“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
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
— 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.
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.
There’s a famous story about how a journalist once asked a couple, “How did you manage to stay together for 65 years?”
“We were born in a time when if something was broken we would fix it, not throw it away.”
They implied that kids nowadays are more tempted to throw away whatever is broken without considering fixing it, and Forbes did mention something about Millenial leaders being impatient. It makes sense of course, since we live in a world where everything is available at our fingertips. We are a generation hooked on methods of instant gratification. We want everything now..and if not now, then yesterday.
Recently I wrote a piece where I said, “We are all wounded, but maybe we need to think of ourselves in terms of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing cracks with pieces of gold so that the broken is more beautiful than the new.”
That referred to ourselves. But what if we find ourselves in broken careers or broken relationships… Do we work hard to fix it or do we throw it away? How do we decide?
1. Let the past whisper the answer to you
-Find out your default reaction.
The most obvious scientific way to approaching this is to study the past and find your default reaction. Are you a fixer or a thrower? There is a quote that says, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So from past behavior, what has been your default reaction? To run away at the first sign of danger or to try and fix something but then end up with the thing in your hand despite the fact that it has obviously outlived its usefulness?
-Has your default reaction served you?
In other words, do you find yourself thinking, “Maybe I should have stayed longer. Maybe it could have worked out if I only tried harder. I didn’t give it my best shot…”
There’s no point for regrets of course, since what’s done is done. But you need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself if your default reaction – to run or stay – has served you.
-If it has served you (and sometimes that is the case), then I think you’re okay to run when you run but if it hasn’t then maybe you need to up the dial a bit and raise your patience threshold because you’re a bit too impatient.
2. The ROI method
Measure your return on investment, and I’m not talking about taking out a calculator and crunching out numbers (though some of you nerds might be tempted to do that). But look into the effort you put into trying to fix the situation and measure it against the progress you are making into actually fixing it. Sometimes our effort lead to monumental leaps, which is all good and well. But when you feel like you’re blowing air into a torn balloon and the only thing the balloon seems to be doing is flapping and making noise…then it’s about time to call it quits. I’ve written about this in details previously.
3. Let it sort itself out
A professor once made a remark about how some problems sort themselves out after a while when you let them be. The funniest part about that remark was its ending, “Like email.” It was funny because it was not expected. We live in a world where email was the one thing that usually doesn’t sort itself out on its own but we learned not to send him emails about important things throughout the semester. My point is, there are some situations where the deterioration is organic. You don’t have to make an effort to fix a broken thing, destroy it or simply walk away from it. All you have to do is wait and the deadline will zoom right past and it will expire. Why I mention it is because we’ve turned into a generation of “Oh my God we have to do something about this!” that we don’t see there is an option out there and that option is to actually DO NOTHING.
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!