On slow living

Life has been full lately. My days have been quite packed, I’ve been out and about, I’ve worked hard and taken time to enjoy the fruits of my work.

Externally, life has been moving fast as it usually does. It is a welcome change from the collective energy of p-a-u-s-e that 2020 was. And yet, I feel slow and measured internally. My mind isn’t struggling to “keep up” with my body or vice versa. There is an unsaid synchronisation and we’re all just keeping pace gently. Like a quiet working together. Slow, mindful, peaceful coexistence that seems to be enduring, staying, becoming a constant. This wasn’t the case before. I would find pockets of this amidst the chaos that is usual life.

This is different. This is new, again.

Inside I feel pleasantly slow. My mind staying with my body most of the time. And it occurred to me that I usually associated this “slowness” to the privilege of empty time. I waited to earn that down time. Periods of no work, autumns of rest and recovery, nights of sleep. But somehow now, there is slowness within, even in what has been some of the busiest weeks of the last two years.

Slow doesn’t mean that I am not working or otherwise engaged. It has come to mean I am moving through my (busy)days, intentionally. I’m being present, and this has become a touch easier lately. My mind stays where my body is, my body finds my mind, most times.

Slow isn’t the lack of activity. It is intentionality.
Slow isn’t emptiness. It is filling me up.
Slow isn’t a luxury or privilege. It is a hard won gift.

Even when I’m rushing around, the slowness has allowed me to find moments to appreciate where I am, the beauty around me, feel gratitude for this natural change, enjoy where my life has brought me to. Even as I navigate this godawful mess of a city. Even as I dream about taking the metro again. Even as I run from one thing to the next. Even as I dream and schedule quietly, scrub dishes, cook my meals, type away on my computer.

The slowness has given me new life.

One year ago: Monday Tarot Message: Strength
Five years ago: Let go, already

Showers

Just as it began to get warm, I woke up the other day thinking of how we haven’t had a typical Bangalore shower in a long time. I was away for all of December, most of January and I’m not sure if it has rained this year at all, but it certainly hasn’t since my coming back.

I should have guessed there was something odd about the way in which things warmed up suddenly, between one day and the next. It didn’t feel natural, real.

And lo and behold. It rained last evening. Came down as suddenly as the heat did. I was so  sure it was that typical Bangalore shower that comes with great gusto, makes a huge fuss and noise and passes really quickly. But it persisted and gradually turned into a massive downpour that lasted about an hour.

I am relieved that the dust might settle. The entire fucking city — this is not even a slight exaggeration — is a giant construction site at the moment, and there is dust everywhere. No amount of dusting within the home is cutting it and the situation outside is seriously killing my mojo of wanting to get out. But here I am. in that strange place that only Bangaloreans understand. Feeling glad for the rain, enjoying the petrichor  (I still strongly detest that word and how easily it gets thrown about on days like this. Chill people you’re smelling the DUST not the earth.) and also feeling massively frustrated for the almost immediate traffuckery that follows. It takes absolutely nothing for rain-induced chaos to set in. Literally just a matter of minutes.

Traffic jams, dug up roads, irationaly long drive times to get anywhere notwithstanding, I’m moving. Out and about.

One year ago: Tarot: On resilience
Two years ago: Like seeing sunlight
Three years ago: Stop this train, I want to get off and go home again

Pleasure

I’m allowing myself to follow what feels pleasurable. What feels delicious. What feels light and freeing.

One year ago: Seasons
Two year ago: Move, move, move
Three years ago: There’s nothing here to run from 
Five years ago: Major leaps, minor struggles

Chasing the sun

This is not an oak tree, but it reminded of these Marion Woodman words I came across recently:

The conscious feminine gives us the courage to love an acorn without knowing what an oak tree is.

I have been seeing trees differently lately. More intently, closely. And I feel a bit captivated.

Some recent recurring themes/happenings: Cubbon Park hangs, conscious feminine, trees, branches, sunlight

Two years ago: You’re my favourite, you’re my favourite
Three years ago: There’s still time to change the road you’re on
Five years ago: Cloudless skies

Reunited

So dang happy to be…I’m afraid to say it…back to normal. Well, in as much as is possible right now, anyway.

It’s probably a product of some conditioning plus early upbringing/disciplining that made me harbour a fair bit of unnecessary guilt and shame around minor indulgences. Well into my adulthood I’ve had this ghost lingering around, asserting high expectations of when one is worthy of an indulgence, and even when one indulges, what kind of indulgence is permissable.

Little things like a daily coffee, a totally self-indulgent ritual that I might have enjoyed, or similar small “guilty” pleasures (why do we even call it that?!) — I’ve always kind of kept them hidden till just a few years ago. Even when I lived in Goa with absolutely nobody keeping tabs on no, nobody to answer to, I felt the compulsive need to build up and make convincing excuses to sound like I deserved a break or an indulgence.

I walked into Third Wave yesterday and had such a rush from the smell of that freshly roasted coffee that was so achingly familiar, that I have missed for a whole year now. The familiar faces behind the counter smiling behind from their masks and visors, eyes lit up to say hello to me, they even remembered my standard order — it was a thrill. The cafe was packed, buzzing with people working from “home” and it made me so nostalgic for 2019, through which I spent almost nearly 4-5 afternoons at this very cafe. Working, writing, reading, dreaming, chatting with whoever sat next to me, sometimes just sitting in silence drinking a cold brew or a hot tea all by myself.

And I thought, I’d really like to bring back that simple, everyday joy again. I said this to a bunch of clients the other day and I feel it is so applicable to me, I could do with the reminder — often.

The effects of simple joys, everyday beauty, small acts are seriously understated. If you grew up in a middle-class home in the 80s-90s, or in circumstances where simple pleasures felt like big, underserved indulgences, maybe you’ll relate?

I see now, as an adult, that it needn’t be something outlandish or opulent (though there is a time and place for that if youcan afford it, I suppose. Everyone’s idea of, and appetite for, indulge is different) and in fact the simpler and easier it is to access and make possible, the better. I have found joy in small things like a brisk walk to Third Wave, a quietly sipped hot tea, and a walk back. And for me, it doesn’t take much than that on any given day. There have been times I bought myself flowers on the way home. Or I stopped to pick up an aloo-bun at the bakery I pass. Or I met up with VC at where he was and took a ride back home together.

And then I thought of my weekly-solo-breakfast-someplace-out ritual from 2017-18 and how much that used to set me up for the week. I’d get my weekly fix of getting out of the home, of eating something nice that I’d plan to eat in advance, of spending some time by myself and sometimes even catching up with a friend later on. I no longer eat breakfast, but maybe there’s some scope to adapt the idea of that ritual in some way.

There was also my Sunday-morning-walk-followed-by-breakfast date with D that was such a good marker in the week. An excellent way to finish the week and yet start the Sunday off well. We’ve done it off and on post lock-down, but life and travels have made it hard to get back to the routine like we had going pre-COVID.

I miss the rituals. I miss those small joys. I miss the comfort of that rhythm. The predictable, unfaltering promise of fun in these routines. Now that we’re getting out, one way or another, masks on and sanitiser at hand, I am craving this kind of normalcy.

***

One would imagine Goa was a holiday time for us. But in reality I worked harder in November and December, than I did the entire year. Even the first two weeks of the new year that we spent in Goa were chock full of work. VC went off on a work trip to Calcutta and back and continued to work from home almost right through. The added difference this time was we were committed to getting out often and making the most of being in Goa.

We had really gotten into the swing of normal life there. A balanced, routine existence that since being back here took some time to regain. And then I went back and forth twice to my parents’ in just ten days and somehow that’s two weeks just whizzed by in this holiday like haze. Mildly disorienting because we’d returned from “holiday” to “real life”. Last weekend though, after days of trying to get back to my routine and finding my feet (and succeeding some) I swung back into action. Inevitably, a tsunami of work flowed in after and I have been swimmingly busy since the start of this week. And oddly, there is promise of normalcy in this.

Who knew.

One year ago: I’m alive
Two years ago: Super power
Five years ago: Fail

Into the wild again

I’m slowly getting out, make plans, meet people, do things like in The Before Time, in Bangalore again. It’s been oddly disorienting. Like learning to walk again. Strange how much like pyshiological muscles, our social/emotional muscles also forget how to flex and stretch when they’re not in use, I suppose.

It’s been a strange mix of so badly wanting to go out and hang out with peeps, but also feeling like the thought is overwhellming and asking for too much effort. Also, so much has happened with me and my friends in this time of distance, I no longer know where I stand with many of them. The ones I am currently closest to live overseas and we connect more often than we ever have, over video chat. Here, with the folks I share a city with, I have chosen not to reach out or make plans since March last year when everything went tits up. I don’t know what to make of this strange love-hate thing happening. This odd mix of wanting, but also not wanting; of craving company but feeling very, very pricey about whose company it should be, when I am really not in any position to be choosing at this point. It’s not like there’s a buffet spread in front of me. My circle is down to 2.5 people again.

I don’t know if I’m being shy? Or if I’m feeling awkward? Because this past year has felt like five, in terms of growth and change within me. I feel like an entirely new person and much of this has been a private exploration that I have enjoyed in my own solitude. In an older time I’d be updating my friends on the daily about everything that I am thinking and feeling and going through. But that has not been the case though 2020. So I wonder if I’m guarding/hiding the person I have become over the course of this year? I know that part of the reason the journey has been so rich this past year is the absolutely minimal peer contact and “pressure”. There’s a sense of having tasted something special that I am feeling a tad greedy to let go of. I notice this in myself, and I ask myself why do I want to hide? What am I hiding? And I notice how the part that wants to hide is at direct loggerheads with a significant part that really doesn’t.

I shared the weird feeling with S on Saturday night when we caught up on a late, late zoom call. Him nursing his end of day doob, and me drinking mug after mug of hot water. Interestingly, when I described this whole saga, he said it’s how he feels every time he returns back home from wherever he is in the world. It is like reorienting to a time and space you left behind, to an older time when you were an older version of you, to a set of people who knew you differently. And there’s confusion about which way you should be, or how you will be received if you didn’t have to choose.

I know that the lack of any kind of social interaction for 10 months in-between — some forced, and honestly, some chosen, has made it somewhat worse. Thus th feeling of having to learn how to do this all over again. This time, with a frigging mask on.

Two years ago: Safe and sound
Three years ago: The heartache lives on inside
Four years ago: Commitment issues
Five years ago: Begin again

Sunkissed

14 degrees out these days in the morning. Deceptive bright sunshine with biting cold kind of weather that has been making it super hard to get moving to exercise every morning.

Frigid muscles, stiff bones, dry and burning nostrils, heavy breaths, everything taking longer to ease up. I have to admit this has been harder this year than every before. I notice, my body is getting older. Perhaps these are natural ways my body reminds me to payheed to how it is changing. And for a change, I have been listening, not trying to force it to action, whip it into shape, force it to move in ways it is unwilling. I am mostly going the way it is taking me, only gently pushing some boundaries. Largely really steering clear of even trying to push those that I know won’t.

It takes longer these days, but I still crack a sweat and get my heart racing within the first 30 minutes. And by the end of the hour, I am always glad I gently pushed through that starting trouble. That’s how good R’s routines are for me.

Post workout, I go right back to the balconies at the east side of our home to bask some more and stay warm. Then a leisurely hot bath, warm clothes and back into the sunshine for a while.

One year ago: Bombay meri jaan
Two years ago: Weekend highs and lows
Three years ago: May your feet always be swift
Five years ago: Blush

Eating the sun

That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days — some years — some decades — are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.

— Matt Haig

This year, like the last couple, I made no resolutions. No goals. I have some aspirations, but they’re broad and loosely held. What I did pick instead are three words that I want to live by. Words that represent things I want to incorporate more of in my life. One of them is levity. Lightheartedness. Casual, carefreeness. Spontaneity. Lightness and play.

And today was about that.

A morning spent in the sunlight in the park. In silence, but also with laughter. With no agenda, no “activity”, no real plan to do anything but lie back and bask in the winter light. With black coffee and music for company.

Light. Chill. Full.

That’s the thing about time. Especially time spent looking inwards. Most of it is flat. Uneventful. Nothing to show for it. Seemingly empty, even. Suddenly a moment, a day, week or month suddenly comes along with an intensity you don’t see coming. A coming together you couldn’t have envisaged.

This is exactly how it has been. I have spent so many years looking inwards for what it is that has kept me from this kind of levity. All the forces that got in the way, the self-made inadequacies, the limiting beliefs, the old hurts and everything in between. I have craved connection. Longed for fun and play. Done so much to invoke good, fulfilling experiences that lift me up. I have had them in fits and snatches. All the while, somehow, somewhere things have been clearing, making way for more, for what is yet to come. It’s like I’ve been climbing and climbing upwards for the last so many years, not knowing what lies ahead of the peak. And suddenly I find myself here, over the summit and now looking down, the vast, gleaming world lies ahead, luring me. Promising, full of life and light.

I had some preconcieved notions of what the good times will be. What levity might look like. And this is nothing like I imagined. Yet, it is everything.

One year ago: Monday Tarot Message: Suspend
Five years ago: Every day

Light and dark

Bangalore is doing a full on delayed, extra dry, extra-nippy-mornings winter. Our home is super well ventilated and gets plenty of light through the day, but not directly flooding through the windows. It’s well positioned, so well lit, but not bright. In winter, the cross breeze is insane, it actually howls while passing through the apartment is all balcony doors or all strategic windows are open. So of course, since we;re back form 36 degree humid weather, we’ve been cooped up at home with everything shut. Which also means less light, and somehow that does make it nippier still.

But, Bangalore also puts on a great winter sunlight. I mean, top-notch. Glowy, iridescent, warm sunlight that sits just alongside the winter air that is so crunchy it might crack if I could snap it in two. Biteable.

So, this morning, after a good two hours of chores, a workout and a super hot shower, I went up to the terrace to lie in the sun. I don’t know why I’ve never done this at home before. I lay there for a full hour, listening to a podcast. And I might have drifted off to sleep.

***

If someone had told me five years ago that the answer to feeling free, comfortable in my own skin, happy with myself and where I am in life lay in looking deep with the abyss of my darkness, I probably wouldn’t have wholeheartedly dived into this journey like I did.

I took a soft and easy approach, but eventually came to The Darkness. The shadow. The duality. The contradictions. The parts of myself I found unbearable and wanted so badly to remain in denial about.

Because that was my training. To always be positive. To be determined to work it out. To triumph at all costs. To be put together always. It’s very hard to be all of these things while staring down at the darkest parts of who I am. The two don’t go together. And slipping into the darkness and owning it meant letting go of the veneer that I was trained to keep up.

For years the work simply involved shedding the idea that The Darkness is bad. Or that I must overcome it. Not let it show. Long and painful work of creating an internal container that could withstand the steep drops that looking into this abyss, was th hardest part. But with enough of that inner strength, I’m finally able to see that The Darkness simply exists. As it does in all of us. I am not worse of or lesser than because of it. And its existence is not a marker of how much I have healed and grown.

If anything, being aware of it, acknowledging it, bringing it into the light, holding it lightly even when it often makes me feel like diving into nothingness, actually liberated me.

Yet another if life’s contradictions: to have tasted freedom in the depths, to have found lightness in the dark.

I told someone the other day, I feel like five years of shoveling the dust and grime in the dark seems to be paying off now. This, today, here, is the most comfortable I have been with who I am, where I am, just as I am. This is the free-est I have felt in all these years of seeking it.

What a ride.

One year ago: Monday Tarot Message: On receiving
Five years ago: Finally moving

Doséy

VC and I ventured into CTR today. It was our first CTR dosa since March 2020. And certainly our first in the last six weeks of being away.

We sat side by side, as opposed to across from each other, because of the plastic partitions that now separate oppsite sides of every table.

Socially-distanced CTR felt absurd and amusing. I chuckled through most of it, devoured more dosa than I usually do, in the bargain. Follower by a coffee, also something I havent done in a long time.

N, PK and I have a Whatsapp group called “Doséy” on which we literally only exchange pictures when we’re eating beautiful dosas. There is little to no other discussion that happens on there, unless it’s about dosas. This momentuous occasion of returning bravely to CTR deserved sharing. So I sent them a picture, and got into a discussion about said dosa and our willpower in staying away for 10 months.

All in all, I was so overwhelmed from the experience, and the deliciousness of the dosa and the need to share it all immediately, that I did not mindfully, quietly eat the dosa. I did not savour every bite slowly like I could have.

I guess I’ll just have to go back.

Two years ago: Learning to let go
Three years ago: Sorry seems to be the hardest word
Four years ago: Work, but also life
Five years ago: Hope

Reflections

It’s been so dreary, rainy and cold this week. I usually love this weather and winter in Bangalore is one of the redeeming joys of living here. But this incessant rain, constant clammy wetness and bone-chilling cold has me feeling very, very gloomy.

This morning though, I woke up to this view at 6:40 am. Sunshine after the rain has fallen. Crisp, bright, snappy. This balcony view has been a constant for more than 75% of this year. From feeling comfortable with life minimised to just this, to getting fully sick of it and feeling stifled and resenting it — I’ve gone full circle. Currently I’m somewhere in between lets-get-out-of-here and when-can-I-settle-in-again.

It’s officially that time of year, whether I like to or not there is looking back. And there are reflections. Pandemic year epiphanies have flown thick and frequent but I’m boiling it down to just a few things. 2020 has consistently (and deeply) shown:

  • Humans are more alike than different. Our lives and similar are intertwined in ways we really will never know, but if we allow to lean into this our small, simple worlds suddenly open up in enriching ways.
  • Our daily existence is small, needs very little to get by. While humbling and liberating, this has also shown me how little it takes to shrink into a tiny, isolating little world.
  • There will always be something to despair about. Every day developments, big and small, that will spin me into a kind of smallness and helpless that makes everything seem overwhelming. However, there is tremendous power and agency to be found in my smallness. In just simply owning it, without trying to be anything else.
  • The best, most healing practices that I have returned to time and time and time again, to find peace, grounding and clarity have not been meditation or journaling or even therapy and the like (though, all of that has helped too). This year I turned far more frequently to simple, small and mundane activities like cleaning up, cooking, working out and tending to myself, my home, my immediate environment, my needs to bring myself back. When the world shrank and closed in, the plants in my balcony, the oven I cranked up more times than ever before, the broom and mop, my running shoes and earphones have given me a solid way to feel present and in the moment.

It reminded me of this Rainbow Rowell quote I first read in 2017 about the goodness in building a capacity for joy in small, ordinary things that can really, really steady us. I wrote about in such a different light back then. I see how different my world was, hoe differently I felt. And how much I’ve changed since then. And how differently the same quote speaks to me today.

One year ago: Friendship and owning my power
Two years ago: I need to free my mind and see what I’m feeling

Pink

The world is still large. And beautiful. And there is still much to be done.

One year ago: Rant
Two years ago: I can buy this sunshine

Of people and trees

There’s a strange dichotomy that’s been brewing. An aching need to be around people again, growing alongside the deep desire to be with nature instead of people.

It feels easier somehow to sit amongst trees, than reach out to people. And even so, this past week I’ve reached out and ventured out more than I ever have this past year.

It’s always fascinating to notice. And this time around I am observing who there is ease with and why, and what my interactions with them are like.

I’ve grieved so much loss, past and current, in terms of people and relationships this year. Not just loss as in the severance and disappearance of connection, but the ways in which change and growth (from both sides) has irrevocably altered so many relationships. At times it’s been like watching it all get wrecked in slow motion and feeling the slow twisting of a knife in my gut, reminding me just how alone we all are.

And yet, every now and then, just as I have made some peace and found some comfort in the discomfort of that inalienable truth, surprises come by. Being at the receiving end of someone else’s need for connection, a chance for shared vulnerability, honest conversation, a joyful reminder for laughter and ease even through the pain.

After months of being entirely inward, pulling away from all sides and retreating into the abyss of my aloneness, I felt drawn out again this week. Chatted with S several times, and discussed fervent plans for their trip to India and Goa, drumming up much excitement. Chatted with N for over two hours, across time zones, and unexpectedly again in just a couple days, planning some new ways to collaborate and hold each other’s hands in the coming weeks. S and I went to Cubbon Park for a walk one evening, Airlines for a coffee and then hung out leisurely at home another day.

Friendship and belonging has changed so much in 2020. And I’m finding happiness in accepting that this too is okay.

One year ago: To be or not to be
Two years ago: I’m feeling outshined

Looking for typical

We’ve been back for more than a couple of days now, but the disorientation that came from being back in an atmosphere where fear and chaos are so high, compared to the relaxed, peaceful, positive environment we were in, has lasted longer than anticipated.

While away, not having access to a newspaper and not looking at my phone meant I missed the big, horrific news of last week entirely. It only really hit me when we returned to a small mountain of newspapers at our doorstep (because we forgot to tell the newspaper guy we were going away) with a leaf carrying a piece of horrific news lying face up on the very top of it. And then, I steadfastly avoided the news after. I just don’t have the emotional or mental or psychological bandwidth to deal with it at this point. Not without feeling like there is absolutely no iota of future left for us.

The strange thing is, even without the information onslaught, without the doom-scrolling, without even looking out for it, and in fact avoiding it, I feel clued in. I feel the horror. I feel the anger. Simmering. This is the energy of the collective at work, and I feel clued in to it.

So I came back feeling very disoriented. A vast dissonance between the borderline utopia I went away to, a bubble of safety and happiness, and the grotesque world I came back to. It took me four days of hemming and hawing, trying to drag myself back to some semblance of normalcy, feeling (and giving in to) the need to sleep more than normal, before I felt like myself again.

I complained to VC time and again about wanting to “get on with it” and somehow just being unable to. The mornings have been slow, and the saving grace has been joining R’s morning workout class. That gets me going in some manner. We did some chores. But mostly everything felt a bit alien for the last few days. We ordered in, my MIL sent over some food, and I didn’t cook a single thing. Until today.

This evening, as VC washed the dishes, cleaned the chicken, and I mopped up the kitchen and planned what to marinate the chicken in, I felt a shift in my body. A switch to a prior state of normalcy, within me at least. No matter that the world is full tilt going bonkers.

This is my reaction to chaos, I’ve realised. I go into slow-mo, the urge to hide, cower and hibernate is strong, my brain gets dull and it becomes difficult to function. And I look, desperately for any glimmer of normal, typical, standard, mundane even.

But that has been the hardest thing to come by this year, no? How much more will 2020 throw at us?

Anyone else feeling raw, open, unmasked, exposed? And not in a nice way?

One year ago: October
Two years ago: In the nick of time
Three years ago: What colour is your sky?

Sneaky thrills

Living on the edge, at the fag end of 2020 has come to look like this.

Going to a favourite breakfast joint, but refusing to enter the crowds to eat breakfast. Instead, lurking in a corner of the parking lot, drinking a coffee quickly and enthusiastically. And leaving leaving feeling like you’ve carried out a drug delivery successfully.

This is as far as excitement levels can go.

One year ago: Step-up
Two years ago: Some things will never change
Three years ago: Back to base