs of missing him that I am anticipating will follow.

This is new. I have been so busy and involved with myself for the last six months, there hasn’t been a lot of room to sit and miss him really. I’ve been having a really good time in Bangalore, too much to let the usual longing dampen it. So this is going to be interesting.

Three years ago: Malleswaram market things

Better

Some days are heavy. Especially after particularly investigative therapy sessions that come like a bolt out of the blue, squashing my optimism about maybe finally being able to go longer without a session, reminding me how much I need to heal still.

Monday was that kind of day and it took till yesterday evening to lift. When it did, in that instant, I knew something had flipped internally. I woke up from lying in bed yesterday afternoon, and from the moment my feet landed on the ground and the way I stood up, I felt something had changed. The cloud had flown by, the heaviness had done it’s time and left the building.

A lot happens in that time of heaviness. A time I have now learned to just let be. I don’t fight it as much these days. I am quick to recognise it to begin with, no longer mistaking it for random blues or anything else. And I give in and go with the flow. Allowing myself slow days if that’s what I feel is the need of the hour. Actually allowing myself whatever else is needed in that time. On Monday night it as chocolate chunk cookies, eaten without sharing, in bed while watching Mission Impossible.

It’s been six weeks of slow days for me here in Goa. And yesterday I began to feel the time for that too has passed. It has played it’s part, served a much needed purpose and yesterday as the cloud lifted, I felt a distinct feeling that it is time to move. What felt serendipitous and right for the most part, and gave me so much needed time (and boredom, even) now feels done.

In the sprightly energy I suddenly felt there was just one thing I wanted and needed to do. Cook myself a hearty, wholesome meal. Not eliminating the carbs, not eliminating the dairy, not eliminating the fried crispies.

So khichdi it was. This was my heavy days ending. Right here in a single bowl. Eaten all alone, fresh out of the cooker at 6.30 pm even before the sun had set.

Some days are heavy. Then there are some days that feel like simple perfection. And the difference between the two is sometimes just a bowl of humble khichdi.

One year ago: Waiting here to find the sign that I should take it slow
Three years ago: Who do I think I am?

Quiet

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

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

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

The Well, David Whyte

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

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

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

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

Summer

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

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

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

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

I feel you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flow

Yeah, what does it say to me about my community? And where do I go from here?

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed how this message spoke directly to something I spend so much time thinking about — community, connection, friendship, belonging — especially in the context of freshness and newness that I now desire in my life.

It seems like a fitting question to ask myself, and as I see it, it is an invitation to look at things in a new light and possible push myself out of a comfort zone in this regard. Great fodder for thought at a time when I feel I am moving from one phase, one way of being, into another.

One year ago: Stuck in the sunshine riptide
Three years ago: That urban poverty piece that has everybody’s panties in a bunch

Gratitude

I didn’t really plan on “birthday week” per se, but as it happened, the entire week of my birthday was a blissful happy time and it makes me really thankful for so much.

I watched Endgame, twice — on opening day and the day after. I am still not a hardcore MCU fiend by any stretch of imagination, but last year I really got into it and bothered to try and watch some of the better films of the lot, in order to get a handle on the overall plot. I did, to some extent, but watching Endgame made me realise there is so much I am suddenly curious about. So I also spent some parts of the weekend watching older movies. Dr Strange, for one, which I think is so far the best movie in this series for me.

We finally ticked off the other thing on my wish list on the weekend too. And. It. Surpassed. All. Expectations. The burger was huge, juicy, spectacularly flavoured, with a side of homemade potato chips, not fries, and aioli. MMMMMMM. The burger was in fact so big and filling, and my appetite has shrunk so much, both VC and I packed half a burger away to have for dinner. Which worked out just great for us.

Having my birthday on a national holiday has meant that there is always someone to celebrate with, and this time was no different. When I was growing up, it was always summer holidays and I’d mostly be in Bombay with my handful of chuddy buddies, and everyone was available because everyone was on holiday. As an adult, Labour Day has ensured that I’ve always had the day off and spent it with friends. VC had a holiday too, and we planned to go to the beach. But I got my period that morning, bummer, and was in no mood to swim anymore. So we made a detour and I got me another tattoo I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. Even though it’s been in the works in my head for a while, I think the timing was perfect, and the tattoo suddenly means so much more to me, personally.

We then went out to dinner to my favourite Italian restaurant because earlier in the week I went down a rabbit hole watching endless videos of pasta in the making, that had triggered a serious, massive spaghetti bolognese craving. I went totally crazy and ate dessert too — a luscious, flowery fragrant creme brulee. Memorable.

It’s time to write my annual birthday letter to myself, and I got down to it this past week. Last year, I decided to write two letters a year to myself and ended up actually writing three — just so many thoughts and feels to share I suppose hahahaha. This year, in addition I’m writing letters to some folks I feel like letting know how much they’ve contributed to my life this past year. So there’s going to be a fair bit of letter writing in the coming days.

This is probably the only “work” I did. With fasting diligently on weekdays at home, I’m pretty much down to one meal a day. And that means I only need to cook dinner. So I spend a large part of the day, really just chilling. This extended chilling, with literally nothing demanding my attention or asking for my time has been timely, and hasn’t happened ever before. I’m learning to go with it, and doing my best to shut the guilty person in my head down.

Meals have been really good. Something kicks in in the evenings when I decide to get up and cook dinner. They’ve been simple meals, but low-to-no-carbs and unlike ever before, I’ve been feeling inspired to create something fun and hearty even with those limitations. VC has joined in and this entire week we managed to eat well, stay on top of the fitness goals by exercising every day, which always sets me up for a good state of mind.

On Friday, I went to my happy place this side of Goa — the Friday market at Mapusa and bought the freshest veggies, mangoes, and generally revelled in wandering about the crowded place. I love, love, love this place and going there just makes me so happy. To take in the sights and smells and to jostle about with the locals, watching the hustle does something for me. I came home with these insane flowery plants that I’m going to put in my terrace too.

I ended the week with watching Endgame yet again hahaha — third time’s a charm. Because I watched some of the older movies, and now I actually get — at a deeper level — what some of the little details mean. This past week I’ve been very taken by the cultural phenomenon that this entire comic book universe has been, almost like the Star Wars of our generation. So I got all academic and geeky and did a lot of reading to fill in the blanks for myself. And that really changed the experience for me. I’ve now decided to slowly go through the entire lot of movies in sequential order. While I think I should watch them in the chronological order of the sequence of events that unravel in the movies, VC believes I should go in the (mis)ordered way that they were made because that back and forth has a place and a logic, apparently. My sequence-obsessed mind is having trouble accepting that.

For various reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into the mangoes this season. Also, the best has only just begun in Goa, in my honest opinion. I’m firmly in favour of Goan mangoes over even the best Alphonsos which I honestly find super overrated. So I also got back some of my favourite mangoes from the Friday market, and I have to say there is quite nothing like breaking a 16-17 hour fast with mangoes. And for that, I am utterly, utterly grateful.

Every day this past week I’ve woken up to mildly overcast skies, with that sticky pre-monsoon stillness of heavy humidity hanging in the air. It’s given me wild hopes that I get to witness at least a shower or two before I leave for Bangalore again.

One year ago: The beer I had for breakfast
Three years ago: At sea

Content

It has taken me a practically all my adult life to understand that I feel most happy, experience contentment and flow, find myself to be “together” — call it what you will — in those rare (but very possible) moments when I am at peace with the imperfection that comes with work in progress.

When I am more in agreement with everything that I am — the good, the bad and the ugly — and believe I hold it all within.

When I accept what I can and absolutely cannot control, when I let that shit go, and when I revel in what is.

When I find those hidden joys in the everyday ordinary-ness of my life and realise just how much I thrive in it.

When I struggle less with making things happen, and allow them to happen as they are.

When I open myself up to the uncertainty of what can be, and find excitement in taking things as they come.

When I truly live by just putting one step in front of another, no more, no less.

This is when I most feel like I am enough. I’m alright.

One year ago: I’ve been saving this time
Three years ago: Inside-out

I am enough

I’m finding constant affirmation of my understanding of how much the process* of leaning in to my current needs, in the pursuit of becoming a whole, grownass, emotionally healthy woman, actually amounts to tending to the very same needs of my inner child — to make and take space, to feel safe, to be seen and heard.

It’s deeply gratifying to see how as one is soothed, the other is strengthened. And it is extremely reassuring to see that the outcome of this process has some many different forms. I experience it sometimes as a wholeness and steadiness. Sometimes it manifests as confidence. Sometimes it makes itself seen as peace and contentment. Sometimes as an ease in listening to myself, and a flow in following through. Sometimes as a quiet, a lack of words but an extreme fullness. Sometimes an inexplicable, overflowing love and positivity. Sometimes a feeling of power and being untouchable.

Most times it is a reassuring sense of security, of having found a place, of feeling my age, of having my feet firmly on the ground. It’s like stumbling on something so precious, I want to nurture it forever and ever, and never let it go. It’s a deep, deep sense of being, feeling, having enough.

*Understanding this (my) process constantly reminds me of Wild Geese, this gem of a poem by Mary Oliver that is always a fitting reminder that so often, all I need to do is just listen. And go with it.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

— Mary Oliver

One year ago: Like happiness is a truth
Three years ago: Kangana Ranaut’s crash-course in honesty, feminism and empathy

Vulnerability and validation

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t.

***

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

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

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

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

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

Where have we gone wrong?

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

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

Three years ago: Birthday weekend in progress

Routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Belonging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing her words here, with permission.

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

Anything.

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

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

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

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

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

Then one day you decide you’ve had enough.

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

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

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

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

Some old relationships take on a new meaning and depth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this time is different.

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

No more no less.

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

That’s their role in your life.

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

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

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

Beachy things

Here’s all the times I have been out to the beach, had so much fun and told myself I need to do this “more often”. 2012, again in 2012, and again in 2012 — makes sense, because this was the year I quit full time work. Then it became a sort of ritual to do one big trip, go away for a weekend or more, in 2013, 2014, 2016 and again in 2016. And this is just counting the few posts I remember writing about more than a day being spent by the beach, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the number of posts in the archives that I can’t remember, or the number of times I’ve been out for just the day, or the evening to chill by the sea, drink or book in hand, to just be — I had an almost-weekly routine of doing this and recall mostly taking either S or VC for company, when I didn’t choose to go by myself.

All this nostalgia and rewinding time to say this trip, I feel like I have been bitten by the beach bug good and proper. There was last weekend spent entirely by the beach in the water, which made me immensely happy to the very depths of my soul. I have not enjoyed the sea this much in a long, long time, such that I was unwilling to leave the water, sunburnt shoulders and nose be damned, until the sun had well set. If I count beginning the day at 6.30 am with a run with R, sometimes splashing through waves, it takes the average hours spent at the beach up a notch. All of this inspired the same old feels — a promise to get out and do this more often. (You can see VC’s recent pictures from these trips on his Instagram.)

What I didn’t think would happen so soon is yet another day spent at the beach. When D invited us to join her and the family (Olive too! And when I saw how happy she was on the beach, it made me miss Leo and Lego oh so much) at a beach in the South, I hesitated because we had planned a barbecue for 12 people that we had to prep for. But both VC and I decided in literally two minutes of discussion that we should go — that’s how much we’ve enjoyed the sea this season. So we rushed through preps the previous night and off we went the next morning.

Post full moon magic is real, you guys. The sea was magnificent. Giant rockers perfect for wave jumping and sea salt immersion, complimented with the gentlest bouncy bobbity waves perfect for just lolling about, with white froth and salty breeze in the air. I really soaked it in, coming out only to have a beer and eat batter-fried calamari and fries. We had landed up at the most random and uninviting shack, but were thoroughly surprised with how great the food was. A giant meal was had, and while we all balked at the quantities we had ordered at the start, I noticed we’d done a decent job of wiping most of it clean by the end.

BIG love <3

Again, we came home close to 4 pm burnt to toast and crashed for a whole hour, waking up only in time to do all the last minute things we needed to before folks began to arrive for dinner.

Yesterday evening, we went off to Chapora Fort. I hadn’t been back since 2014, and VC since 2012 or so. And boy, o boy, the place has changed. For the worse, I’m afraid. It’s got a Baga vibe, chockfull of tourists recreating their own Dil Chahta Hai moments — we saw a group of girls singing along to some DCH song and trying desperately to get it right and on video. They eventually did in what seemed like the 23rd attempt. To make things worse we didn’t realise it was Sunday so of course it was going to be packed. However, we found a spot to enjoy the seamless, vast views of the sea that remain, thankfully. It is still one of the best spots to catch the sunset.

Today, VC is in Mumbai for a meeting and I briefly entertained the idea of going to the beach in the morning, before giving it up in favour of gardening some. Phew. I’ll save it for the weekend.

The sea still remains one of the top things about Goa that I miss when I’m away. Sigh. It’s heartening, and I feel so very lucky for having had this luxury for so many years. I think of all the evenings, weekends and entire days spent under the influence of the sea and it truly makes me feel so grateful for this experience that I have really exploited. It’s undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to access healing, calming and humbling stimuli around here. Just walking on wet, solid sand watching the moisture stretch away under pressure beneath my feet, or having a wave completely submerge you, or getting that timing right down pat when I’m able to skim the surface of a giant wave and let it buoy me over than drag me under, it is just such a thrill.

Im approximately four shades darker from all of this — a colour I love, and haven’t had in many years now– and my shoulders have proceeded to peeling, painlessly this time thankfully. But on the inside, I feel so good.

One year ago: Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Three years ago: Stop

Slow and steady

It’s been a rather flip-floppy week and I’ve floated along feeling unanchored for the most part. First the extended weekend and the extra day spent at the beach. It took me a whole day to recover from that and get out of the holiday blues and back to work. Just then I had the blow out with the client. I felt all loud and fierce in the moment when I stood my ground, but a couple of hours later I began to feel really sad about it. Not for what I said or did, because I was in the right, but just about yet another disappointment. Human beings are just so disappointing and it felt like a last straw.

So I turned to good old carbs for comfort. With a side of a Sri Lankan cinnamon and burnt star anise infused G&T at my new favourite pizza place. VC was only more than happy to take me out and so I binged on a meatballs on focaccia starter followed by a pepperoni pizza.

Today though, I woke up feeling quite rudderless because it dawned on me that suddenly a large chunk of my day is absolutely free and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Work does give my day structure and purpose and I’m back to the drawing board about where to go next. All of this is especially floaty in Goa where my days are long and lazy, and I’m technically in this limbo between holiday and regular life, not sure which way to go.

It could have been another floaty, aimless day but thankfully by now I have figured out my go to fixes that anchor me and bring steadiness to my days. I’ve dragged my feet with exercise this week, thanks to sleeping late so many nights in a row and all the indulgence in terms of food and drink. I’ve flaked and fudged a workout or two, even though I caught an hour long beach walk/run with R every morning that we were away.

Today I just knew I needed to not give myself any excuses. So I kicked myself to workout in the morning and forced myself to finish it strong, in a pool of my own sweat. I was finished, totally wiped, by the end of it but I felt so good. It’s like every single day, I forget how this is just starting trouble and that just seven or eight minutes in when I really break into a sweat and begin to feel the burn, is when the endorphins happen and I begin to thank myself for not allowing another miss.

I went to the nursery again this past weekend and got some new plants for the house. I’m afraid it might have become my new retail therapy, considering I’ve decided not to buy any clothes, shoes or accessories for at least another year.

After my workout I spent a good 20 mins tending to my plants. Don’t ask what I do and why it takes so long but I just enjoy pottering about, digging here clipping there, moving pots around. I don’t believe I’m very good at it but it is extremely satisfying and warms my heart.

I’ve also figured I don’t do well with just being cooped up all by myself for many days. I’ve been especially lonely after VC leaves for work this week, and the lethargy has made my enthusiasm to plummet. So today I got out and decided I should get out every few days, even if it’s just a supermarket run. I’m no longer the homebody I used to be when I lived here, going for days on end without stepping out at all. An hour outdoors was all it took, stocking up on groceries and stuff for a BBQ dinner VC has planned tomorrow, for me to feel steady and like I was back to being myself.

I came home, put things away listening to John Mayer and cooked myself a simple lunch. Dal, millets, a sabzi of sprouts and ate it with leftover kheema. Later, I watched Brene Browns new Netflix special and I ended up doing a couple of card readings for peeps.

This is pretty much all it takes to bring steadiness back to my life. A rhythm of utterly mundane tasks. Some days are just like this, steady and normal, as S said just as I was going about my day and she coincidentally texted me at the very same time telling me how she went about her plain and simple day and how it grounds her in ways nothing else does.

The benefits of having a routine are seriously underrated and I realise this is just what my parents talked about all along when I was growing up. I’m just living and experiencing the wonders as an adult.

Watching Gully Boy yet again in bed tonight and already looking forward to the beach tomorrow morning.

This is joy.

One year ago: The times, they are a-changing
Three years ago: Go far, they said