There it was again.
That feeling of being 'stuck' in the same place for far too long. That need to run away. That temptation to burn up that sensation in smoke, or stuff it down with chocolate, or fall into some fantasyland on Netflix or in a book and forget about it, if only for a brief while.
It sneaked up on me quite unexpectedly. But then, after two nights of fitful sleep and two very slow days, it wasn't all that unexpected in hindsight.
But something was different this time. I was quite fidgety, yes, but instead of pressing on to spend time with D after school, I asked KrA to take over. I slipped into my room, and spent five minutes doing that thing I automatically do on the internet whenever I feel low - look up the social media (FaceBook and LinkedIn) profiles of people I wouldn't have thought of in decades - and stoked that envy in me, telling myself the following:
"Look, Look at all these people doing important things with their lives," meaning "Look, Look at me wasting my life writing crap and calling it poetry and fiction."
"Look how far they've come," meaning "Look how stuck I've been in the same place for years now."
"Look how high up the corporate ladder they are," meaning "Look how far off the corporate wagon I've fallen, so far off that I can forget about ever going back."
"Look at all the fun places they've been to on vacation," meaning "Look at all the places I've not been able to go to and at this rate, will likely never visit in this lifetime."
"Look at their large families," meaning "Look at me struggling with only a single child, that too such a wonderful one, in my life."
This loop of self-judgement and blame used to go on endlessly, quite often spilling into days, until some form of external validation would come along and perk me up, and I'd feel good for a few days, until the next descent into that downward spiral began.
It was truly exhausting to live like that. And the terrifying thing was that it took only a single moment of unconscious thought to fall into that rabbit hole.
I suppose that's also the most encouraging thing about it, though, because if it can take one thought to plummet down, it should also require only one thought to stop this descent, at the very least.
This time, after five minutes of virtual self-flagellation, something made me step away and change the narrative.
"Look, Look at me wasting my life writing crap and calling it poetry and fiction," became "My work is important. I love writing and at the very least, it touches a deep part of my soul. My work is sacred. And I am so lucky and grateful to be able to do it."
"Look how stuck I've been in the same place for years now," became "It takes time to build a body of work. It takes time to make it a practice. I look back at where I was five years ago and I can clearly see how far I have come. I will keep my vision on a future five years from now, and I'm sure I'd have covered a lot of ground by then."
"Look how high up the corporate ladder they are," became "What I really miss about the corporate world is not the designation or the work but the assurance (for as long as it lasts) of a steady pay check, month after month. I earn nothing from my poetry and fiction as of now. But as I put more works out there, I will boost my earnings, slowly and steadily."
"Look at all the places I've not been able to go to and at this rate, will likely never visit in this lifetime," became "As I build a steady business, I will enjoy financial as well as temporal freedom to visit several places with KrA and D. And my travels will be based on a yearning to visit new places, not on a desperation to run from where I am, who I am."
"Look at me struggling with only a single child, that too such a wonderful one, in my life," became "I am blessed with a wonderful, thoughtful, caring child. I struggled to raise him initially because I chose to raise him peacefully, respectfully, something I had to learn how to do. My struggle has been a tremendous portal for self-growth. I now enjoy an absolutely delightful and authentic relationship with my little one, and peaceful parenting has become second nature to me. I used to want a large family because I used to think a child must grow up with siblings. But the more I see of this world, the more I understand that the most important relationship we can have in this lifetime is with ourselves, and from that bloom all other external relationships. This capability of being at ease with himself comes to D naturally. This is something I'm learning too."
And when we change the narrative, when we learn to honour our situation, ourselves, instead of wishing we were somewhere else, doing something else, being someone else, that brings us to acceptance ... which is always the first step to transformation.
This is perhaps my first 'successful' attempt at shifting out of self-blame in the past several years. This success has been elusive not for lack of trying. It just took so long, so much conscious effort, so many failures, to effect a change in the way I'd been thinking about myself and my life for the past four decades.
And this realisation is not a permanent fixture, I acknowledge. It helps me to have constant reminders of this way of thinking, of feeling, of coming into my heart space, and opening up wide enough to hold all my feelings without judging or shaming myself for having them in the first place.
For the longest time, ever since I started asking the question "What is the purpose of my life?" in my early twenties, ever since I began to peruse book stalls on the sidewalks of MG Road in Bangalore (aeons before the Metro rail project was even conceived), eagerly waiting for the latest monthly edition of Osho Times, I have wanted only one thing.
For the longest time, I looked for someone on the outside to give it to me. Someone who could be a tender presence, a gentle, calming presence, while I shed copious tears of unbearable grief though I never really knew what I was truly grieving. Someone who could love me simply for who I am, without demanding I change or become someone else worthy of their love.
Briefly, I found it in the world outside. In the initial days of a new love, when the world shone a bit brighter, before the cracks started to reveal themselves. We are all only human, after all.
And then along came D, and I found myself in the dubious position of being the giver of tenderness. It is so easy to love a child. It is so easy to love one own's child. Yet, it was so difficult to love my own self. Naturally, that act of giving without any replenishment was hardly sustainable.
And for the first time I began to realise what Rumi and the great saints and mystics of our times have been telling us over and over again. "What we seek on the outside has always been right here, deep within ourselves."
And it took several months after that to truly understand what it means to love oneself.
Among the various definitions Dani Watson provides in her book, the one below stuck with me the most.
"True self love is about recognising where you are holding onto thoughts and beliefs that do not serve you and doing the inner work to change them." ~ Dani Watson
If thoughts become reality, surely I can let go of thoughts of self-blame and criticism and adopt a kinder heart towards myself. Moving from the head-state (wherein I'm letting my thoughts run amok) towards the heart-state (where I feel all the anxiety and shame and fear and vulnerability without judging them) then helps me. It helps me accept myself and my world entirely in this moment. It helps me be with all these uncomfortable feelings. And when I can let them be, they move on too, knowing I've heard and acknowledged them, knowing I've given them, without resentment, the space they too needed to express themselves fully.
I read a book titled 'The Wake Up' by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It's about a cattle rancher, Aiden, whose empathy is suddenly reawakened and he begins to feel the pain and the fear of the animals around him, so much so he can no longer hunt deer or castrate cattle. The story also revolves around his girlfriend, Gwen, who has a wonderful daughter and a disturbed son, Milo, who's been abused by his father (Gwen's ex-husband) and acts out in hurtful ways. Milo hurts Aiden's animals in the book. Aiden tries to accept this situation and seeks to help Milo through it all. Towards the end of the book, Aiden and Milo have a joint counselling session with their therapist, Dr. Hannah Rutledge. Below is an excerpt from that part of the book.
"I think what Milo is saying," Hannah interjected, "is that it was a relief to know that someone else could do a hurtful thing and not be thrown away. I think when his foal hurt him and you felt like that was fairly normal, and to be expected, and you weren't mad at her ... well, you tell me if I'm right, Milo, but I think it made Milo feel like there could be some forgiveness there for him, too. He's hurt living things. And maybe he liked the idea that he could learn to do better if someone would just take the time to teach him."
"Yeah," Milo said. "That."
Just in that moment, Aiden felt something from the boy that was not fear, or pain, or dread. It was not joy exactly, or even contentment. But it was another brief moment of respite from the negative feelings that dragged the boy down nearly every minute of every day. And if Milo could have a moment or two free from those things, maybe he could find a few more moments as time went on. It was a start.
If I were to apply this to myself, it is normal for me to make all the mistakes I did, and if I can forgive myself over and over again, I too could enjoy brief moments of respite from the constant self-criticism and shaming I had been inflicting upon myself for years, decades now. And these moments would add up in due course of time until I myself become the tenderness I've been looking for all my life. The one that can gently hold me and whatever's going on in me and around me.