A Point of True

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the subjective truth.

It’s my turn to toss

I couldn’t sleep last night.

Tossed for a bit, tried some deep breathing, decided to just lay in bed resting in the knowledge that sleep would arrive. An hour later – nothing.

My mind was overstimulated. One racing thought after another, sometimes together, often crisscrossing on a motorway built to support both traffic and speed. It has happened before. Five years ago when I was experiencing what I later found out was an anxiety disorder, came to know that it was anxiety and not a disease, and now see that it’s a feature of the human condition, not a malaise unless extremely distressing, I had struggled to sleep. On the third night of virtually no sleep, I decided to seek help, but that’s a story for a different day. Now was different too.

Over the years, I have worked out a routine to fall asleep. A spot of exercise during the day, no screen time for a few hours before bed, a nice shower, journaling, some light reading, and then mindful breathing – tired, switched off, refreshed, unhindered, gently occupied, and present. I pride myself on the ability to fall asleep at short notice. “How do you do it? We’ve been in the cab for a minute!” “I have a technique. I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime I want to.” Clearly, like with anything, there is a caveat. Last night, I wanted it too much.

I had a busy day – reading, working, speaking with people, writing, planning, briefing – and there were a fair few things left hanging and incomplete. People who hadn’t responded in time (they still haven’t), some gaffes that were as laughable as they were infuriating, and tasks that seem to expand as you think you have made headway. Each of these things is perfectly natural, but, yesterday, they were distressing. They were empowered by the weight of my expectation.

When I want something badly enough, I start to subject every step towards that goal to complex analysis. Expect. Think. Analyse. Reflect. Reiterate. Repeat. Having spent years in urban solitary confinement, I have for a long time perceived this process to be productive and reassuring. To my surprise (and occasional horror), I couldn’t be further from the truth if I sat on a comet blazing in the opposite direction for a few years. The weight of expectation is just toxic forecasting disguised as a gentle desire for the preferred outcome. It may seem innocuous. In a world of chaos, however, it isn’t.

There are a few specific mechanisms that govern the human condition. Birth, ageing, socialisation, and death. Each of us has our own methods (often abstractions) to process these stages. Good health, deep relationships, sound nutrition, some creative outlet, and a healthy sprinkle of Memento Mori do the job for me, but there is one nasty critter that always manages to do my nut in – narrative. You see, the more ‘artificially’ social I become – building a personal brand, showcasing my creative wares, demonstrating my skill – the more aware I am of every moment presenting an opportunity to write the story of me. I move from being the actor to the director – arranging, critiquing, deriving no satisfaction from what is an academic pursuit of the aesthetic.

Life, on the other hand, usually has other plans, because everyone else is playing their own darn movie in their head. “How can they? I’m the star of this show.” “No, you’re not. I am. So shut it and take a photo. 97 followers can’t go without liking a photo for this long. Don’t deprive them, you monster.”

So, I decided not to bother. “If I can’t sleep, I’ll lay there. If I still can’t sleep and I have no energy, I’ll look around and observe my environment, maybe drift, but not dive, into a gentle stream of thought. If I have some energy, I’ll get some work done.”

Little work happens in our imagination, but all distress takes place there. Desire, that unforgiving delusion that peace lies in specific achievement, has a way of confuddling our minds into believing that preoccupation is productive. That’s why I do it instead of getting something done. It’s easier. Problem with easy is that it’s difficult to stop. The mind decides to chug along, the wheel spinning rapidly as the hamster gets knocked about.

I sat up. I walked into the living room. And then I decided to write. A sentence is more than the articulation of thought. It’s the purging of clutter for the simple fee of creative effort. If there’s a better deal than that, I don’t know it.

Goals need attention, not preoccupation. The former is a function of ‘what do we have here?’ and the latter of ‘what will it feel like when it happens?’. What we choose could well be the difference between making progress and not sleeping very well.

It’s time for a nap. I wonder what it will feel like when I close my eyes for some much needed restful sleep full of incredible dreams.

Oh no.

Yeh toh Patang Hai (I tell the truth)

The truth won't set you free

Beyond the realms of reason

My mind does some odd things, just like everyone else’s, but not in the same way, because I’m special, just like everyone else is.

One of these quirks is the propensity to relay high-definition snippets of my childhood in response to events taking place in my theoretically adult life. Like a vivid dream that leaves us off centre, these graphic recreations of the past usually have me in a daze for a few seconds. I have tried to suppress these flashbacks and, as you may have guessed already, my attempts just created new flashbacks of me failing at containing the old ones. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve shifted focus to an achievable tactic – identifying the trigger, but it hasn’t always worked.Invoking this method in public creates a bemusing spectacle like the one you’re about to read.

I was in class at the university where I teach a public relations course. Halfway through discussing the creation of corporate narratives, a student raised her hand.2

“Sir”

“Yes” (reeling from the forced respect that was as unsettling as it was unforeseen)

“What about the truth?”

Now, on the surface, I thought this was a relatively innocuous question. We’d run through a few ethical frameworks, discuss modern perspectives on capitalism, and then erode said student’s self-righteousness to a level conducive to fleshing out a compliant and comfortable corporate career. My mind’s reaction was anything but that coherent.

“Yeh toh patang hai.”3

I lose my train of thought at the best of times but have honed my speaking to a point where I can pause to find my bearings. There are occasions, however, when the distractions within are louder than the actual conversation I’m having.

“Yeh toh patang hai!”

At this stage, I’m considering the onset of full-blown delirium. For as long as I can remember, I have never thought in Hindi nor have I worked on developing my kite-flying talent.4

I defaulted to my new adult mind management technique. “Let’s dig deeper and find that trigger.” The murmuring now has an accompanying visual. A boy, no more than 5-6 years old. He is sitting on a compound wall just outside a little house. It was in the suburbs, this house was, one of several identical constructions lined up like buns in an industrial kitchen. Opposite this row of breadboxes was a field flanked by high walls with broken shards of glass jammed into the concrete to ‘process’ trespassers. Rural India takes no prisoners.

Back to the boy. He’s perched on this wall tugging a thread that is attached to what seems to be a plastic bag. Oblivious to the scorching heat, his glee is evident as he sees the plastic bag tied by its handles fill up with hot air and soar as far as the thread would allow it. If imagination had a soul, then you’d see it in those eyeballs, at least until a passing neighbour decided to ‘fix’ the situation. In my view, there are two kinds of triggers behind the need to needle – not being happy about seeing ourselves unhappy and not being happy about seeing others happy. Both create the need to muck around. The decision to break this chid’s idyllic trance was upon us.

In a high pitched voice that matched the loudness of her attire, she chose to trust her instinct.

“Beta, theli ke saath kya kar rahe ho?”5

The boy looks at her. A rude awakening is unpleasant, more so when you’re sitting on a wall lost in thought, and even more so when your imagination is playing an active role in fueling this experience. For a moment his eyes widened, wondering if he was found out, caught in the act. She knew his secret. Surely he didn’t invent this pastime based on a real amateur sport, one that was extremely popular in this part of the country. It wasn’t because he couldn’t make friends, at least not as quickly as he could make them up. But, if all of this was true (it wasn’t, was it?), who cares? He was having fun. So, his brow furrowed and the widened innocent eyes narrowed like he knew something she didn’t.

“Yeh toh patang hai.”

The neighbour’s reaction began with bewilderment (either from acknowledging the subjectiveness of her reality or at the little boy’s apparent delusion) before moving to a smirk of condescension. Wee man wasn’t impressed.

Fueled by this historical moment of indignance, and quite frankly shocking indifference to a child’s pleasant daydream, my present-day self’s mouth motor began to chug.

“If you claim to tell the truth, you claim to know the truth. That assumption of knowledge means that you will at some point believe that your truth holds more water than someone else’s. Soon, an air of superiority will start to develop alongside the need to further the consumption of this ‘objective truth’. The fact of the matter is that bits of truth lie beneath and between the lines of nuance. It is nigh on impossible to assess at any point in time what an absolute truth looks like, much less devise ways to adhere to its all-encompassing construct. Honesty to the best of our ability given the context is the most we can push for, assuming that we ascribe an elevated status to this quality. Belief in absolute truth is and has been the foundation of the greatest atrocities we’ve known as a species. A fiery commitment to this truth is bigotry fuel and not liberation fodder. Let’s focus on honing our craft and rely on situational value-based judgments to offer balance.”

“Right.”

“I hope that made sense. Did I answer your question?”

“Okay.”

“Excellent. Good chat.”

Overreaction aside, I was relieved that the monologue was now complete. I acknowledge that the denial of the absolute truth is a circular argument, but prefer the forced subjectivity over the self-righteous perception of objectivity.

In my experience, having a set of values to abide by offers a far more efficient calibration of decisionmaking than any commitment to the ‘truth’. Life is neutral in its meaning, and any that we perceive is devised by our (over)developed brains through a combination of stimulus, memory, and conditioning. Buying into one specific truth or the notion of absolute transparency requires a level of knowledge that is perpetually aspirational.

Our universe is chaos, and every consciousness is finding ways to slice and dice this melange of stimuli, conviction, history, narrative, purpose, and vulnerability. Slice away all you will, please, but don’t let your aggressive hack interfere with my criss-cross cut. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to find the truth.

The child attempts to whistle a tune before realising that whistling is not his thing.

“This ‘kite’ business is fun.”

Image courtesy: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

1.  Just because something has never worked doesn’t mean that it never will. Ask religion.

2. “It’s hand?” I’m not sure how gender-neutral writing works.

3. “But, this is a kite.” (in Hindi)

4. I don’t work on things that I might not do well. If you just thought ‘then why do you write?’, I hope your feet find the banana peel that begins your descent on the staircase to hell.

5. “Son, what are you doing with a bag?”

Why I don’t trust my gut and neither should you

Glowing 'Box Office' sign

The show could go on

A blindingly bright foyer narrowed into a dimly lit passage, phosphorous blue from the overhead lighting. Popcorn crackled in a machine in the distance. Chattering crowds formed clunky queues before swirling into the screens like soap water through a stubborn drain. A state-of-the-art surround sound system provided a worthy counterpoint to the deafening silence outside save for the occasional dragging foot. And, then, I heard it. The creak of the cleaning trolley accompanied by the reticent clip-clop of its reluctant controller. My gut sensed it. The moment was here. She was here. I had to speak.

Two months ago I had moved back to Aberdeen, Scotland’s third most populous city. With a little over 2,29,000 people (a far cry from the 10 million where I grew up), Aberdeen was quaint. It was also where I’d finished my Masters before moving to England for work. Now, with a return to India imminent, I saw it fit to spend my last few months where it all began. A recent breakup and a change in life plans called for some quiet times and a gig at the cinema seemed like a great shout. It helped that there wasn’t much action except for the occasional ‘screen jumper’.* My other jobs** didn’t afford quite the same serenity.

The mop slid off the rack, enjoying freedom for a fleeting second, before greeting its bucket with a gentle splash. Holly, the (part-time cinema staff and full-time student) cleaner for the day and the lady in question, was a skilful mopper, each swish belying the resignation behind it. After all, every mopper that has a why can bear almost any how. Dark haired and probably good-natured, she’d caught my eye a few times when I’d walked into work as I hoped I would have her’s.

“Why can’t you be more spontaneous? Don’t you know how to have fun?” These words were ringing in my ears the past few months. Young and full of pop culture, I bought into a rather flimsy narrative of love and life and saw it fit that my actions would result in expected outcomes. Spontaneity just wasn’t an option. But, the interviews weren’t working out, a three-year relationship had ended, and a broken collarbone hadn’t done wonders for my sporting ability. The time for change was upon me.

“Right, screw this, I’m going to give this instinct a shot. Spontaneous, shmontaneous. I’ll show you.”

I’d never really asked someone out until then but had been in a few relationships with the most recent (and most realistic) having ended a few months ago. “How hard could it be? Think of something witty that needs a follow-up and then see how it goes. Easy.” Now that my 2-step homebaked seduction guide was in place, I prepared myself for the grand moment, the prestige. This part needs you to visualise the actual setting. The passage above (yes, the one with the hue of blue phosphorous) in the passage above*** had a sharp T-shaped bend that led to six movie screens, three on either side. Cleaners would typically start on the left and work their way up to the right before walking back to the foyer. Facing that bend was a spot around 2-feet wide. That was my position, a vantage point that allowed me a view of a few of the screens, the passage, the foyer, and any miscreants (patrons). The bend took all of a second to turn into, and that was my moment to speak with Holly. Any later and we’d be looking at a 15-minute wait before repeating the process. And I was done being one for waiting.

I took a few deep breaths (calmer minds allow for a more articulate voice, after all), drew my shoulders down and back (yes, posture, YES!) and steeled myself to seize this fleeting blip of time. Holly was approaching the passageway. My heart started to quicken, and my mouth decided on dryness as a great option, but I had this covered – reading blog posts about meditation was almost as effective as meditation.**** She was nearly at the bend now. I decided to bail.

“You don’t have the right words. What if you get shot down? Is this worth the rejection?” This indecision lasted all of a few seconds as self-assurance kicked in with the vigour my brain refused to exhibit. “Trust your instinct. Breathe. Trust your instinct.” So, I did. I took a deep breath, gathered all my courage, and decided to let my instinct take charge.

“Hello instinct, you’re up!”

“Awesome. I won’t let you down. I really won’t. I might be primitive, misguided, misunderstood, but that means nothing, NOTHING! I also almost always confuse simple deadlines with an attack on your life, but I’ve got this. Yeh, I’ve got this.”

“Umm, okay. I trust you?”

And then it happened.

Just as she was going around the bend, I took a couple of steps towards her. Our eyes met, mine exhibiting fear and hers exhibiting fear that my well-honed Indian man instinct interpreted as attention. Eager to quit while I was ahead, I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and mouthed the following words as cheerfully as I could: ‘Hey Holly, are you afraid of death?’

For all my talk of a fleeting moment, this ceased to be one. Time flies when you’re having fun, but not when you clip its wings and bludgeon it into immobility with copious amounts of stupidity. No, in that situation, time stalls because it’s having fun. My question seemed to cause in Holly a sensation somewhere between an itch and a convulsion as she uncomfortably twitched her way out of the scene with the grace of an eel and the stealth of a ninja. The embarrassment, on the other hand, was mine to savour.

Then, dear reader, right then, with all the clarity of a drunken sailor snacking on a rusty saw, it came to me. The instinct is a dodgy bedfellow. While my gut’s desire to respond wasn’t in my control, choosing to use that response was. Being an idiot was a choice! Soon, probably after her fear subsided, Holly went back to her perch behind the concessions counter, and that was that.***** I spent the next few hours dissecting the mechanism of my gut-brain-mouth interface. I’d never been one for ‘spontaneous’ and I’d just been presented with a resounding reason for that choice. I followed through somewhat blindly, and the outcome followed suit.

Anecdote complete.

Here’s what I learnt. Right from the time I grew up, I was led to believe (and for a while considered) that there was a set way to do things.

“Study hard so you’ll be successful.”
“Trust your heart, and then you can never go wrong.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“Your gut knows more than your brain does. It may take some time to realise that.”

The problem with these ‘truisms’ is that they are right some of the time but expected to work all of the time. That thinking is no different to using a toothpick in a lobotomy or a toothbrush to fight off an unusually persistent shark. Things have their place and so do personality traits and views. Your instinct is no GPS for excellence, otherwise just listening to it would guarantee bonafide success (did someone ask for hogwash with a side of air?). Ascribing any deliberate intent or scientifically-driven efficiency to your instinct is self-assurance masquerading as reason. Excellence takes work, the logical route takes effort, and I don’t think humans have an innate appetite for tough choices. Listen to your instinct, but it might help to analyse its output as objectively as you would someone else’s. Over the years I’ve practised listening to my automatic response and then making a decision either in line with it or with some tweaks. This effort has dramatically refined my social process.

“Hey there, how would you want to go?”

“What do you mean, weirdo?”

“To dinner, of course. Drive or walk?”

“Oh, let’s walk. Sorry, I misunderstood.”

“It’s alright. But if I were curious about your preferred way to pass, what would it be anyway? I’m not interested, only asking because you brought it up”.

“…”

“Good chat.”

So, the improvement may not have been drastic, but I’ll get there. Something tells me I will. I reckon it’s instinct.

Image Courtesy: Connor Limbocker on Unsplash

*in this cinema they only checked your ticket at a single entrance, not every screen. A screen jumper is someone who’d  buy a ticket for one movie but would sneak into a bunch of others too

**these included being a dancing bear, playing host at a strip club, and working as emergency response security at music festivals

***the one without any hues of blue; I’m using a synonym for ‘paragraph’ as a pun to show off literary skills *applause*

**** it isn’t

****in case you were wondering, I had a wee chat with her later. More importantly, if you thought I screwed this up, then the joke is on you. After chatting for a few moments, we decided that my question was quirky, and laughed about it. I got her number. There was a first date. We spent this time discussing how I would leave the country in two months and had no interest in a fling, therefore, rendering this whole shenanigan pointless. We also considered her relationship with her sister and the rest of her family before arriving at the tearful decision that she needed to connect with them. Then, once a demonstration of financial chivalry was complete, I walked her to meet a boy she fancied. There wasn’t a second date.

The myth of the self-made man

Spices hanging in a market

Wafting through like a hint of make-believe

The sharp scent of tamarind, spicy notes of pepper, and a strong overtone of garlic. Rasam at home was one of the stronger social lubricants that I had experienced as a teenager. Disarmed by this familiar and comforting smell, I’d wander into the kitchen to get a stronger whiff. And that’s when it happened. The middle-class Indian mom struck with the classical 1-2. Lure you in with spices, smack you in the face with loaded gossip.

“So, I was talking to your uncle. His son just started his own business. Apparently, he’s making well over a couple of lakhs a month (not that it’s about the money). I’m just telling you, it’s not a comparison.”

“Yes, I’m glad he’s doing well.”

“I’m so happy for him. Even I want a son…umm, no, you’ll get angry. Anyway, it’s excellent news so I thought I’d share it with you. The best thing about this is that, just like his father, he’s entirely self-made!”

“There’s no such thing, ma. No one is ‘self-made’.”

“You have to contradict everything I say. I knew I shouldn’t have told you. My mistake.”

“Let’s drop it. By the way, the rasam smells fantastic!”

“It does? Thanks! New recipe, I’ve added lots of garlic, just how you like it.”

“Thanks, can’t wait.”

In the past, this conversation would leave me feeling either shell-shocked, disgusted, infuriated, or just dumbfounded with the intensity of both the forgetful repetition and the steadfast commitment to the eradication of all logic. But, the hide thickens, since the thick ones don’t hide.

self-made1
adjective [usually ADJECTIVE noun]

Self-made is used to describe people who have become successful through efforts, especially if they started life without money, education, or high social status.

I wandered over to speak to my father, nestled in the couch in a contortion only a desk job can render you capable of forming. He’s reading the newspapers. One Telugu, two English – a tabloid and a mainline respectively. In our household, and as I’m sure many others, a devotion to the banal wasn’t just valiant, it was necessary. “How else will we know what’s happening in the world?”

“Yes, dad, a chain snatching in a neighbourhood we’ve never been to and five million stories of political foul play are expanding your consciousness rapidly. On the upside, at least this is helping the systematic deterioration of syntax and logic right when we’re at our most vulnerable to the onset of dementia. But, the rasam is excellent. You have to try it.”

Much against the better-placed advice of my instinct, I decide to live life on the edge. I started an actual conversation.

“So, mom was telling me about this business malarkey. How’s that going anyway?”

“That’s right. It’s going very well.”

Succinct.

“It’s funny how she talks about money, although we keep saying that it’s not the most important thing.”

“I don’t want to comment. We should be happy for everyone’s success.”

“Come on! I am, but you have to see my point. If money isn’t what matters, values do, then isn’t any praise focused solely on money inconsistent with ‘said values’? You’ve said it yourself. ‘I’ve never chased money; there’s more to life.'”

“Yes, I agree. I am happy with what I’ve got. It’s not about how much you have. See, Adarsh, I may not have much, but I am a self-made man…”

At this point, I worked out why the mental health industry made money. In fact, I was surprised it didn’t make more! My parents and I wonder how many others, were a fantastic lead generation tool. They could justifiably demand a commission for all income generated from psychotherapy. “Fuck em up, send them to therapy, bada bing bada boom, Bob’s your self-made uncle.”

The myth of the self-made man is just one narrative that my parents, and especially our peers in the middle class, tended to reinforce. There are several other classic hits that you might recognise like *drumroll*

“Time fixes everything.”

“Where science ends, spirituality begins.”

“Well, so what if it’s not grounded in logic or even reality. My mother told me this works, and I listened. Now, that is respect. Speaking of which, you’d do well to learn some respect.”

“Money isn’t everything. Happiness is. Family is. Purpose is. Now finish your homework in the subjects you dislike, aren’t good at, are learning by rote, and that will play no functional role at any point in time in your life except for uprooting your faith in the education system, common sense in parenting, and the very fabric of society. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees, and you need to earn it.”

“Life, just like marriage, is just about compromise. Don’t set your sights too high.”

“A house you own, food to eat, and a secure job. What more do you need?”

“I’ve given my life for you, but the sacrifices have been worth it. My voluntary choice to procreate is a cross I bear and you, boulder to my Sisyphus, make the struggle feel like time well spent.”

Some of these are exaggerations (Okay, I lied, all) but their essence isn’t far from what I heard year after year all the way until young adulthood, which is when I left for university. Over time, I realised that a bunch of these myths, in spite of the reinforcement and blind conviction behind their existence, are quite literally myths. They are constructs fortified by fear, brainwashing, and a reluctance to fail in the pursuit of success. For some reason, our society glorifies abstention. Want less, make do with what you have, cut your coat according to your cloth. Hold on. I haven’t finished! Don’t break the ‘rules’, obedience is the key to affection, and this absolute zinger – ‘greatness lies in being a self-made man’ – a phrase almost exclusive to being middle class in the developing world. Well, I call bullshit.

Here’s a thought:

“There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”

– George Matthew Adams2

This quote makes an obvious point quite well, but I’m going to take the liberty of making an addition. Everyone who has subjected us to distress or directed a sentence (or two) of derision towards us, has helped build our resilience and our defiance, as well as our drive for success.

‘Positive’ and ‘negative’ are labels we ascribe to an experience based on immediate context. For instance, if you were late to a bus station and your coach was delayed, the mighty grace of God and the whimsical charms of Lady Luck have come together for your grand journey to an apartment above a department store. However, if you had a rough day at work, spent ages waiting at the post office or whatever other inane service creates the illusion of purpose, and end up at the bus station early and then, THEN, your ride is late! Well, the universe has now earned your wrath. “Lord, how full of contempt is your grace and my fate!”

Anyway, I digress. The very idea of a ‘self-made’ man, romantic as it may sound, is absurd. Sperm, ovaries, and either God or biology come together to make the zygote that then forms your well-intentioned carbon-based lifeform. Not self-made. You are then subjected to parenting, cheek pulling, bullying (either as a victim or perpetrator), insignificance, success, failure, anger, love, lust, fast food, slow classes, movies, popcorn, candy, and unicorn farts before you develop a life-view, your window into the world. Again, not self-made. After subjugation to these myriad circumstances, you finally grow the gumption to rise above your context and flourish like no fish thrashing on a trawler has ever flourished before. Your fins are wings, your grumbling a song, and your routine a tale of undebatable grand conquest. Good job, kid. And again, say it with me, slowly this time – NOT. SELF. MADE.

So, why are we so preoccupied with this idea of being self-made? Is our future written in the stars, do we control where we go, or do we feel content by making the right choices based on a given set of circumstances?

Here’s the deal. Being ‘self-made’ implies a transcendence of context and suggests that someone has overcome immense hardship to climb up the social ladder without external help and any favours. I don’t question the courage in that for a moment. I do, however, worry about the pressure this creates. The world we live in today can be isolating. The implication that greatness achieved through further isolation is somehow superior to other forms is absurd. Yes, these stories are inspiring. But suggesting that grit and perseverance trump canniness and relationships is odd. Our warped understanding of the notion of being ‘self-made’ is even more crippling. What begins as a desire for independence soon becomes a reluctance to ask for help, a shame that arises from needing assistance,  and using a connection that can help open a door can seem like a defiance of longstanding values. Being canny has its place. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it could even be more beneficial than sheer grit. After all, effectiveness beats efficiency.

Does this mean we shouldn’t have a filter for how we achieve success? In absolute terms, no. But, as a member of civilised society, moral and ethical guidelines should prove sufficient. If you’re in doubt of what those are, you may wish to hire a defence lawyer sooner rather than later for your imminent crimes. To the rest, you may want to take a closer look at what you want and what tools you have to get there. Don’t get caught up in being ‘self-made’. You didn’t start off being, and you don’t have to (won’t) end up being. Every compliment, admonishment, rejection, kind look, dirty glare, shove, hug, caress, and nudge has played a part in where I am right now, in where you are right now. Qualifying which factors did what based on the false narrative of a biased memory is foolhardy at best, severe delusion at worst.

Make of yourself what you will, or don’t. It doesn’t matter as long as you are content with your choices. This ‘self-made’ malarkey is no different to restaurant chains that claim to have a ‘homemade’ recipe – it’s bollocks and places undue pressure on the person making that claim. The truth is that it doesn’t matter if you’re self-made, homemade, handmade, a French maid, or a bleeding cupcake. As long as you make the choices that directly affect your contentment and act as a means to an end, you’re fine. Apply some ethical filters, don’t be an asshole, and you’ll be on your way.

What’s the go-to cliché phrase in your family? I’d love to find out if you have similar experiences.

“Adarsh, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.”

“Would working towards being more stupid make me less idle? Whose workshop is it then?”

“There’s little point in having a conversation with you.”

“God, this rasam is good!”

Image Courtesy: Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Citations:
1. https://www.passiton.com/inspirational-quotes/6748-there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-self-made-man-we; Date Accessed: April 10, 2018
2. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/self-made; Date Accessed: April 10, 2018

Dilated Reflections

In an altered state, people do different things. Some dance, some speak, some paint, and some ruminate. I write. Our mind is a web of synapses that trigger at random. These ‘murmurings’ could be signals from the subconscious, fears and dreams surfacing, or just plain misfires. Working out exactly what these are can take a combination of belief and awareness. The mind has funny ways. Here’s what mine did. 

Patterned Wallpaper

Photo by Armando Castillejos on Unsplash

Being head fucked constantly is a matter of perspective. It’s odd how the only way to overcome fear is through clarity and the only route to clarity is experience and to experience something you need to overcome fear so it’s not that odd really. The mind has funny ways, it can tire you out but only if you let it. And I’m starting to see the importance of a balance, of acknowledging enough to act on it without getting drawn into a self-indulgent whirlpool of thoughts. There is a clear demarcation between impulse and action. It is the prerogative or the disposition of the anxious to act on impulse. In fact, anxiety itself could be the fear of impulse, the fear of instantly acting on a whim.

Being in love with something and facing the absolute fear of losing it are equally powerful emotional sides of the same experience. The choice of which side to nurture is in your control and you’re best advised to pick the former. Everyone has choices. It’s the option you pick that ends up forming the tapestry of your life. And much like a tapestry or anything of beauty, flaws must exist with perfection, for perfection is made immortal by the presence of flaws, not their absence. While I’m constantly stressed out by ‘what if ‘and ‘what now’, the realization of what should now have been obvious is not lost on me. The ‘fear of being myself’ is tiring, perhaps borne out of the sense of frequent loss, perceived loss. The flipside, however, is the gratitude for the chance to experience the things you fear losing, things you were grateful to have. That gratitude and desire to experience can be liberating. It can be distressing too but that’s where an understanding of the self can play its part.

The navigation of every nook and cranny of your brain is not a goal and it is barely a notion. You can develop mastery over your approach and the choices you make, but never over all the chaos itself. Thinking from a place of ego is fraught with distress, an acute sense of self need not be sacrificed if you forsake pride. The very foundation of pride, after all, is narrative. And no narrative is realized without consumption. It must be told to subsist, reinforce itself through conversations, actualize itself through the devotion of its followers.

Self-deprecation, aggrandization, indulgence, or motivation are not that different. Each of these narratives can be real only if you let it be. You have to decide which one dominates. The author does not control the story, it’s in the perception of the story that his wiles transcend their existence as ‘tools of the trade’. Everyone has their own journey and it is important to recognize that. ‘Winning’ cannot be based on the notion of bettering someone else’s journey, it isn’t winning by virtue of being an imitation, a rendition, temporarily powerful or weak, of what already exists.

Learning new things, encountering fresh perspectives, and discovering the ways of being are integral parts of human life. There’s just so much to experience, But, where’s the rationale? Where do you stop? What is your anchor? My anchor is the belief that, left to your own devices, our state of mind is calm, aware, generous, and affectionate. Perhaps those are things that I am, perhaps they are things I wish to be. These musings are not the subject of this dialogue. The discomfort is.

A negative or positive mindset is firstly a matter of perception and secondly of disposition. Do you focus on the macro or the micro? In Auschwitz, for instance, efficiency would evoke very different connotations to what it does today. You have a choice to make. A decision about where you would like to be, and once that decision is made, a filter to work with. A lot of the distress you feel is the contrast between what you are like and what you (think you) should be like. That gap, that perceived difference, is what we find upsetting. What I am starting to see is that it’s not the consistency of circumstance that’s the goal, it’s the consistency of approach. People have different mindsets, different points of view. The comfort needs to be found in yourself.

It is funny how the fear is rarely of dying, but of living – living to the fullest, to the levels deep enough to hurt but light enough to waken. The fear isn’t of losing control, it’s of the reluctance to acknowledge control. It is in this surrender of your agency that primal systems get distressed. Our imagination is a personal landscape and requires tending to. It must be nurtured, acknowledged, and replenished. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t get enough of that, the stimulation of that level of debate. But small breaks change that. I like how experiences are accentuated by virtue of being punctuated.

It is important to stop thinking of life in terms of destinations, the purpose is what defines the journey. I feel odd sometimes, feel like this knowledge is commonplace or like everyone already knows all this, but that is a construct. Enlightenment or awareness, as we must call it, is a subject for the observed and not the observer. The notion of the ‘other’ might give us impressions but never insight. Much against my remonstrations, I have an insatiable thirst for philosophical inquiry. The reluctance to acknowledge this thirst is an antagonizer. For some reason, and perhaps this happens over time, we start, or I’ve started to fit into a template. It’s this need to stereotype, which is such a basic cog of human perception, that can act as both empowerer and crippler. The way to transcend this subversion is to acknowledge the vastness both within and without. We are but designed to ache for it, the experience.

Being able to articulate an imagination is all we have to offer for a larger consciousness. You cannot fully marvel at art without realizing how it feels to create art. Each of us sees things differently to the other, adding texture to this experience either by way of art i.e. the creation of something new or the addition of something to what already exists i.e perspective. The first realization is to acknowledge that what we’re observing is the manifestation of the internal environment. Assuming that being aware of your own space, your values, and what you think will make a difference is indulgent, so it’s an appreciation of what’s to come, of what you are creating constantly – that acceptance of specificity, neutrality and everything else in between – of embracing the desire of joint discovery that truly satiates the soul.

What are you made of?

It’s Wednesday. You’ve finished two days at your job. Conversations, work and the general humdrum rhythm of everyday life keep you occupied. Occasionally in moments of involuntary isolation, on a commute, in the washroom or within the first few minutes of reaching home, a thought crosses your mind.

Concrete landscape

Beyond building blocks and space

‘What am I doing with my life?’

 What you are doing at this point is reviewing the quality of your narrative, wondering if this would really make for a great story. If you have ever used a search engine, you know that the answer you want is almost entirely dependent on the question you ask. That, dear reader, is the point of this piece.

There must be more to this.

 What do I mean by ‘more’? How much ‘more’ and of what? What is ‘this’ anyway?

Our constant search for meaning can be frustrating, but it is what has kept this species moving along, this inherent drive to discover, create and exceed. To sate this need, we use relationships, science, religion work and anything else that might ease our need for understanding. We swap behaviours (“my resolution is…”), appearances (“a complete makeover sounds great!”), and schools of thought (“I used to be an atheist, but now I’m agnostic”).

Preoccupation and to some extent philosophical enquiry, however, are just ways to navigate the mire. And before you can traverse a journey, it may be important to ask what you’re working with. Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask is ‘what am I made of?’

 Flesh and bones or heart and soul, what exactly am I made of?

 Our sentience, power of agency and imagination differentiate us from other beings. You are not a self-fulfilling prophecy or a narrative seeking to reach a fruitful end. You are a person. A unique entity, made unique by conditioning, practice, memories, and imagination. Your senses are constantly at work analyzing your physical environment and your social context to create a picture of the world as you see it, your ‘reality’. Yes, physical limitations can change the way you explore aspects of your life, as can financial, social and emotional constraints, but that only adds to the uniqueness.

‘Nothing is impossible’, they said.

The social web has reduced fifteen minutes of fame to a microsecond spent on a small screen flying beneath an unsuspecting thumb, a phenomenon that hasn’t just warped our perception of success but magnified our capacity for comparison. This also instills in us some interesting conundrums. A moderately accurate understanding of ability is combined with a burning need to transcend our context.

If you’re still with me, pay close attention. Validation does not determine your relevance. Ambition does. A desire to understand yourself does. The intrinsic curiosity for life does. Know that not having an answer still means that you asked the question. Meaning isn’t linear, it’s the process of discovery. Being constantly connected has meant that our minds are in overdrive, having us fret over falling behind in a race we never signed up for, that we aren’t even running. There’s no need to run. Think about where you are just now, sat at home unwinding, traveling to meet a friend or taking a break at work. Take a moment and remember the last joke you told or heard or the last story that made you think. And now, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, ‘what am I made of?’

Leave an answer in the comments. I’d love to have a chat.

Fighting with inspiration

Insights. Audience insights. Stereotypes backed by retrofitted research.

“Heck, I don’t want to be a number, I’m a person.”

Man in jacket stargazing; looking for inspiration

Inspiration. Is it out there?

Guess what? You’re both. And when you combine the infinite (perceived) complexity and emotional spectrum of being a person with the drudgery of being a number, like capitalism seeks to do with resources (sometimes known as people), you end up with a very different beast. Enter the creative foot soldier. This is the ‘intrapreneur’ who thinks innovatively, raising the bar each day, engaging people ‘internal’ and ‘external’ alike, all with a smile.

Bosses, workloads, unemployment, marriage, singledom, weight, the future, the past, what you want to eat for dinner and not having any dinner to eat, each of these is an equally valid, prevalent, and qualified stressor. If any of these bother you, read on. If they don’t, please send me a recent photograph of you so I can build an altar to worship at.

Now that we’ve set context, let’s get to the point. Drudgery is a non-negotiable. It’s as intrinsic to the human condition as death and taxes. This can be quite difficult to tackle, especially for sentient beings with a cerebral cortex capable of fueling a rather fertile imagination.

‘Sometimes, I want to just give up, but I can’t. And that’s just difficult.’

Is there really a way out of the rat race? Will we ever find our purpose? Too frustrated with your current situation and too scared to try anything else – the Stockholm syndrome that binds you to your monotony. It can seem like the grass on the other side is just disappointment waiting to be trod on. Go online and you stumble upon thousands of stories of those who ‘made it’. Endless and seemingly scientific pontification about grit and luck peddling a story built in hindsight to a crowd hungry for meaning.

‘How will I ever get through this? Is this all there is?’

 I have an answer or at least I think I do. Inspiration. The problem, in my view, is in trying to stay ‘motivated’. Motivation, you see, is a stimulus, a precursor to an action, maybe a catalyst if ability and willingness are assumed. It can easily be suppressed by exhaustion, ridicule masquerading as jest (a rather common show of ‘affection’ in modern ‘friendships’) and a sudden change of plans or goals. Inspiration, however, is a process, one that creates an environment. It is a state of mind that with enough practice you can will yourself into, something a sportsperson might call ‘being in the zone’. This is a space where sentences seemingly string themselves together, people react favorably, your life starts to seem more productive and you start to seem, well, the limitations of language strike again, happy.

Inspiration (noun) – the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative
Motivation (noun) – A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a certain way

The best part about inspiration is that it isn’t an end goal as much as it is a conduit to constant improvement. The order of greatness or inspiration isn’t a chicken-and-egg problem. An inspired mind does great things. Greatness doesn’t bring inspiration, but is accentuated by inspiration.

So how does any of this work? Simple. It is focus and repetition that make up the mastery of any practice, and inspiration is no different.

I’m not expecting you to waltz from depression into creative mania. Start small and start easy. You are not defined by what has happened to you but by what you’ll do with it. Look to begin your day with being thankful for what you have. If you don’t think you have much, thank yourself for your sanity. Thank yourself for the fact that you can read what’s been written here and derive meaning from a set of symbols on a screen. It’s not an ability you should take lightly.

Let the emptiness and pointlessness of what you’re feeling hit you like a truck, life’s best experienced that way. When you’re going to sleep and the noise within pushes you to open your eyes, don’t. For another five minutes, let it overwhelm you, feel every inch of your body and soul ache with the random chaos you’ve grown weary of. And then, use that base to build something. Wake up knowing that you will isolate your state of mind, your inspired state of mind, from your circumstances, because you really can’t control the latter.

The qualities you need to realise your vision for a successful life – attention, inspiration, strength and endurance – are finite. These also grow through practice, the benefits compounding over each of day of effort, a wall built brick by brick. Lay a brick down.

To you who wanted to say something in that meeting today but didn’t

To you who actually quite likes your job, but won’t say so for fear of standing out

To you who doesn’t like starting sentences with ‘here’s my idea’ or ‘I’m good at’

To you who wakes up wondering ‘really? Is this it?’

Keep fighting. Stay inspired.

It really is the truest statement of anarchy against an increasingly dystopian world narrative.

The unbearable virtue of cleaning

The uncluttered comes to a head

The uncluttered comes to a head

The mind has a funny way of racing at the quietest of times. It’s almost some sort of thermodynamic balance between the internal and the external. It is in these moments that I’ve told myself to focus on a hobby, something that you do for the sake of doing something and perhaps, in some cases, even to the point of mastery.

Food is one area I’d found solace in – both cooking and eating. Creating food can be quite a rewarding experience, especially for the pedantic. For years, the solace of creating an elaborate meal helped immerse the mind. The absence of a kitchen in my current digs has put paid to that option.

There we are then. Under the sheets wanting to make more of ‘quality leisure’, especially now having read about the benefits of focused recreation. ‘It rehabilitates the mind’ (excellent!), ‘invigorates the soul’ (serious?), and ‘supercharges creativity’ (where do I sign up?).

The desire to do everything and the motivation to do nothing can, however, throw up a fair few obstacles. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll associate with the glorious daydreams of success and the catatonic stupor even the thought of getting yourself some water could induce. And then, looking around, you come to a point. Not quite a halt, but not quite a path you associate with continuity or discovery.

That’s when it happened. ‘Why don’t you clean?’ (this is internal dialogue, please be rest assured that there are more poignant moments, it’s in my best interest to believe that). But cleaning? Surely there’s a better alternative. Cleaning is ephemeral, repetitive, time-consuming and requires focus to do well, hardly the sort of vision for your afternoon that drives the mind to sensorial overload. ‘Isn’t that exactly what you need?’ (see, I told you we could be poignant).

I stick on a podcast (This American Life, great soundtrack for catatonic stupor) and begin to clean. First, the bin bags that reveal the oddness of every object you’ve interacted with during the week, a repository of the residue your life is leaving behind. Bin bags all done, I move to the dreaded Level 2 – clothes. ‘Should I fold this like the laundry does or just go with the sideways fold?’ Mildly disturbed that this discourse is even taking place, I proceed to just take a call and grab life by the proverbial danglers. One folding style for the shirts and the casual, more home-baked approach for the bottoms. Eclectic!

Halfway through I start to feel more productive. It helps that the room looks a lot less cluttered and, over time, I’ve realized that this always has a knock-on effect on the mind. I was speaking to a friend a couple of weeks ago. This was the kind of friend who would categorize Sisyphean conundrums as ‘chat’. Discussing the monotony that comes with adult life in the capitalist world, he proceeded to reference the Gita. “Sometimes you just do things for the virtue of doing them. Not everything will have an end.”

That’s what cleaning means to me. Simple, transitory, immersive and rewarding. Our minds are still in the process of being understood – biochemical, intuitive, emotional and rational in equal measure. There’s little we can do but do something.  Do something for the virtue of doing it, the unbearable virtue of conscious monotony. Something for the virtue of having life in your veins and a soul thriving on the possibility of an intriguing construct.

So, get out from under the sheets, go fold a shirt, straighten out some books, and do it without an end in sight.

I’d say more, but those clothes aren’t going to sort themselves.

P.S. For those of you who can’t contain your curiosity, I chose to go with the laundry-style fold. 

Confined

A recurring dream. One of being buried alive. Distress. Anxiety. Sleepless nights. The fear of being back to a place where helplessness was the norm and strength the basic catalyst of average. Exhaustion.

Nervous breakdowns can be difficult. Any breakdown can. One held within, so visceral, however, can take its toll. The toll becomes addictive. Withdrawal symptoms from grief, when happiness is the end.

Smashed in the face by a cricket ball. 22 yards down from a trundler, a thousand miles away from being in the present. Lost in thought, the body pays a price. Fast forward two weeks.

Slight shifts in perception. Helplessness turned on its head is empowerment. The feeling of mattering so little moves to the feeling of being able to do anything you can, without judgment, without consequence. The end becomes the means. Happiness is a state of mind.

Smash it to all parts. A hundred off 50 balls. Never before. Never before had even 10 been crossed with such limited anxiousness.

A recurring vision. One of being free. Devoid of psychological poverty, away from the depravity of self-assessment, rigid and unforgiving.

You’re not confined. Only constrained. The world may not be your oyster. But it is your world.

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