Life Lessons

Fall into the sky

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“This new city, so extravagantly ruthless and lonely did not take me in kindly. I am still learning how to survive with a blizzard in my chest.
Strong winds that built even stronger lungs, I have learned to inhale ice
and somehow not die.
Tell me, is that not extraordinary? I am such a summer thing. Yet I have remained. I have lived to see the sun again
I left to find a home
outside of what felt comfortable to me
and I found that home in me
changing
like a season I had never seen
I was not lost. Or running.
I just needed to relocate my being.
Just needed to fly without fear, trust my heart’s navigation
this beating compass has never failed me.
I am here.
Right where I need to be.
I am so
incredibly
Found.”

— Aman Batra

For some reason this piece resonated with me. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to endure New England’s winter recently. Or maybe it was the concept of finding a home within myself. For some reason I remembered The Alchemist and how people liked it not because of all the surreal mystical scenes but because of the concept that, “Wherever your heart is, there’s your treasure.” And how this Santiago had to go on this adventure to find his treasure only to discover that it was back home.

Things go full circle sometimes. Not always. Sometimes. And when it does, you find yourself thinking, why am I surprised by this when I’ve been here before?  But that’s the nature of 360-degree changes. Talking about changes, when people make decisions, it’s very easy to assume that situations are going to stay the same, but we fail to see the transient nature of life. No, let me rephrase that. We don’t fail to see the transience, we choose to ignore it. People change with time, circumstances change with time, you change with time.

That’s the main reason why I don’t value the idea of promises much. I don’t make them, and don’t expect to receive them. How can you make a promise when there’s so much uncertainty in life? Uncertainty gives birth to worry and worry is not healthy. I would know because I’m a chronic worrier and I’ve had to collect techniques through my life to deal with it.

The easiest one?

Look at the stars.

Ok, I know we live in cities nowadays, so finding the stars might be hard. Find the moon instead. Actually looking up at the sky might be enough. Or imagining you’re looking up at the sky might be enough. God knows I’ve seen many variations of the sky. Downcast, foggy, clear blue, gradations of color associated with sunrises and sunsets. But all skies have this in common; not only do they make you breathless with awe, they inspire you to paint them with your dreams. They also make you get over yourself, because seriously, the world doesn’t revolve around you. If you think about it, you’re the only person thinking about you. Nobody really thinks about you as much as you think, and that feeling of insignificance can be surprisingly liberating.

You know the problem with us people. A lot of times we want to understand why. “I did everything right. I followed all the rules. Why did this happen to me?” We seek closure when it comes to some of our personal life narratives, and thinking about it wastes a lot of mental energy, and time. Someone I know once told me, “It took me a decade and a trip half-way across the globe to find closure.” And since then I’ve learned that some answers don’t appear to us immediately. They take time. Maybe ten years, maybe never. Maybe I need to take that trip  half-way across the globe, but dude, where’s the money?

It doesn’t matter. Until the answer appears to us, just let it go and move on.

http://www.scmp.com/photos/popular/658/1225997
http://www.scmp.com/photos/popular/658/1225997

Tune into your emotions

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Stephen King writes, “The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them—words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it.”

Once upon a time as a child, we went over to our relatives’ house and played football there. Girls vs. boys. The girls’ team won and I went to school the next week bubbling with excitement about how we beat the boys at their own game. Yet the kids I was trying to tell either cut me off, or snubbed me. I can’t remember. All I remember thinking was nobody cared for what I wanted to say. Multiply that incident by a hundred more and you get the reason why I end up being so quiet in real life. From a young age, the world has shown me it didn’t care to listen, and so I didn’t care to speak.

But I wrote. Profusely.

I have a friend who thinks this habit of mine is crazy. Says my parents should have stopped me at a young age.

I wonder how we’re still friends.

I read the quote by Stephen King and paused at “Words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head.” I realize that over a million words later, there are still some things that words can’t capture; most of those fall under the ’emotions’ category. Emotions are tricky. At least for those carrying the double X chromosomes, they are. We live in a world that implicitly tells us that our value is directly proportional to the number of accolades and achievements we collect over our lifetimes. While deciding if someone is a success or not, people tend to point out the kind of car they drive, the trips they take, the house they live in…etc. And it’s very easy for us to judge our lives that way. Are we making enough money? Are we living in a big house?

But what if we stop looking at the things we do and the things we collect, and ask ourselves instead, “How do I feel about this? This person? This job? This thing?”

Tuning in with how you feel about everything helps bring the balance to your life because it turns your focus inwards instead of outwards. Now of course, some people might not agree. I mean, some might ask, who cares about feelings? Especially when you’re making so much money…

In Steve Jobs’ commencement speech, he talks about tuning in daily with himself. His question is a bit different…
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

And for this to work, you really need to be absolutely honest with yourself. Don’t be a Drama Queen and think that things are worse than they actually are. At the same time, do not delude yourself into thinking that things are better than they actually are. Assess situations as they are and be honest about how you feel about them. At least to yourself.

Finally, just because I am for tuning in with your feelings does not mean I endorse the new habit of posting your feelings on facebook since it prompts you with questions like, “How are you doing today?” Nobody really needs to know how you’re feeling, especially not the whole world. And besides, if you think about it, the answer that people normally post in response to facebook’s question is not always accurate…it’s the one they want others to know in order to be validated…and that’s totally not the point of the exercise.

So here’s today message:

Switch off all your devices. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, “How do I feel?”

Tune into your emotions even if words fail you.

courtesy of sevencounties.org/
courtesy of sevencounties.org/

6 Life Lessons Learnt from Packing

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Recently I’ve had to pack my life into boxes, and I realized I’ve done that at least eight times in the past decade (AUS dormitories required us to clear the room every year so that partly explains the bloated number), but still…I realized that the process of packing can teach you a few life lessons if you pay attention to it.

1) One box at a time. While some people are into last-minute packing, I started one week before and just packed one box at a time. That made the task less stressful and daunting.

http://www.comindwork.com/weekly/2013-11-11/productivity/eating-an-elephant-one-bite-at-a-time
http://www.comindwork.com/weekly/2013-11-11/productivity/eating-an-elephant-one-bite-at-a-time

I don’t know who came up with the question in the picture above, but my immediate answer whenever I hear, “How do you eat an elephant?” is usually, “First tell me, why would you want to eat an elephant?”

But this elephant thing is a famous analogy for breaking up big and daunting tasks into pieces and focusing on each part one by one. It’s usually useful -with the right level of motivation. Sometimes it’s the low level of motivation that makes us start tasks on the last night before a deadline and then we realize that “Oh well, we don’t have time to finish it so…”

2) Books are heavy. I’ve always dreamt of owning a personal home library, but to have a personal home library one has to first have a permanent home. So an obvious solution to the accumulating book problem is not the easiest for book lovers, but we have to do it anyway; DONATE. For those who don’t know what to do with their books in Abu Dhabi, there’s The Book Shelter in the Circle Cafe in Khalifa City A, and from what I understood they have a branch in Dubai.

So we understand how heavy books can be physically, but the information contained within them can be analogous to weights for your mind muscles. It’s true that sometimes you have to plow through a three-hundred page book to get one single idea, but then that idea could transform your life…over and over and over again.

So keep reading, and for those who keep on packing their lives into boxes every few years, get a kindle. It’s a good investment.

3) Cleanse, detox, declutter…. Whether it is donating clothes, or getting rid of expired items, packing is always a good time for dumping some things into boxes and then dumping the boxes out. The life lesson is obvious here, get rid of whatever it is that is not working for you anymore. Sometimes it’s a habit, other times it’s a toxic relationship…be efficient and be relentless.

4) Don’t look inside other people’s boxes. It’s easy for us to compare our lives with the lives of others, especially with social media around. But comparing your life with that of others only lowers your self-esteem and makes you doubt your choices. So instead of peeking at what other people have in their boxes (figuratively of course), just focus on yours. Focus on your own roles, your own relationships, your own life. I’ve written about this before; the only person worth competing with is yourself.

5) Celebrate the small wins. Once you’re done packing, sit back, make good use of one of those boxes and use it as an ottoman as you sit back and put your feet up.

6) Last but not least, just let go. Packing teaches us how little we really need to survive, to carry over from one stage to another. It makes us really distinguish between the needs and the wants, the essentials and inessentials. We realize we actually can live without  things we used to think we cannot live without…all we had to do was actually get thrown into a situation to try.

Things to remember if you’re feeling lonely

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It’s easy to find yourself in a downward spiral when every time your aunties see you they quack about how you need to get married, or when your work colleague rudely mentions about your biological clock (which by the way, is NONE of their business!) or when getting your facebook friends show off their honeymoon, anniversary and first/second/third baby pictures. But here’s the thing:

1) Nobody’s going to save you. The problem happens when people sit and think that someone out there is going to somehow save them and make them happy but that’s just seeking happiness from an external source, which could – or could not – work out. Why give an external factor that much power? Such an attitude leads to anxiety and insecurity. The best way to counter that is to practice self-love and understand that you are enough as you are, with or without someone.

2) A lot of times, people think that the solution for everything at your age is to get married. For instance, a guy has spending problems…get him married (because according to their logic, if he settles he will learn to be more responsible). Instead of solving this guy’s financial problems head-on, the marriage obviously compounded his financial woes since having a family is not exactly cheap. While marriage might solve a few problems like keeping those quacking aunties quiet for a change, it could also open more doors to trouble; the sort you always hear about but never imagine could happen to you. So as the Arabic saying goes, “Close the door that brings in the wind and relax.”

الباب الذي يأتي منه الريح أغلقه واستريح

3) Get rid of emotional triggers. What drives people to sit and pout about how they’re so lonely and miserable is all the emotional triggers around; in the malls, on the road, on TV, on Facebook. As the quote says, alone people don’t like to hear about the together people. That doesn’t mean to avoid the together people altogether but to avoid those who can’t stop talking about how their spouse did this or that or “Oh My God! Doesn’t that show he’s so adorable!”

“No, it only shows you’re pretty annoying.”

4) Reach out to friends [those who can actually have a conversation about something other than their spouses]. It’s very easy for lonely people to withdraw into themselves thinking they don’t have anybody out there. Again, nobody’s going to save you. You’ve got to do all the legwork yourself. And just because you’re single doens’t mean you don’t have friends, work colleagues, knitting club members, or even old neighborhood grandmothers you can call and visit [those last ones are the best because they appreciate the calls and visits the most + visiting them always comes with the added bonus of free food].

5) Loneliness resulting from a downward spiral is an emotion triggered by a mental thought process. It has been  shown that getting some exercise helps with the symptoms of the clinically depressed. Exercise is known to release the happy chemicals endorphins. And if that doesn’t work, have a banana (bananas are known to work great for mood elevation).

In the end remember that we do live in a lonely world nowadays. With too many screens and information overload, maybe technology has helped increase the number of relationships but it didn’t do much about improving the depth and quality of those relationships. And also, there are people who happen to be married and yet still feel lonelier than you probably would on your own. So enjoy your solitude.

And have a great week!