Let passion kill you so that you can live

Ideas don’t change the world, people do.

truths

In every culture and institution, in every individual’s mind, there’s the overwhelming and compelling need to be significant in some ways. The idea that once we’re dead, our memories, thoughts,feelings, personality – would disappear forever is frightening and is the driving force behind every action ( and inaction for that matter). Some seek it through fame, others through the notoriety of crimes and bloodshed. That’s why there are prestigious universities like the Ivy League in the US and Oxbridge in the UK. That’s why many parents push their kids to take up violin lessons by age 4, join student organizations, competitions, pageants; they want to be significant through their (hopefully) successful child. They want to be the Parent of THE President, Parent of THE Lawyer, Parent of THE Doctor. That’s why many a young bright minds with fire in their bellies go for the careers with best potential of wielding power over things that matter to them, and create change on a larger scale. The same bright minds find themselves, 10-20 years down the road, overworked,underappreciated,drowning in debt,and with depleted hearts.

Who doesn’t want to be like  Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein? Who doesn’t dream of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg, or the discoverer of a cure for cancer? What’s happening then? Why is there such a big disparity between what people want and what people become? Why is it that in an age where virtually anything is possible and everything is accessible, more social media apps are created than discussions had on a permanent solution to toxic waste; people focus more on picking out the perfect selfie from the 50 nearly identical selfies they took than they do on corrupt leaders or horrible tragedies, like the drowning of nearly a thousand migrants in the Mediterranean ocean ?

Why is the self-help industry a  multi-billion dollar industry when we feel more lost than ever?

I’ll tell you why: passion can’t be standardized. 

Whoever purports to give you a map to attain your passions, or become who you dreamt of being- they are either fooling you or fooling themselves. People aspire to be just like the prolific giants who went down in history for their achievements,art, and excellence. They want to know how many hours Picasso put in, what books Einstein read, how to follow Zuckerberg’s trajectory and come up with the new Facebook. 10 000 hours or 10 lifetimes won’t get you the answer. YOU hold the answer. Cliché, huh? We do not choose our passions, they choose us. We’re born with that candle waiting to be lit. We stumble across some book, or see some comedian, and voilà! We are burning with passion. But it wasn’t random or because you just happened to come across comedy before chemistry. Passion is a force beyond our comprehension. It can’t be forged nor can it be forced. It’s an intricate part of our being, just like our height or eye colour is an intricate part of our body. It doesn’t need fixing or adjusting. It just needs to be unblocked; unblocked by your fears, and perfectionism, and what-ifs, and shoulds. You need to declutter others projections,perceptions,predictions and pessimism that have accumulated within you over the years, and give your soul space to grow a garden.

Let go so that you can grow.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein,MLK,Gandhi- they didn’t envision, at the onset, that they’d achieve what they did. They just did what they were burning for and that fire of passion purified them and shaped them into their legacies. They didn’t see it coming. But it was within them, just like a tiny seedling that grows into a giant sequoia tree; let yourself grow into you, and stop forcing yourself to become what you’re not!

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Q•U•O•T•E•S

 “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
― Joseph Campbell

“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”
― Katharine Hepburn

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
― Catherine of Siena

“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
― Janis Joplin

“It is easy to live for others, everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature.”
― Marcus Aurelius

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”
― Rumi

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
― Henry David Thoreau

“Within you, you will find everything you need to be complete.”
― Bryant McGill

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
― Abraham Maslow

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke

“Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

 

Mindfulness in a Maelstrom of Madness

Books like ‘ The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, have broken me and served as a source of immense pain. I read them at a time of profound trauma and desperation, looking for a sliver of hope and though the principles in these self-help books are good-natured, they are extremely harmful to someone who hasn’t gained enough emotional awareness and healing to be able to discriminate. These books would basically instruct me to pull myself up by the boot strings, to avoid sinking by simply swimming, by shunning negative thoughts by pure willpower. And I tried so hard. I trusted these authors and their knowledge, so I gave myself to the instructions wholeheartedly and I put all my eggs in one basket by thinking that this book would be it. After I’m done reading these 200 odd pages, I’d be done with this pain. That’s what these authors basically say; I’m an expert, listen to how I found profound wisdom, follow my instructions and for the low price of $14.99 you’ll be healed.

You’ll be healed. Passive voice.

Not, here’s how you can heal yourself.

Needless to say, I failed miserably. Or rather they failed me by being selective in what they taught. I understand they do so to make a name for themselves and a brand to generate money, so if they simply give away the things that helped them, that would make them lose out.

Two things happened:

1. I tried so very hard to apply the practices and instructions which was akin to carrying out surgery on myself after reading a book on it. I was dealing with very serious mental disorders; chronic PTSD,anxiety,major depression, bipolar II – and some of the trauma that contributed to these ailments happened before puberty, so they were very complex and very sensitive. This was not a work for self-help, I needed professional help and medication. I had no idea. I was 18 or 19 at the time and I was driven by a need to do something. And although I eventually managed to find the right route, I can only imagine how many are stuck. There aren’t disclaimers or warnings to provide a leeway for second chances; if someone finds it incredibly difficult to apply these generic and simplistic three-step instructions, at least they could save a part of themselves by using the disclaimer as a cop-out. I stirred emotional pain and I only made it worse. It was like I tried to run on a broken foot.

2. Because I had put all my hope in one book, one can only imagine how devastated and shattered I was to reach the back cover feeling worse than I did before I started reading the book. My feelings of incompetence and worthlessness was tacitly confirmed by the book. It purported to have worked for countless of people, so the fault must lay within me. It felt like my life was a catch-22. I was stuck and to be unstuck I had to get unstuck. Makes no sense right? It plunged me deeper into a dark abyss of depression and suicidal thoughts. I had no hope left to live for.

Thankfully, I’d bounce back on the very verge and try again. And fail. And become devastated. And bounce back once again and again…and here I am writing this, 7 years later. I honestly don’t know how I got out. Alhamdulillaah 

Turns out, I’m not the only person who noticed this huge farce; Mark Manson wrote an incredibly relieving piece on the self-help industry and what’s fundamentally wrong with it;

 


So, Mindfulness?

 

The premise of self-help is this; You feel bad. You should feel happy. Negative feelings are bad. Positive feelings are happiness. Here’s how to make negative feelings go away.Forever. And ever.

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Yes, really. We view ‘negative’ feelings as inherently bad and something to be eliminated, but by adopting this polarized approach, we’re missing the point completely. We assume that the problem lies in the uncomfortable effects of negativity, but in reality the negative feelings are markers for an underlying problem; they are symptoms and not the disorder, if I may say so, itself. So, however uncomfortable it is to accept, the only way is through.

Negative feelings are essentially emotional pain and like physical pain, it signals that something’s amiss and needs your attention. This is where mindfulness comes in.

mindfullln

 

Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about the future. ONLY think about the now. While you’re at it, why don’t you tell me to not die by thinking about not dying. Or how about saving a drowning person by saying; don’t sink! Swim!

As is apparent from my biting sarcasm, I’ve had trouble getting my head around understanding mindfulness. I feel it’s a promising concept, but the plethora of definitions out there, some contradictory, don’t help at all. So, I decided to go down my own path and find out for myself just what mindfulness is and why we should be present in the, well, present.

I found the imperative question that is not being asked is; Why are we focused on the future/past/social media/cat videos/partying/addictions, basically on everything but the thing that requires our attention at any given moment? And why do some manage to be mindful more so than others?


Emotional Awareness

 

When something is troubling us and we fail to find an answer to alleviate the pain, we take to escapism to save ourselves. It’s a vital defense mechanism aimed at keeping our sanity intact. So we become distracted, or addicted, or performance and success-obsessed. Anything to flee the scary feelings we fail to decipher. This has many layers to it, but to gain mindfulness, you’d have to reverse the process by finding out what commands your attention and what’s chasing you away. It’s only by removing this obstacle and overcoming the fear in tolerating distressful emotions that one can make their way back to the core; to the present.

If you observe children, you’ll discern that their naïvety and cheerfulness comes from the mindfulness in their souls. They have no worries and the entire world is a big playground. This is assuming they have secure attachment to their parents and are brought up in a safe and loving environment. In the cases where a child is made to suffer through emotional abuse or neglect, or even physical abuse, the stark contrast in the child’s demeanour from that of the healthy child betrays a sense that something’s wrong . They are withdrawn or they are violent and cruel; their mindfulness has been displaced by a disruption to their world as they knew it, and by knowing terror far too young.

Likewise, if you’ve ever been in a state of flow or immersed in something you’re truly passionate about, you find time and space fading as you are consumed by the activity at hand. You are alert and emotionally aware, at that point. You are in your skin and soul, not wandering about like you’re lost or running from something.

When you’re emotionally aware, you are detached from your thoughts and the events that occur around you, and you do so from the comfort of being in yourself, feeling safe within your being.You accept all facets of yourself.

As you might guess, it’s a life-long journey within towards becoming mindful. But it’s a journey you’ll find the benefits of immediately.


Q• U •O •T •E• S

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
― C.G. Jung

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
― Ralph Ellison

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― C.G. Jung

“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
― Michel de Montaigne

“At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.”
― Lao Tzu

“The person in life that you will always be with the most, is yourself. Because even when you are with others, you are still with yourself, too! When you wake up in the morning, you are with yourself, laying in bed at night you are with yourself, walking down the street in the sunlight you are with yourself.What kind of person do you want to walk down the street with? What kind of person do you want to wake up in the morning with? What kind of person do you want to see at the end of the day before you fall asleep? Because that person is yourself, and it’s your responsibility to be that person you want to be with. I know I want to spend my life with a person who knows how to let things go, who’s not full of hate, who’s able to smile and be carefree. So that’s who I have to be.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.”
― Marianne Williamson

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
― Pema Chödrön,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
― Carl R. Rogers

“Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.”
― Hermann Hesse

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
— Anne Lamott

 

 

self-improvement=perfectionism?

My main drive behind self-improvement used to be shame-eradication, but not in the way you might think. I felt that I was inherently flawed and awkward and I had to replace that with something less cringe-worthy. Having been bullied as a child, I’d often recall those horrible years as embarrassing, because apparently, in my head, I was bullied because I was weak and flawed. I’d often revisit the memories wondering how things would be different had I been less flawed. The thing about thoughts and mindsets is that once they take root, they become a part of you and you wouldn’t notice them unless you knew what to look for. So whenever I’d read something that unearthed a certain mindset, I’d be embarrassed and disgusted with myself for having espoused such thought patterns. I reflected on the amount of pain and hurt I became worthy of as a result of being so feeble-minded. Yes, it sounds horrid, spelling it out like this. But deep down in the world of thoughts and fears, horrible things often seem perfectly logical. Self-improvement became synonymous with self-destruction.

Essentially, what I was doing was aiming for perfectionism under the guise of improvement. You see, once you hide stuff under different labels, it gets very tricky to ferret them out. That is, unless you accept yourself with all your flaws and so-called cringe-worthy traits and realize that self-improvement has nothing to do with ;

(a) Changing the way people perceive you
(b) Changing who you are deep down
(c) Getting rid of shame by altering shame-inducing aspects of yourself

Using self-improvement as a tool for perfectionism sends one down an entirely different path than that of genuine self-acceptance. One operates under the assumption that the shame and fear that permeates one’s self-worth is accurate; and the other, that of self-acceptance, operates under the truth that one is enough.

But here comes a twist; if  I’m  enough, then why the self-improvement? And if perfectionism is aimed at improving myself, why is it denounced and made out to be something negative?

In fact, this gross misunderstanding has sent me down the wrong path one too many times and prevented me from reaching my true aim. I suspect I got it from the pop-psychology books I used to read as a teen; books that ubiquitously line the self-help sections in book stores, but are far from helpful. The authors might be different, but they all revolve around the belief of you’re not enough, you’re flawed and that’s unacceptable, here’s how you can change that.

Up until as recently as two weeks ago, my understanding of this was horribly skewed. I’d constantly look down on myself and berate myself for holding certain beliefs. I was constantly entrenched in shame and never for once felt ...ok. Until recent events made me revise my understanding of growth and improvement, that is.

I realized this; my task wasn’t to fix my broken self or rounding my jagged edges; it was to embrace the irregular parts of me that I had rejected because they didn’t fit in anywhere. It was, it is to accept myself and love myself regardless of how I feel or look. It’s to give myself the unconditional love that I missed out on all my life. All this time, I had perpetuated the damaging message of my bullies, within myself, thinking I was doing well.

My biggest fear has been, and still is, to integrate all my different sides within myself and dare look at my entire being without flinching with disgust over my imperfections.

I think Brene Brown’s work on embracing imperfections and wholehearted living is phenomenal and groundbreaking, at least for me. I ordered her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ last week, and hope to receive it shortly.

ten guideposts for wholehearted living

9 Years of Nightmare

Dark-Rain-Cloud-Wallpaper

 

In the beginning, it was like the faint buzz of a mosquito. Vaguely aware of it but expecting it to go away. Then it just grew stronger and started to bite me, refusing to go away until I curled up in foetal position, covered by utter despair and helplessness. Why is it bothering me, why can’t it just leave me alone ? I cried to myself.

It took me years to understand depression. To understand that it was here to stay and me wanting it gone only added to the pain. So I decided to call a truce so that I could co-exist with it without ripping my hair out or being too overwhelmed to live.

Something paradoxical happened. When I decided to make my peace with it, I saw a different side to it. I noticed that it wasn’t the big, bad monster that hijacked my life, but that it was apart of me. A hidden aspect of me that had come up for air to tell me something, and I didn’t hear it because I didn’t seek to listen. So I tried. I tried tuning in. It wasn’t intelligible at first, just a static sound. I tried fine-tuning it to make something of it, and I could then hear something I finally understood. It was people doling out what they perceived as advise, but was in fact patronization. It was self-help books that made no sense at all in understanding my condition, and only worked to exacerbate my feelings of despair as I thought there was something inherently wrong with me for not finding the generic ‘fake it ’til you make it’ claim remotely inspirational.

Get it together – they chanted in unison. Getittogethergetittogethergetittogetherget-

I tried to run on my broken feet. I tried to pull myself up with my broken arms. I tried but I couldn’t. It was so excruciating. I wanted to tell them this, but my voice had broken, my heart was shattered with despair. I felt sick to my stomach and disgusted with myself for not being able to follow simple instructions;

1.Will yourself to success

2. If you want to be successful, you have to earn a lot of money and make a lot of friends

3. Ignore the pain and plaster on a smile.

 

People left. They were sick and tired of training an old dog- no, a dead dog.The barrage of motivational pep-talks died down. Told the last person to close the door behind him and turn off the lights. Let me forget myself in this darkness.

 

I think that’s when it all made sense. In the darkness, in the solitude, in the bittersweet feeling of not having anything left to lose. The static noise on the radio that didn’t make sense to me. I listened closely, and though at first I could barely make anything out of it, it was something. I was listening with every iota, every cell in me – afraid to even breath in case I missed anything. It was a healing voice, unlike the others who kept poking me and taking jabs at me. It was an embracing and soothing voice. It didn’t order me to do anything, it didn’t make me feel stupid and lazy for not running 20 lapses around the world. In fact, the only thing it uttered was one phrase, over and over again until I was lulled into sleep by its mellow voice, and drifted off to sleep.

‘Listen to your heart.’

When I later woke up, I realized – it was all a terrible nightmare – the taunting and terrorizing. The buzzing and chanting. I was in my own skin, my broken body had healed, my heart –  I could hear my heart now, and I was going to travel to a place far away from here. A place where they don’t wear masks and where you don’t have to plaster on smiles. Somewhere my heart will take me.

 

 

 

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