Learning To Trust – Part 2

Follow here for Part 1

“We have made some good progress so far.”, exclaimed the Therapist.

“It looks like we have. You know, I used to feel these knots in my stomach and chest that have started to untangle. It’s almost as if some of the burdens have been lifted.”

“That’s a sign that what we’re doing here is working. When we don’t process our emotions or give them an outlet, emotions get stored in our bodies and show up in different ways. Often people have stomach aches, digestion issues, tightness in the chest, anxiety, headaches, unexplainable pain, etc. Sometimes the reasons are physical but sometimes they are emotional.”

“Yes. I have read about that. I think I had gotten so used to having some of these symptoms that I never thought it could be any other way. E.g., I have been having this severe backache for a few weeks where it came to a point that I could not perform any day-to-day activities. I originally thought that it was only because of my past injury but now when I think about it, my backache seems to increase every time I am under stress. Sometimes, I am also not able to speak clearly and sometimes I start to forget things when I am under stress.”, she expressed surprised by these realizations.

“You’ve got it right. Our body and mind always indicate whenever there is something that needs our attention. But we get so busy with our day-to-day lives, that we don’t pay enough attention to these signals unless they become intolerable. Medications and physical therapy can help at such times but if the reason is emotional, they would only provide temporary relief and will recur when a similar situation arises in the future. Meditation can help bring our awareness back to our bodies so that we’re aware of what part of our body requires attention before the situation becomes worse. But it all requires continuous effort on our part to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and body. That’s where therapy helps.

I am glad that you’ve decided to work with yourself and are already seeing the results.”

“Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect when I started coming to therapy. I definitely didn’t think that I’ll come to a point where I will be able to recognize any of the emotions that I experience.

Our last therapy session, in particular, has helped me a lot to take a deeper look into myself and some of my self-sabotaging behaviors.”

The Therapist leaned back in her chair, “I would love to know more about that.”

“Okay, to start with, I started to see how I never fully took the accountability for my role in that situation. The issue itself started with something that I was going through. This person had little or nothing to do with what I was feeling yet tried to do what they could do as a friend. It was my struggle with my feelings that started all the mess in the first place. If anything, they were the best friend that I needed at that time.

Another important realization for me was what I kept telling myself was a “betrayal” was this person doing the best they could given the circumstances. Yes, they made a mistake but that was all it was. We were trying so hard to not hurt one another that we ended up hurting each other anyway. When my actions hurt them, they didn’t tell me until later how much they had impacted them. I chose to not to tell this person how difficult my experiences had been for me because I thought that was me protecting them. And whenever I tried, I was so far gone that I couldn’t even think or communicate clearly. Frankly, when I think about it, it would have been easier for this person to break off this connection earlier but they chose to work through it which shows that my perceptions were wrong.

Finally, I realized how I had always thought that I was good at communication. But I can see that I have a lot to learn. Every time I tried to reach out to this person, it was based on my need to fix the situation. I never asked them what they wanted.”

“You said you wanted to protect this person. From what?”

“I am not sure. Initially, I thought I was protecting them from feeling any guilt because of what I was feeling. So I kept pretending that everything was fine and that I was able to manage everything.

When things took a weird turn, I thought I was protecting them by not telling them what I was experiencing. I told myself that it was because that it would be too much for them to deal with. But now when I think about it, that wasn’t true.”

“What was the reason?”

“I didn’t tell them anything initially because I was scared for myself. I was scared of someone telling me what I feared the most – that I had lost my mind. I was scared of being abandoned. In a way, I was trying to protect myself. I also felt that it would be the final blow to what looked to me was the end of a friendship.

I never accepted this but I think I also wanted to protect them from me.”

“And why is that?”

“I had started to see how much trouble I was causing to this person’s life but could not bring myself to accept it. They were fine before I met them. Initially, we were fine too and, then, all I brought to them was pain. I had started to feel guilty for causing them all those troubles. Sometimes, I wonder that may be they would have been better off had they not met me.

A few days back, I realized that they made the right decision by cutting me off. If I was still their best friend, I would have asked them to do the same. That’s not to say that we couldn’t have worked it out but that that was a choice they made and I can’t blame them for that choice.

The fact is, I was a horrible friend and I have come to accept that now. Even now, my unwillingness to let it go and still talking about what happened, shows that they made the right decision. What can be more unhealthy than being obsessed with the past? I think I was just too scared to accept it.”

“When we care for someone, sometimes we unconsciously do things that don’t align with our core values. When we start to hide what we feel, these emotions show up in ways that are not manageable and become unhealthy. When any relationship ends, the unknowing makes it more challenging to accept reality. Tell me this, this person hurt you too, do you think that their actions make them a horrible friend?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever believe that they were. On the contrary, some of the lessons that I learned with their support have helped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. E.g., I have started to be more open about who I am. That’s something I could never have imagined doing.”

“So this person offered you their love and support. They also made some mistakes. Sounds to me like any other human being.”

“Yes”

“Now, tell me is there anything good that you’ve done for them?”

“Haha. From our last one-sided conversation, it doesn’t look like I did anything good for them. Whatever I did because I cared for them was misconstrued as me having this ulterior motive. I was just a source of pain and trouble.”

“Do you think that’s true?”

“I hope not.”

“Can you think of a few examples that show that you were good friend?”

“Yes. But after that initial incident, whatever I did came cross as something else. Like I had a hidden motive behind everything that I was doing. I tried to explain that wasn’t true but I couldn’t get through to them.”

“Did you have a hidden motive?”

“No. I was just being a friend. If trying to save a friendship is a hidden motive, then, yes.”

“If you were to be your advocate, would you say that you were a horrible friend?”

“This is like be your best friend, isn’t it? I don’t think so. I can see that I was just being me and that I was a good friend most of the time except when I was acting out of my insecurities. If I was an unbiased party in this situation who knew both of us, I would say we were both idiots who couldn’t understand how to manage the entire situation and worked as a team to sabotage something meaningful.

I think it just hurts that I could never clarify some of the misconceptions.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was too hurt at that point and was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It had taken every remaining strength I had to reach out to them. That’s saying a lot because I could hardly perform the needful activities in my waking life. When I received that communication, I had started drafting a response explaining myself but, then, stopped because I could see how they just wanted it to end. I also thought that whatever I said at that point might only create more misunderstandings because whatever I would have said might have come out of my guilt, hurt or anger. I was tired of hurting this person and getting hurt. They had told me their decision and I wanted to respect it. I didn’t think my explanations would have mattered.”

“You were going through an inexplainable experience. It’s sad that it coincided with what you were going through with this person. But can you try to be compassionate with yourself for what you went through?”

“I can try.”

“What have you done since then to process what happened?”

“The list won’t stop. I started therapy. I tried to blog but all I could write about initially was how angry and hurt I was. Then, when the anger subsided, I realized that I wasn’t angry with them but with how the things transpired. Then, I started to write about my side of the story in private blogs which initially helped but knowing that no one was listening made it feel even worse, and I stopped.

I tried to distract myself by indulging in activities, making friends, picking up hobbies, doing meditation, yoga, etc. I tried everything and nothing worked. I kept being reminded of the past in some or the other way. My emotional health just kept getting worse and the other experiences didn’t help.”

“Seems to me that you didn’t want to be stuck in that situation but could not find a way out. Does that sound to you like someone who is obsessed or someone who is trying to find a way out?”

“I love it how you challenge my thought patterns.”

The Therapist smiled, “That’s my job. Not every problem requires a solution. When nothing else works, sometimes the best way is to let certain things be. You’ve tried to not let the past impact you and you’ve done everything a therapist would have asked you to do. This experience clearly had a major impact on you and might take some time to completely process. Is there anything else that you can do?”

“Nothing. I have thought of trying and contacting this person but I don’t think they’ll like that. So I never do.”

“Why do you think so?”

“They made it clear that there were certain things that they wanted for us to be in contact again. Though I could understand why they said that, I found it unfair to me and, for a change, I wanted to be true to myself. Further, I don’t even know if they care anymore.”

“Sounds like a dead-end. Then, you know that there is nothing more that you can do. Why not do just that – nothing?”

“How would that be any different from what’s happening today?”

“It can be different in the way you’re dealing with these emotions. You can stop trying to understand why any of it happened or trying to find the answers. You can choose to be compassionate with yourself everytime the feeling of guilt or thoughts of self-doubt comes up. It can also mean not fighting the thoughts and emotions that come up. Not questioning why you have them but also not getting lost in them.”

“I can try that. There is just this one thought that keeps bringing me back.”

“What’s that?”

“What if that was it? What if I am never able to do anything about it? What if I lost a best friend to my insecurities or misconceptions or to things that I can’t even explain? Then, I feel confused about what would I even say to them? I have embarassed myself enough.

I sometimes feel like they’ll loathe me when they see me. I think my anger was helping me not imagine it.”

“What if is a dangerous question. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. How can you control something that has not even happened and how can you predict how someone else would act in a situation. Would it be so bad if you never speak to this person again?”

“I’ll never forgive myself.”

“Why?”

“If I could have done something that I didn’t do, that’s on me.”

“Is there anything left for you to do?”

“No.”

“Then what’s the benefit of assuming the worst case or getting lost in different scenarios. If you were, in fact, as close as you’re telling me, do you think this person won’t be wondering the same?”

“I don’t know. I hope they still care.”

“Then why not let them decide for themselves? Can you see how you blaming yourself for everything that has transpired has impacted your ability to trust yourself?”

“I can. I never said all this out aloud so never realized it. I can see now that it doesn’t matter whether I consciously accept something. If I am subconsciously thinking something, it will have an impact on me”

“That’s correct. What we’re doing here is trying to uncover these unconscious thoughts and emotions that play a role in our lives. Bringing them to the surface and acknowledging them for what they are, help us break these patterns. Is there an alternate thought that you can tell yourself that could help you?”

“I have tried and nothing worked. I don’t know what to do anymore so I’ll do nothing. At least that way, I won’t further sabotage anything – This thought feels like failing though.”

“That’s one way to look at it. Another way can be to realize that you’ve accepted your mistakes, this person’s mistakes, the past and have forgiven both of you. Realizing our mistakes in a situation does not have to mean that we were entirely at fault. Like you said, the circumstances were not easy to deal with. Had you known better, would you have still done what you did or would this person still have done what they did?”

“No.”

“Would someone else in your situation have a better way to deal with what happened?”

“I am not sure. This seems to be a one-of-a-kind experience.”

“Then, you can’t know whether your actions will always sabotage something because you won’t intentionally want to hurt this person. There is also no way to know what the right thing to do was in this situation. We never come to this world with a user manual. We encounter situations, make the best of it and, then, deal with the outcome.

You told me that you’ve tried everything in your power to process the emotions that this situation brought up. If a similar situation happens in the future, would you still take the same actions?”

“No. In fact, I recently proved that I have changed more in the past few months than I have realized.”

“That shows that your way of dealing with this situation was to work on yourself and heal yourself. Tell me, would you expect something else out of your best friend who was in your position?”

“No. I would just give her a hug and tell her that everything will be fine.”

“Why don’t you do just that?”, the Therapist smiled.

The session went on for another 30 minutes where she and the Therapist came up with more ways to help her recognize unhelpful thought patterns, ways to allow her mind and body to release stuck emotions, and introduce small behavioral changes that would help her in her day-to-day activities.

“When will I start to heal?”

“You’ve already started to heal. All that remains now is continuing the work that you’ve already started.”

Bridging the Gap

Someone asked me recently what is the difference between Spirituality and Psychology. I took a pause and surprised myself with the answer, “I don’t think anyone can give you an absolute answer today. I can only tell you how I relate Psychology to Spirituality.

Spirituality talks about three elements or bodies or whatever you want to call it – mind, body, and soul. Psychology is the study of mind and behavior and primarily pertains to three parts of the cognitive triangle – thought, feelings and behavior. Our mind pertains to our thoughts which can be ours or can be picked up from our circumstances. Our mind influences our emotions and feelings which get stored in the various parts of our bodies. Our actions or behaviors are, then, influenced by what we think and feel, and vice versa. Psychotherapy is a way to help people with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties so that a person can function better and can increase well-being and healing. It seeks to help an individual become aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors so that he/she can eliminate patterns, unlearn and learn new ways to help become what they might have been had they not experienced the difficulties that they did throughout their lives. It’s also a way to see flaws in the way an individual has lived his/her life so far so that they are more aware of themselves and can take actions to live their authentic selves. What remains after removing any thought, emotion, or behavior that does not align with what we truly are is what I believe is the soul. So in a way, psychology is the scientific mirror to spirituality. Both have the same goal – getting in touch with our authentic selves.”

My answer surprised me because I had never before been able to put into words how I relate to spirituality and psychology. Yet, it made so much sense to me. Neither of the two fields can exist without the other. What we don’t understand today and what lacks any scientific evidence, is often ignored, rejected, or condemned by those who like to limit the understanding of the world to what scientific books can explain. Similarly, those who choose to look at science as the enemy and only believe in what spiritual books or beliefs state, tend to overlook the power of scientific methodology and give in to fear. I don’t think there is a need to make a choice. Parts of spiritual experiences that science can’t explain today, are a realm that’s waiting to be discovered as science and technology progress.

In 1990, Newberg, a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, began his work in the field by scanning what happens in people’s brains when they meditate. He studied 150 brain scans, including those of Buddhists, nuns, atheists, people speaking in tongues, and mediums practicing psychography—the channeling of messages from someone “other” than oneself. He found that practices that involve concentrating on something like a mantra, tend to activate the frontal lobes, the areas chiefly responsible for directing attention, modulating behavior, and expressing language. On the other hand, when practitioners surrendered their will, such as when they speak in tongues or function as a medium, activity decreased in their frontal lobes and increased in their thalamus. This suggests that their speech is being generated from someplace other than the normal speech centers. (Link: The Atlantic). Till today, we don’t know how or what causes this to happen but even being able to recognize that there is something in our brains that’s causing us to enter an “alternate” state is something that science could not acknowledge until recently. 

During the early modern period (1450–1750), approximately 90,000 women and men were accused of witchcraft in Europe, about half of whom were executed. The vast majority of those accused did not identify as witches, while some did come to think, after being tortured, that they may have unknowingly practiced witchcraft. Witch-hunting as a practice is still continued in many regions of the world. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 2500 people in India have been tortured and killed in these hunts between 2000 to 2016, most of them being women. However, people say that the “number is much higher because most states don’t list witchcraft as a motive of murder”. So there is no concrete number of people that have lost their lives to being accused of a witch. On average, an Indian woman is “killed every other day after being accused of witchcraft, according to government statistics”.

Sounds torturous, doesn’t it? Humans never cease to amuse me. On one hand, we don’t believe what we don’t understand. On the other hand, we destroy whatever it is that we don’t understand and can’t explain.

Science has proven that our heart has an electromagnetic field. The heart’s magnetic field, which is the strongest rhythmic field produced by the human body, not only envelops every cell of the body but also extends out in all directions into the space around us. The heart’s magnetic field can be measured several feet away from the body by sensitive magnetometers. Research conducted at HMI suggests the heart’s field is an important carrier of information. (Source: Research Paper). Yet, before this could be proven scientifically, a skeptic would have refused the idea of our hearts doing anything other than pumping blood. Similarly, a believer would have believed in anything superstitious to “prove” that it’s true. 

So who’s right? The scientist who blindly believes in what’s proven or a believer who blindly believes in a superpower? I would say they’re both right and both blinded by limitations of their ways. I believe the scientist is right to not believe the superstitious reasons for a phenomenon that a believer believes in and the believer is right in not rejecting something just because science can’t prove it today.

In 2013, a 70-year-old scientist and journalist Gian Paolo Vanoli argued that vaccinations cause people to turn homosexual. We all have heard similar claims when Covid Vaccines were roled out. A German superstition declares that if you cheers with water you’re actually wishing death upon the people you’re drinking with. In Turkey, an itchy right hand means you’ll come into some money but an itch on your left means you’ll lose money. Getting a haircut in India on a Tuesday is said to bring bad luck.

Surprisingly there are few practices that both science and spirituality have started to agree on. Reiki, a Japanese spiritual practice, is solely based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient using touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the patient’s body and restore physical and emotional well-being. It believes in our soul’s energy chakras and universal healing energy that can help living beings heal. As per this study conducted in 2017, Reiki is a safe, gentle, and profoundly relaxing healing modality that can be practiced by anyone who has received an “attunement” from a Reiki master. This study has found reasonably strong evidence for Reiki being more effective than placebo, suggesting that Reiki attunement leads to a quantifiable increase in healing ability. It’s interesting to observe that the same therapists might have been termed “witches” in the 1450s. 

Today, we can’t even say for certain what role our DNAs play in our evolution. For years, the vast stretches of DNA between our 20,000 or so protein-coding genes – more than 98% of the genetic sequence inside each of our cells – was written off as “junk” DNA. The “Encode” project started in 2003 found that the “junk” DNA is far from useless: within these regions, they have identified more than 10,000 new “genes” that code for components that control how the more familiar protein-coding genes work. Imagine talking to a scientist in the early 2000s and questioning how evolution didn’t get rid of this “junk”.

So where does that leave us? I believe our minds, body, the universe, and nature are much more complicated than what today’s science or blind faith can understand. What can’t be understood by science and is rejected by the “bright” minds, does not need to be false. It leaves people who have nothing else to turn to but religions and superstitions to fear the unknown and blindly follow what society tells them to. What someone believes blindly to be caused by a superpower, can similarly be explained by the science of the future. Who knows science of tomorrow might be able to confirm that ancestors’ “memories” are carried over to the individuals over generations via DNAs which impacts our psyche and it is when a specific condition is met, that some individuals start to “recall” past lives and “speak” to their ancestors or “other spiritis” resulting in what is today called “spiritual emergence”. Quantum theory states that a small particle on Earth can have an impact on a planet situated somewhere else in the Universe. If a particle can have such an impact on a vast body of mass, is it that difficult to speculate that humans can have similar impact on one another without realizing? Highly sensitive people till a few decades back would have been termed “abnormal” because of their increased sensitivity to others and their surroundings. Who knows science of tomorrow can finally explain what altered state of minds are and why some of us have “gifts” that others don’t?

I find myself in a weird predicament. Having experienced what science can’t explain today, having seen for myself how my psyche relates to my spirituality, having experienced outwordly experiences while performing and receiving Reiki healing and feeling my patient’s emotions while doing so and having seen what my brain can do, I find it hard to limit my understanding with either today’s science or with the blind beliefs of others. I am a student of science and yet the only comfort I could find for myself was within the spiritual community because the “logical” minds could not understand my experiences. Yet, it was the science of today that could help me confirm that I was not going “crazy” and get a better hold of my situation though I have started to doubt that anyone of us is truly crazy. At the same time, I find it difficult to believe that there will never be a science that can explain all of my experiences. I hope that tomorrow comes far sooner than later because I believe that the more strides are made to bridge the gap between science, psychology, and spirituality, the more “enlightenment” we’ll experience as sentient beings. I just wish that in the battle of the egos of the “learned” and the “believers”, we don’t lose our humanity.

Learning to Trust

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”
― Alan Wilson Watts

“I have a hard time trusting people. I have been betrayed too many times to trust someone again.” Her Therapist was keenly observing her reactions while she uttered these words. The Therapist noted that she didn’t make eye contact when the topic of trust and betrayal came up.

“And why do you think so?”, the Therapist asked. “I don’t know. Every time I have tried to be vulnerable around someone, show them the real me, they have done something or the other to break my trust or leave just to make me regret opening up to them in the first place. Then, I am left with the broken pieces and have to deal with building myself up. It’s just easier to not trust”.

“How does it feel like to be vulnerable with someone?”. She hated it when her Therapist could so easily unpack her psyche. “I feel scared. Like I will be judged, or like they would tell someone else what I have told them in confidence or like I will come across as weak.”

“That sounds scary, right? Being vulnerable with someone opens us to scrutiny and with the possibility to get hurt. Tell me, what tells you that you can be vulnerable with someone?”, the Therapist asked.

“It depends on what kind of a relationship we share. If I know how that person reacts in other similar situations, it gives me an indication of what I can expect. Also, how they react to stuff that other people share with them in confidence. E.g., if someone else shared something personal with them and if they share that with me, they would probably share my story with others too. Finally, it depends on how comfortable I feel around this individual”

“So, I understand you are selective when it comes to whom you can trust and put a lot of effort before completely opening up to someone. It would naturally make it more heartbreaking when sometimes someone breaks your trust because of all the work you had put in. It was not an easy decision for you.”, the Therapist observed.

“Exactly. It’s so exhausting. And when it keeps happening, I don’t know what to do. It’s one thing when something is not that important but when it’s something so personal to me, then, it has a major impact on me. I can forgive the person but I am not sure if I can trust them or someone else again. This unfortunately also plays out in other relationships because I am afraid of the cycle repeating itself”

“I see. Tell me, have you ever broken someone’s trust?”, the Therapist asked.

With a huge exhale, “Yes, I have. And it sucked. But I had my reasons. It was not meant to hurt someone else but because I didn’t know what else to do. And my trust was broken too”.

“What happened after that?”

“I tried to communicate. I apologized for my mistakes but it looked like this person couldn’t forgive me. I tried to explain myself but it wasn’t enough. And then things just kept getting bad. It all seemed so unfair. I tried to be honest but may be it would have been easier to just lie. Or may be I tried too much and should have stopped sooner”.

“So when you broke someone’s trust, you told this person why it happened. You meant no harm or had any ill intentions. This person, however, refused to forgive you and it looks like that still impacts you.”, the Therapist probed.

By this time, she knew what the Therapist was getting it. “Yes, I can see now the mistakes of my ways. If I can’t forgive others for their mistakes, how can I expect others to?”

“It’s a bit more than that. Not every betrayal can result in forgiveness. Sometimes the situations are much more complicated. However, at times like these what can help is being aware of your thoughts and whether you are projecting or following a thought pattern.”

“Can you explain that a bit more?”, she asked.

“We often subconsciously relate a situation presented to us today to something that happened in the past. If someone broke our trust in the past and someone new does a similar thing, we try to make connections where there are none. As you said, you didn’t have any ill intentions when you broke this person’s trust. Maybe, this person has had their trust broken in the past. When you came clean and apologized, they couldn’t forgive you. It might be because the mistake was too big, they didn’t care enough, it might have been a trigger for them for something that happened in the past or it might be something that you will never know.

The problem occurs when we try to perceive why something happened, get lost in the what-if (a very dangerous thought pattern) or when we’re not communicating with each other while listening to each other. When someone breaks your trust, it might not have anything to do with you or your relationship. Maybe it was the situation. Maybe there was more going on than you were aware of.”

“So what do I do? I can only apologize for my mistakes and ensure that it never happens again. If someone else does something that hurts me, I can only forgive them and ask them not to do something similar again. And I tried to do that. But when they break my trust again, I don’t know who I can and cannot trust”

The Therapist smiled. “You’ve told me that you’re very cautious about whom you trust. Tell me, what can you control after you have decided to trust someone with something personal?”

After giving it a thought, she replied, “Nothing”.

“Exactly. We can’t control how people react. We can’t control anyone’s reactions, actions or words. What we can do is believe in ourselves. Our circle of influence does not extend to what others do. If someone decided to act in a particular way, then, it’s about them. Their past experiences determine how they handle a situation. We can just accept and respect their decision while respecting ourselves. If it’s someone we want to have in our lives, we can work with them to mend the relationship.”

“I sometimes feel I don’t even trust myself anymore. When I allow myself to feel vulnerable with someone and they do something that hurts me, I feel like it was my mistake to trust them in the first place. This previous experience has made it more challenging for me to trust myself”. She was now beginning to see a pattern in her life.

“And that’ something that you can control. When our brain tells us something, it’s not always true. Will you intentionally put yourself in harm?”

“No”, was the immediate response.

“Then, you know that you can trust yourself to make a decision based on what you know at the moment without intentionally putting yourself in harm’s way. But sometimes, we don’t know everything there is to know in a situation until later. When someone breaks your trust, what do you do?”

“It depends. If it’s someone I am not close to, I will create boundaries with that person. Sometimes, if possible, I break contacts. If it’s someone I value, I will try to empathize with them, have a conversation with them and forgive them. Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it takes some time.”

“So depending on your situation, you analyze what the best path is to take going forward. That to me seems like, you take the responsibility to understand the situation and make a decision on how to continue while protecting yourself. Why do you think this person couldn’t forgive you?”

“I don’t know. It was all too confusing and frankly, I don’t blame this person for what happened. I can’t even make sense of what happened. I didn’t ask for it but I just hate the way it ended and I wish we could have communicated like adults. I was blamed for things I didn’t do and was made to feel horrible about something that was not even in my control. My trust was broken when something I said in confidence was repeated in front of someone I didn’t even know. Per them, it was not a big deal to share that with someone else. But it was to me! For all I know, everything I told this person in confidence later while I was trying to apologize for my mistakes and explain myself was repeated in front of someone else again. Wait for a second, I think I just realized something.”

“What’s that?”

“This person couldn’t understand why it was big deal if they shared something I told them with someone else. I couldn’t understand why they made such a big deal for some of the mistakes I made. I broke this person’s trust by violating this person’s privacy and I snapped when I shouldn’t have. And I didn’t realize until now how important it was all for them. They probably never realized how much it hurt me just like I didn’t realize how much it hurt them.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“I don’t know. I thought we were good friends and that this person was someone whom I could trust but I don’t know anymore. Maybe I gave too much importance to someone who clearly didn’t care about me enough or maybe they were right and I was a horrible friend or maybe it’s my mistake to expect someone to keep something to themselves or maybe we were just too toxic for each other. The last may be sucked to hear. I hope it wasn’t true.”

“Why is that?”

“It would mean that I am a horrible friend and that this person was a horrible friend. I don’t believe either of those two to be true”.

“Can you say for sure that this person didn’t value you and that they again broke your trust?”

“No. But nothing else about the entire thing seems to make sense either. I was blamed for things I didn’t even do and was just thrown away like I didn’t matter. I owned up to the mistakes that I had made and apologized but what could I do for things I didn’t even do? I can’t help clarify something that I don’t even know bothers someone. It took me sometime but I forgave this person for the way I was treated because I really don’t want to be angry with this person but I can’t forget what happened. It sucked to be treated that way. Do you know how it feels like to be kicked in the gut when you’re at your most vulnerable? I have never felt as vulnerable as I did when I reached out to them the last time in the hopes of mending whatever was left. It sucked to see how it unfolded at the end.

I never intentionally wanted to hurt anyone and I recognized the same was true for them. It was tough and challenging and so confusing. I can imagine it was the same for this person but I honestly don’t know what else I could have done. And that’s the thing, I felt like I was the only one trying to take responsibility for my actions and trying to mend it. If the other person gives up so easily, that to me means that I wasn’t important. May be I just need to accept that.”

“If this person was here today, what would you tell them?”

“I don’t know. Tell me the truth? Let it go and just be normal? Ask me questions and let me clarify things before jumping to conclusions? Tell me that I can’t trust you to keep things to yourself? At least listen to what I am saying? Or tell me how you can be angry with me for things that didn’t even happen? If I could forgive you, why couldn’t you? I didn’t ask for what happened. I didn’t have control over more than half of what happened. I didn’t even do half of what you said I did.

Frankly, at this point, I don’t know if any of this matters. They made a decision which was easier for them to make without making any effort to talk to me and that’s about it. I was not even given a choice in the entire situation. So even if we talk today I don’t know how much the answers would matter if this person doesn’t want to be friends. For all I now, whatever I say will be broadcasted to others anyway”

“Sounds like you still can’t trust this person”

“I want to but I don’t know anymore. How does it matter anyway when this person doesn’t care? They are much happier now.”

“Can you be sure that it was easy for this person to let go? Sounds like you were pretty close. Do you think there could be another reason?”

“Going by this person’s actions in the past few months and the very limited conversations that we had, it seemed like it was easier for this person to cut me off than to continue being a friend. It also seemed like they had wanted to do it for some time but me reaching out to them was the final push to officially say it. But I am not sure. In fact, I find it hard to believe it was any easy for them which makes it more confusing.

Then, going by our last one-sided interaction, my mistakes (those I made and did not make) were too many to be forgiven. I don’t know what other reasons there were because we hardly communicated when things started to get tough. I can’t force someone to challenge their perceptions or to try mending something that they would rather let go off. And I have stopped asking myself the “why”. So no, I can’t say for sure what happened or how hard or easy it was for them. The sad truth is I’ll never believe that they wanted to hurt me intentionally even if their actions indicate otherwise but I don’t even know what to do with that. It would just be easier if I could be angry with this person. I have tried that but it failed.

I sometimes feel like I am being too hard on myself and on this person but I honestly don’t know anything anymore. At other times, I feel like I am giving up. I feel like I keep victimizing myself everytime I think about what happened and I hate that feeling. I was not a victim and I recognize my role in this situation too.”

“What would you tell your best friend to do if she was in a similar situation?”

“Depends on whose best friend I am. If I were this person’s best friend, I would give this person the same advice. If the betrayal was too much and intentional, I would ask this person to walk away from me. If it was frequent and I didn’t show any regrets or hope of working on myself, I would ask this person to walk away too. If it was neither and I was important to this person, I would ask this person to communicate with me and work it out. Since this person didn’t do that, I assumed my mistakes were too big to be forgiven or that I was not important.

On the other hand, if my best friend was in my situation, I would ask her to stop trying, accept the circumstances and let it be. There is nothing more that my best friend could have done and I can’t keep letting my best friend blame herself for what happened. Yes, I can see there’s the answer that I was not willing to accept. It’s not giving up on the friendship but giving up the need to do something about it. I just really cared about this person and wanted it to work out. This sucks”

“It does. So you will give your best friend who trusts you the same advice that you will give yourself. What if you’re wrong? Will your best friend get mad at you for giving her bad advice?”

“I don’t think so. She’ll know I have her best interest in my heart. No matter what she chooses to do or what happens, she will have me by her side. I imagine she’ll know that I won’t be right all the time. Okay, I understand what you’re getting at. I trust my advice for my best friend but don’t trust myself when it comes to me “

“Why do you think it’s that way?, the Therapist was on a roll.

“I don’t know. I can’t even figure out when this started but I can see now that I have a major challenge trusting myself which has only worsened in the past few months. It’s almost funny because I can now count multiple situations where I have pulled myself out of my suffering. I asked for help whenever I could and that all helped.”

The Therapist relaxed in her seat. “When we face difficulties, it takes courage to ask for help and even more courage to accept help. Your coming to therapy shows that you can trust yourself to find ways to help yourself. You might not know how to but you’re willing to do the work to get the answers and that’s not something everyone chooses to do. Can you see how you’re helping yourself?”

“Yes”.

“Good. That’s the first step. When you begin to allow yourself to be vulnerable around someone else, you take the steps to ensure that you can trust this someone. Here, you can only know how much you know about this person or their situation but you make sure to know enough before getting vulnerable. You can trust yourself to do this because that’s what you’ve always done. That’s step two.

Finally, how others react is not something you can control. But, you can try to control how you react if you feel betrayed. You’ve acknowledged yourself that people don’t always break your trust because they wanted to harm you. They might not even know how much something means to you before encountering that situation. It doesn’t mean what they did was not wrong or right. It just means that they didn’t know any better. In such situations, you can decide for yourself what you want to do in the future.

Then there are those situations where people harm others intentionally. In such situations, we can do what we think is right to protect ourselves.

But can you forsee any of this before it even happens?”

“No I can’t. I can hope that my trust doesn’t get broken but that’s about it.”

“Exactly. When we put expectations on people around us, we don’t give them room to make mistakes. We expect them to behave in a way we want to them to behave. When they don’t, we feel hurt. When they make mistakes, we make ourselves and them pay for something that was outside both of our controls or for something that either of us didn’t know how to manage but were doing the best to manage.

Just like you didn’t want to intentionally harm your friend, do you think all these people who made you feel betrayed wanted to harm you?”

“No. I mean I can see who did it intentionally but even for them, I can see it was more about themselves and not about me. For others, I don’t see that their actions were deliberately taken to harm me. They were unsure of what to do themselves. It looks like we’re all equally clueless most of the time. I am not a victim afterall”.

The Therapist smiled, “It would seem so. We’re all learning all the time. The first step towards healing is to recognize thought patterns within ourselves that keep bringing us back to the same conclusion irrespective of the situation. It’s only when we start to break the patterns, that true healing begins.

You’re breaking a pattern today by acknowledging that you have trouble trusting yourself and that you’re not a victim. Next step would be to forgive yourself and get rid of the guilt that you’re carrying by simply reminding yourself to trust yourself when a similar situation arises.

So now, I want to ask you again – if this person was here, what would you tell them?”

Giving a long exhale, she said, “I don’t know why it happened. I have no answers for you. I am sorry for making your life tough and I am sorry for whenever I have hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you or to cause you pain. On the contrary, I was trying to do what I could to avoid causing you pain but I failed at that. I was hurt too. I don’t know why you did what you did. I might never know. But I choose to believe that you didn’t realize how much your actions would impact me and I believe you wouldn’t have intentionally wanted to hurt me. I also can’t carry on with this guilt of hurting you or keep wondering what I could have done differently. I couldn’t have known anything before things started to happen. I don’t know about you but it was a very tough time for me and I still don’t know how I could have managed it better than the way I did. I don’t know if anyone could. I sometimes regret opening up to you and at other times, I feel I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the same time, I don’t know why you made the decisions that you made and I don’t know if you broke my trust again. I don’t even know how much I or my trust matters to you. But this has got to stop and it stops with me choosing to be compassionate with myself and with you, and I am choosing to forgive myself and you for our mistakes. I can only hope that someday you can hear me and forgive me too.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“Freer? Like I don’t have to be consumed by the what ifs and whys anymore. It’s strangely comforting to know that I don’t know a lot of what happened and that I don’t have to try anymore. It’s also funny how most of the challenges that we perceive are not challenges with others but are our struggles with ourselves and the way we perceive our surroundings. It always comes down to our insecurities, our love for ourselves, etc. I can also see how trust and forgiveness starts with ourselves”

“It is funny. We keep looking for answers from others and keep blaming ourselves or others. Sometimes, either they or we are responsible for what happened. At other times, it just takes some effort to see what our thoughts are telling us and changing those thoughts to change a pattern.

We’re at the end of our session but before we leave, I have a homework for you. I want you to write down 3 different situations in your life where you’ve felt betrayed. Follow a simple exercise:

  1. Write down the situation
  2. How did it make your feel?
  3. What were your thoughts when it happened about the other person and about youself?
  4. What are the facts around this situation that you’re certain happened?
  5. What are your perceptions about this situation?
  6. What other ways can you look at this situation after removing the perceptions?
  7. How does the new way to look at the sitation make you feel?

Let’s discuss what you write down next time we meet.”

“I’ll work on that. Thank you, Dr!”

“Thank you. I’ll see you next week!”

Tulips

At the tender age of sixteen, when other kids were craving parties and movies, he was forced to see the ugly truth of humanity. Something that he had been running away from was finally over. He had overcome a major struggle. And he knew who he wanted to share his success with.

Today everything was going to change. He was finally going to tell her how he had felt all along. The summer had been amazing and all the insecurities that he had felt all those years, all the fears, all the self-doubts; he had finally overcome it all. He knew it in his heart – She provided him the strength and confidence to deal with it all. If they hadn’t met and if she hadn’t provided him her support, he would have continued to let his past get the better of him.

After spending a week at his grandmother’s house and getting some alone time to reflect on the past few months, he had made up his mind to tell her that she was the one for him. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t care about the repercussions. He just had to let it out, hoping and knowing deep down inside, she felt the same.

With a bouquet of yellow tulips, he left for her house. There was so much excitement filled with bouts of anxiety. Would she smile? Would she hug him? Or would she turn him down? In the end, it didn’t matter. He had to let her know how he felt. How could he have known what life had planned for him?

When he reached her house, he saw some men loading furniture inside a truck. He stopped, trying to make sense of what was happening. Then he saw her bicycle being loaded too. Was she leaving? Where? Why? For how long? They hadn’t spoken for two weeks. What had changed?

He parked his bicycle, kept the bouquet in his bag, and walked inside. Everything was packed. The living room, the kitchen, the bedrooms. What was happening?

“Hey There!”. He summoned the courage to turn towards her. She looked exhausted like she hadn’t slept for days. But even tired, she looked as beautiful as ever. Catching hold of his emotions, he asked: “What’s going on? Are you moving to a new house?”

“More like moving to a new city. Dad found a new job last Wednesday and we are moving. He needs to be there by tomorrow.”

He felt numb. The reality of the situation sinking way too slow. Was this really happening to them? Was she really moving away? They had just met and had only just realized their feelings for each other. Or was it just him?

“Why didn’t you tell me?”.

“You were out of town, not even reachable on phone. I am glad I could see you before leaving”.

He felt hollow within. Would it have made a difference if he hadn’t left? If only he had told her before he left. But he wasn’t ready, how could he have known?

“You better don’t disappear on me. Email me, call me, text me or even better visit me.” She had a smile on her face. Was it his mind’s wishful fabrication or did her eyes not agree with her smile? There was so much confusion. “Let me help you pack”, he finally said, hoping some time would help him process everything.

They went to her bedroom. It was practically all packed. Her bed, her wardrobe, the couch he used to lay in while they listened to her uncanny collection of rock music, her computer where they spent days watching random flicks. All packed away in cartons.

“I have been trying to decide what to do with all these books. Mom wants me to sell them, but I don’t want to. You know how I feel about them. Can’t understand what to do”.

“I’ll take the books. Will give them to someone who can’t afford to buy.” He knew it was a lie. He would never let them out of his sight. She gave her a look, a look that said – I know you’re lying. But she didn’t say anything.

“So how does it feel to leave? You have been waiting to relocate to a big city for a long time now. New city, new people, better opportunities. Must be excited.”

It was her turn to look away.

“I am not sure. You know I was never fond of this town. Knew I didn’t belong here. Things I want to do in life, I’ll never be able to achieve any of that here. It’s an opportunity but”. 

“But you will miss it”. She didn’t respond, silence hanging in the room. Should he tell her how he felt and ask her to stay? If not now, then when?

He had so much to say. But all he could do was walk towards her and hug her. It felt so good to hold her close but also so sad like he was losing her forever. 

“I believe you will be fine. You know all the dreams you have? You will fulfill them. Yes, it’s going to be a change, but you will rock it. If anyone can, it’s you. I believe in you. After all, remember it’s in your blood?”. She chuckled. It was their inside joke. They pulled away and started to pack the rest of her stuff.

Time went by in a haze. He felt her eyes on him numerous times but never looked her way, dreading that she might see through his bravado exterior like she always so efficiently did.

Before they realized it, it was time. Her dad came in and announced, “Let’s go”. He had such a broad smile on his face like this was the most satisfying day of his life. He had always liked her dad but today wished it was not a crime to punch your prospective father-in-law.

He stepped outside to say his goodbyes to her parents. When she came outside, she looked like a bewildered child who knew her life would never be the same again. He walked over to her, still not looking at her and searching for the right words to speak from the millions he had going through his mind.

“I am going to miss you”, she confessed with so much honesty that he finally had to look into her eyes. 

“So will I. Take care and email me once in a while.”.

“Everyday.” 

They hugged and he couldn’t help but wonder if this was the last time.

Just like that, she went away from this town, away from him.

Taking the bouquet out of his bag, he wandered to the park where they used to sit through their endless unfledged conversations. Flashes of memory went through his mind. This was the place he had let her into his world and had let his guard down in the presence of someone else. This was their place and now she was gone, and he was alone. He finally let himself shed a painful tear. For a long time, he stared at nowhere letting himself feel all those unspoken emotions.

After what felt like hours, he looked at the Tulips again. Throwing the bouquet up in the air, he exhaled, “We’ll meet again”. 

Exploring Relationships

Let me start by saying I am a novice when it comes to relationships and especially the topic that I am going to write about – open relationships. Some of my recent experiences have made me curious to learn more about non-monogamous relationships and learn why people choose to get into one. Everything I say here is coming from a person who has always valued monogamy but being the curious individual I am, I can’t help but learn more about this lifestyle. So please, expect unintentional mistakes.

I have recently started to expose myself to situations where I meet people coming from different backgrounds and having varied lifestyles. I have been consciously working on understanding different perspectives, learning what works for me and what doesn’t, and leveraging these experiences to build a life that I want. I have realized that one of the best ways to learn what you want vs what you don’t is to dive right into something that’s out of your comfort zone and experience first-hand what is it that you want.

I was first introduced to the idea of polyamory through a show on Showtime, “Polyamory”, and was surprised to see a lifestyle that I had only heard a few people followed. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why Jennifer Gold chose to go down this path when she was struggling to go through with this idea throughout the first season. I must say I couldn’t bring myself to watch season 2 so I am not sure what happened with her eventually. But for me, her partners forcing her to not give validity to her feelings, forcing her to be comfortable with sharing her husband when getting into such a dynamics was not her idea, and invalidating herself to “fit in” sounded like torture. It was as if she was too scared to be by herself and needed some help with self-acceptance and self-worth rather than being forced into something she didn’t want.

I know I sound very judgemental but hear me out. When I watched this series, that series and my perceptions were the only lenses I had to view non-monogamous relationships. However, I want to be anything but stuck to specific thought patterns. This curiosity led me to speak to people who seek out such relationships.

From what I have learned so far, non-monogamy is a way to enjoy a relationship for what it is without forcing it to be what it’s not. In relationships, we often seek out our partners to fulfill a need or a desire. When our partners can’t fulfill that need, we either ask them to fulfill it anyway or shut down parts of ourselves that desire that specific need. When this need is extremely important to us but can’t be fulfilled with our current lifestyle, we seek out different ways to fulfill these needs. When some of these needs can only be fulfilled by another human being, we unintentionally or intentionally enter into relationships with people outside of our primary relationship with/without the consent of our primary partner.

Most of us are aware of the emotional and mental distraught that a physical affair can cause. However, an often-overlooked type of affair is what is called an “emotional affair”. I learned about this type of affair only recently and it opened my eyes to the complexity of human relationships. An emotional affair is when a person invests more emotional support into a friend or someone outside of their romantic relationship than they invest in their partner. In an emotional affair, the person also receives more emotional support from outside the marriage than they receive from a partner. To learn more about emotional affairs, try reading more here. From the third person’s perspective, try this. These affairs are especially confusing and intense because, unlike physical affairs, emotional affairs always involve someone important to us, mostly a close friend, is more emotionally intense, has no label because there might be no physical intimacy involved, and ends up hurting everyone involved. It’s also easier to deny this affair because of lack of physical intimacy and gets more complicated because the people involved in an emotional affair might not even be aware of being in one.

This to me raised a question – why do people cheat? A recent study involving 495 people found eight key reasons for affairs: anger, self-esteem, lack of love, low commitment, need for variety, neglect, sexual desire, and situation or circumstance. Per the study, “though most cheating involves sex, it is rarely just about the sex itself. Most participants felt some form of emotional attachment to their affair partner, but it was significantly more common in those who reported suffering from neglect or lack of love in their primary relationship.”. What makes emotional affairs interesting is such relationships give an individual the emotional connection and validation that’s missing from their romantic relationship without having to acknowledge being in an unfulfilling relationship or verbalizing their feelings for the third party. It’s also certainly easier to end these affairs to protect the primary relationship because of a lack of label or recognition of an affair. Nonetheless, the ending can be equally emotionally and mentally distraughting for people involved in the affair.

Then why do people continue to stay in a relationship where they are not satisfied? I don’t know if anyone has the absolute answer to this question. Reasons can include lack of self-esteem, lack of physical contact, fear of loneliness, fear of starting anew, time lost in building the previous relationship, fear of instability, fear of judgment from society, self-rejection, lack of self-awareness, societal pressure, etc. With emotional affairs, there can be a plethora of additional reasons. Most common reason is unwillingness to accept the reality of the existing relationship and fear of letting go of something stable. A partner who doesn’t get what they want from a relationship and is too afraid to take necessary actions for the fear of losing someone they once loved, starts to rely on people outside of their partnership for these emotional needs to be met. Since, these relationships don’t involve a physical component, it can be easy to mistake these for just close friendships. What makes these especially challenging is the fact that the people involved in emotional affair might not even realize that they are in one until one of them call it off. This results in all the parties getting hurt without even realizing why it hurt as bad as it did.

What a few people who are in an open relationship have told me is that they choose to be with their primary partner because they still love this person and don’t want to live without them. While some people have repeatedly cheated on multiple partners just to find that they can’t be in a monogamous relationship, some have found that exploring other relationships have led to more satisfaction and closeness with their primary partners. Some important aspect of open relationships are trust, honesty and communication. The author in this article highlights what her non-monogamous relationship looks like, what drives her to be in one, the challenges of being in one, and the rules that she and her boyfriend follow to ensure a healthy relationship. My conversations with other people who similarly choose to be in an open relationship showed that they also share similar beliefs and values and seem to be managing it fairly well.

While these conversations opened my eyes to a kind of relationship that I could never have been able to make sense of, I also met a few other folks who choose to be in an open relationship because of their insecurities. E.g., I recently met someone who was in an open marriage “secretly”. The couple had decided to try one when one of the partners had requested permission to have physical intimacy with people outside of this relationship. As their conversation evolved, jealousy took over and things got messed up until the other partner realized that they wanted to explore their sexuality. Now, both the partners are actively exploring this aspect of their relationship. Sounds like any other open relationship, right? Except the person exploring their sexuality is also looking for emotional intimacy from someone else. This is where I got confused. If someone wants emotional and physical intimacy from somewhere else, why be in a relationship in the first place which clearly seems to be lacking in multiple areas? Why not fully explore what the world has to offer and set the other person free too? From this person’s response, all I got was that this person is too scared to live a life alone and was choosing to be in a broken relationship in the pretense of being in “love”.

Yesterday, a friend told me that she wants to explore open relationships. When I asked her why she told me that it’s because she doesn’t think that any of her partners could fulfill all her needs. After having an extremely productive discussion which yet again opened my eyes to the benefits of being in a healthy open relationship, she realized for herself that she will never be comfortable in an open relationship and what she wanted was a partner with whom she could openly communicate her primary needs while having an active social life where she could meet her other emotional needs met. Turns out, her need to seek out an open relationship come from her fear of ending a long-term relationship where she is no longer happy. In the past, she would rather emotionally or physically cheat on her partner than have a heartfelt communication with her partner or end something that no longer meets her needs. Her therapist had advised her to seek out open relationships which had forced her to consider one but all she needed was to talk to someone about it and help her take a look at her life’s patterns and behaviors. She’s now changing her therapist who instead of forcing her beliefs on her can encourage her to identify who she is and what she wants.

Now, while I am writing this article, I can see how human relationships are much more complicated than a simple label. For me, I don’t believe I’ll be okay being in an open relationship. I want a commitment because I know when I fall, I fall hard. I would rather let the person go and deal with a heartbreak than put myself in a situation where I am not happy unless there is a possibility to remain friends. I also am incapable of providing for multiple partners at the same time. But I’ll be frank, I wish I had the emotional maturity that’s needed to be in an open relationship without taking it personally or letting any of the partners suffer. Being in an honest open relationship is hands-down better than any form of the physical or emotional affair which only leads to heartbreaks. People who can make this way of life work will continue to inspire me to have enough self-worth to not let my insecurity get in the way of my and my partner’s happiness.

I have a lot more to learn about various kinds of human relationships and I am down to learn more as I meet more people from different backgrounds. Who knows an year from now, I might change my outlook completely. To whoever is reading this article, whatever way of life you choose to lead, it’s completely valid as long as you’re honest and it makes you happy. Don’t force yourself or others into something out of fear, be it a monogamous or a non-monogamous way of life. Don’t use people to fulfill your needs because you’re too afraid to acknowledge the struggles in your relationship just to make them suffer when feelings intensify. Try being honest to yourself. Nothing is worth your happiness. It takes two people to make a relationship work and it takes three to start an affair. If you continue to ignore your happiness for the sake of being “stable”, that’s you being stuck in your comfort zone under the pretense of “love”, and you will continue to hurt yourself and those around you. Similarly, if you continue to suffer to make your partner happy, the relationship is doomed to fail.

We can never be too blind to see what’s missing in our relationship and how we’re leading others on to satisfy our unmet needs. The impact will show up in your relationship in one way or the other. Be true to yourself, your partner, and, in case of an physical/emotional affair, with the third person. To the person who is the third wheel, you will get hurt the most at the end without even having someone to fall back on unlike the person you’re involved with. Accept the situation for what it is, set boundaries for maintaining your sanity or leave! Unless your person is willing to accept their feelings and take actions, or unless you’re both mature enough to take responsibility, communicate and take appropriate steps, you’re in for a bad trip. Not all troubles need to mean an end to a relationship, not all affairs need to end with a heartbreak and not all relationships need to be there for life. There is always a choice and there is only one life. Make it count!

Connection

With the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, fires in California, earthquakes in Haiti, and the ongoing Covid pandemic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed without fully realizing what caused those uncomfortable emotions. The onset of 2020 has changed not just the way we work and relate to others but the forced isolation has resulted in some of us taking a deeper look into how we’ve lived our lives so far. For me, the past 1.5 years have forced me to question what inspires me to live another day.

One major lesson that the past year has made me realize is how insignificant we are as compared to the vastness of this maze of time and space, yet how significant our actions can be in influencing the world as we know it. To start with, it amazes me to see how most of us feel that the world revolves around us yet forget how minuscule our entire existence is when compared to the universe around us.

To give some context here, do you know how many earths can fit in Jupiter? 1300. Any guesses for how many earths would fit in our Sun? A whopping 1.3M. Any guesses for how many earths would fit in the Milky Way? ~ 6.7 X 10^(39). One 2016 study estimated that the observable universe contains two trillion—two million milliongalaxies. Some of the galaxies are similar to our galaxy while some are remarkably different but this number is only based on what we’ve been able to discover so far. Within Milky Way, scientists have been able to identify some billion planets so far and will continue to discover more as we advance in our technical abilities. 7.9 B human beings reside on Earth today which is a meager 0.01% of total life on Earth. Feel small yet?

I don’t want to say that our existence does not matter. I believe it’s quite the contrary. I don’t know how much our existence matters because we hardly know anything about the Universe that we’re a part of. This does not mean our existence is inconsequential. I believe we are uniquely placed to choose what impact we want to have on the world around us. Our actions might have a much larger impact than we can probably realize. Webster dictionary defines Butterfly Effect as a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system. Edward Lorenz, a professor at MIT and the father of chaos theory, suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado. Sounds unlikely but what if every single action on our part has the power to impact our collective existence?

Our Universe has been around for 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang. The Earth itself is not much older, having formed 4.5 billion years ago. First life appeared on Earth some 3.7 B years ago. Humans are first said to appear some 2.5 M years ago. In the grand scheme of things, humans have existed for a minuscule portion of Earth’s history.  The History & Future of Everything Yet does a good job in showing how small the entire human existence is as compared to the overall life on Earth. Yet we often feel so arrogant in our awareness, understanding, and grasp on the world around us that we presume we have all the answers. We fail to have simple gratitude towards the life around us and to our ancestors who have lived on this planet to make it possible for us to simply exist. Moreover, we fail to recognize how limited we’re in our capability to explain life itself given the minuscule time we’ve spent on this planet let alone as a part of this Universe.

Despite the vastness of this Universe, one thing that remains unchanged is that at the end of the day, we’re all we have or at least are aware of. Life on this planet from trees, animals to humans, is the only life we’re aware of. When a natural calamity strikes, we’re all we have to rely on to bring some peace and calm. When we struggle in our personal lives, we’re all we to have who can guide us to bring back some sanity. Then, why do we continue to discriminate amongst ourselves and others and create barriers when we are nothing but less than a speck in this Universe? Why do we hold ourselves responsible for human-created timelines and expectations when humanity itself struggles to find the reason behind our existence? Why do we get so absorbed in our ego that we reject anything that our feeble minds can’t make sense of?

I, recently, took a walk during the late-night hours in my city – a city that is a beautiful amalgamation of all human lives on Earth. From billionaires to homeless, from heterosexuals to anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum, from US born to people from the remotest areas of the world, from artists to spiritual leaders, this city shows you so many different ways of life that it forces you to stop and wonder what kind of life you want to live for yourself. On that late-night walk, while I saw some people enjoying the night life that the city offers, I also saw the population of homeless standing on the roadside completely devoid of awareness under the influence of drugs. I could see some hard-working professionals working late hours to achieve their goals and I could also see people like me aimlessly taking a stroll around the city. This city never ceases to amaze, scare and confuse me. It also never stops to motivate me to constantly look beyond me.

I think this is a good time as any to witness the consequences that our actions have on those around us. Maybe, it would take us thousands of years to prove the full impact of the butterfly effect. Maybe, we will never be able to scientifically prove the existence of past lives. Maybe, we’ll never be able to prove the existence of our timeless souls and maybe, we’ll never be able to understand just how much each of us is truly connected. But when we start to take a deeper look into the major events and the life around us, we can at least start to see the impact our collective actions have on the life around us.

The ongoing chaos in Afghanistan raises a question – how much impact did our collective actions have on this situation? How much impact do we have on the rising temperatures that Canada recently experienced? An ethics professor once said, “2mm of human skin has resulted in more wars on earth than any other reason for wars”. Why do we continue to find reasons to focus on our differences when we could spend the same time evolving as a species? Why is buying a Porche more important to us than creating a healthy living environment for our fellow humans and other species? Why do we consider ourselves superior to other living beings but loathe it when someone from our species discriminates against us? Why do we take our existence and “ownership” of Earth for granted when Earth has and would continue to exist without us? Instead of honoring what we have, why do we continue to exploit everything that life has to offer us? Most of all, why do we see ourselves separate from nature and other beings when every part of us comes from nature?

I don’t know why we exist but I find a strange comfort in knowing that there is much more out there than what our naked eyes can see. I find peace in knowing that my actions can have some impact on something even if I don’t always see the direct results of my actions. I find it freeing to know that I just started to exist, that I am nature, and that my nature dictates who I am, what I do when I do it, and where I do it as opposed to being dictated by the norms of unnatural rules and expectations. I don’t want to discriminate based on our 2 mm skin, our genders, our species, or our beliefs. I want to view these traits as the beauty of nature and rejoice in its creation. What I want to care about is that which connects me to other humans, to the life around us, to the earth we habitat, to the stars and planets around us, and the Universe around us. For me that something can’t be explained by the words we’ve created so far. It’s a feeling, an energy, that dictates this connection. Something that does not require words but just some awareness about who we are and how impactful our small actions can be.

Evolving Dreams

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” –Walt Disney

How many of us take the time to sit back and absorb how far we’ve come in our lives? What do you do when you find it difficult to realize that you’ve made it to where you wanted to be in your life just to recognize that you don’t know where you want to go next?

I had a huge epiphany today over a couple of drinks with a friend. It always amuses me how sometimes our intoxicated state brings out our true feelings and helps us realize what we keep ignoring in our sober states. Today was no different albeit it only took me two drinks to get drunk and have these realizations. I am also writing this blog in a drunk state but blogging is another thing that I had been avoiding in my sober state.

Yesterday, my workplace offered me yet another project to work on even though I am working 100% of my capacity. While I have been avoiding any additional workload to keep my mental peace, this specific project made me take a pause. It’s a highly critical project that I had my eyes on since I joined my organization but never pursued because of its criticality and time commitment. The fact that people recognized its criticality and decided that I should own it without me verbalizing my desires is a huge recognition of what I bring to the table. My workload is going to increase even further in the coming days, however, this time I am more than willing to take the challenge because I have accepted that I bring something to the table that makes a difference – that’s a discussion for another blog.

The place where I live today had been my dream place ever since I had first heard about the kind of life that this place offers. Looking at the kind of opportunities that I have available to me to live my dreams is what I had been working towards all my life. Additionally, I always wanted to have something in my life that added more meaning to it than just the material gains and this year has provided me just that although in not so easy to understand ways. Finally, I’ve always tried to understand what the meaning of my life is and somehow my out-of-ordinary experiences have provided me an answer to that too – my purpose in life is to be free to live my dreams.

I won’t lie, for the first time, it feels like this is exactly what I’ve wanted all along. To be me without suffocating myself with expectations from myself and from others. While I understand what had been holding me back for so long (fear of rejection/fear of abandonment), just being free to explore a side of me has felt so liberating that I have been sleeping for more hours than I normally do. I know coming out is a long journey but just taking these initial steps feels so freeing to my soul that I can’t be happier.

What I’ve understood about myself is that throughout my life I had been trying to achieve something, reach another goal, cross another milestone, prove something to myself or to others, feel safe enough to explore myself, and feel confident enough to be myself that I had forgotten how to live. When I started taking a break from my day-to-day life, I started to realize that I don’t have to actively try to achieve the next goal because I have finally started to live my dream.

My friend asked me today what my 16-year-old self would think of me when she would see me now and the answer made me feel extremely proud of myself. My teenage self would be so happy to see me that she might probably be able to cry tears of happiness. She would be astonished by the fact that I have come to a point where I can express my emotions, she would be proud of my achievements in my professional life, she would find me to be an inspiration for her to give her some motivation to overcome her obstacles and she would want to be me when she is my age. She won’t have it any other way. I do hope that I had the self-confidence that she had had when was 16 but I am sure that will show up as we progress in our journeys.

Today, I just came to realize why I had been feeling lost in the last few days/months. That’s because I had never thought of what to do once I am here. I still have a lot more to accomplish in my life and have to take so many steps to be where I want to be eventually but a simple realization of the fact that I have brought myself to a place where I can see multiple options open up for me is a huge achievement.

I feel proud of myself and I have started to see myself as an inspiration for myself. I told one of teachers back in March that I am my guide but didn’t really understand the depth of that sentence. Today, I know what it means. I am started to trust myself again to take care of myself and I aim to keep working on trusting myself more and more as I progress in my life.

Dear Reader,

Sometimes we get so lost in achieving our dreams that we fail to recognize what we’ve already achieved. Remember when you were a kid or a teenager? What was it that attracted you to someone or to call someone your idol? Can you see those traits in yourself? Why not take some time to recognize how far you’ve come in your life and how you’ve held that promise to your younger self to be where you are today? If you can be where you’re today, imagine what else you can achieve as you progress in your life.

Here’s to having dreams and believing in yourself to make those dreams a reality. You have got what it takes to build the life of your dreams. All you need is trust in yourself to make it a reality.

PTSD

*Trigger Warning – Childhood trauma

So I just finished watching the second season of “Feel Good” and couldn’t help but relate to the show in so many ways. In the show, Mae’s agent tells her that she owes her and the other girls to speak up because she has a stage to speak her truth. Mae, suffering from PTSD, has a panic attack on the stage and decides not to open up about a truth that she had been keeping with herself for 15 years. At one point, her girlfriend, fed up with Mae’s PTSD, asks her to either get a handle on the situation or to let it go as it had been 15 years since the incident. Eventually, Mae speaks up and does what she always wanted to do – confronts her abuser.

I am not sure why I am writing this here on a public forum. But I guess I know that there are others like me who I want to reach out to and it doesn’t help that I have been silent for 20+ years. Unlike Mae in this TV series, I have taken help. All the help that I could take. I have gone to therapy and have been in therapy for close to 3 years. I have meditated, actually done some pretty intense meditations, looked at all the possible avenues, tried different practices, and have even tried to open up to people but I am not sure if this PTSD ever truly goes away. It does start to get a bit better with time though.

Today, I have decided to make a part of myself feel heard by allowing it to write its story. If you’re sensitive to such content, I ask you to drop out now.

I was 3 when it started. The abuser was a guy who was almost like family. He used to stay with me in my parent’s house. My dad had a very busy job which meant he was out of the house almost all the time. My mom was taking care of all the children and all the household chores and did not really have much time to spend tending to all my needs. This meant that I spent most of my childhood till the time I turned 10 with the abuser. I am not sure how it started. I couldn’t even remember the extend of the abuse until recently. What I do remember was feeling like something was wrong. It was wrong that he kept it a secret and that he kept asking me not to share the experience with my mom.

He would sneak into my room when no one was around and I would let him. I didn’t shout, I didn’t ask for help and I kept my promise to not tell my parents. The part that hurts the most is that I loved him like he was my guardian, my brother, or something. I genuinely did. I even remember thinking that I would marry him when I would grow old. Screwed up, right? I trusted him with my life. So, even when things were happening that I didn’t like, I continued to love him. Anytime, I would tell him “No”, he would withdraw. He wouldn’t talk to me and ignore me for my days until I allowed him again. And I always went back. For the longest time, I have felt so ashamed to admit how much he meant to me. I have blamed myself for even having these feelings.

As I reached age 5, I started to feel scared. If he was in the room alone with me, I would hide. I would pray for someone to show up or for him to not to touch me – not today, I would pray. Times when I couldn’t hide, I would panic. I would take out my anger in front of my parents but would never say what was going on. I still continued to play with the abuser and continued to spend time with him because he was fine all the other times. I felt safe all the other times except when we were alone.

As I reached age 6, I started to get more scared. My anxiety started to show up and my nightmares increased. He was my family’s favorite. A hard-working man who knew how to take care of the kids. I once saw him playing around with my younger cousin and got insanely jealous. I don’t know who I was jealous of. I remember finding reasons to run away from my room any time he would try to enter. I started looking for anyone to be with to avoid being alone in a room. When he would ask me to follow him, I would look for someone to come and rescue me but no one ever came. I remember that’s when my panic attacks started to occur but no one realized what they were because I never told anyone.

When I was 8, the panic had further increased. But, now, I could see another viable victim for this abuser – my sister. I wanted to protect her but didn’t know how. So, I tried my level best to ensure that he was never alone with her. One day, while my family was sitting outside my house, he took me to a room and started doing what he always did. This time, however, my fear of something happening to my sister gave me the courage to shout at him and I told him to never touch me again. I think I received a slap. I can’t remember but there was something. Did he threaten to beat me? I can’t recall. I remember he told me if I told my mom that something would happen but I don’t remember what that was. The abuse stopped that day but I never told my parents what had happened.

My “No” didn’t make him stop though. When he couldn’t touch me, he started to spy on me any time he would find me alone, if I was sleeping, if I was in the restroom. Anytime I confronted him, he would yell at me and make me shut up. I remember constantly getting this feeling of running from my home but I didn’t know where to go. I felt quite alone and the nightmares never stopped. When I was 10, my sister and mom finally made him go away because they thought something was wrong but I never told them what had happened. My panic attacks got worse. I didn’t leave my house for two months and the doctors said I was faking it. I was not sure what I was scared of anymore but I had this insane pain my stomach, couldn’t sleep at night and felt extremely scared of something but I didn’t know what. He kept visiting my family until I was 20. My brain being my protector throughout those years did what it could do best – it removed most of the memories from my childhood until recently when I permitted it to reveal it all.

If you’re a survivor, please know that you will never be alone. You are your biggest champion. The strength it takes to pick up your pieces and mend them alone is the bravest thing any human can do. The courage it takes to make it stop with all you’ve got and the power it takes to go through life as if your entire being had not been shaken up cannot be understood by all. I am so sorry that it happened to you. It was not your fault. It never was your fault. Irrespective of your age, gender, or situation, being abused was not your choice. No is a no. Any form of forced sexual relation stemming from fear of losing someone or losing something or fear of getting hurt is abuse. You’re a survivor. You’re a warrior and you have come so far because that’s how brave you are.

I know I still have a long journey ahead to heal myself and the recurring anxiety attacks are a constant reminder that something still remains. But, I’ll leave you with this – it gets better. You’re insanely loved and you’re extremely special. Your dignity, worth, or value does not come from this experience. It comes from you and you will heal. Your past does not define you. You don’t have to label yourself as a survivor if you don’t want to. You are whoever you choose to be and you’ll be wonderful no matter what.

I’ll leave you with some tools that have helped me throughout this journey and I hope it would help you too:

  • Go to therapy – I know it can be tough to ask for help when you’ve been on your own for so long. I know it’s tough to open up about what happened and even allow yourself to remember what occured. But you deserve a chance to live life fully. If your past still bothers you, give yourself a chance. Seek a good therapist who specializes in PTSD and sexual abuse. Try and talk about what happened and ask for tools that can help you deal with thoughts, emotions, behaviors, nightmare or anxiety/panic attacks that you might be dealing with. It was during my therapy sessions that I realized that I have PTSD – something that I always only related to people who go wars. Some tools that I learnt during my therapy sessions are:
    • Boxed breathing
    • 5-4-3-2-1 counting
    • Grounding meditation
    • Journaling
    • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
    • Butterfly hug
  • Open up to someone – This one for me has been the biggest challenge. Over the past few years, I have tried to open up more and more about the experience. The conversations have varied from some people being extremely supportive to some people not knowing what to say. It was only when another survivor told me how talking about the experience openly has helped her better manage her anxiety that I started to open up. However, being more vocal about my experiences has helped me stand in my truth and has helped reduce the hold that this experience had over me. It has also helped me understand who I can trust.
  • Reiki/Meditation – Meditation helped me bring these feelings out in the open and stopped having the control that it held over me by showing up in unexpected ways. It also helped me recall the fragments of my memory that had been blocked. If you decide to meditate, please know sometimes the intensity of these emotions can get too much to handle. I would recommend having a therapist at this point so that someone can help you manage these emotions when they show up.I recently took a certification in Reiki and now practice giving myself Reiki. While the science is still trying to figure out how Reiki works, for me it has given me the strength to process my unresolved feelings, remove negative emotions and heal. It’s also helping me heal myself physically and mentally.

Finally, love yourself and care for yourself. You deserve all the love there is and you deserve all the happiness in the world. Whoever you are, I wish a time soon comes when the past does not bother you anymore and you find parts of yourself that you lost in the process.

Driving Your Anger

I love how sometimes random online searches can lead to a major realization. These days I am watching a TV series – “Feel Good” which is a story about two bi-sexual girls who are trying to understand their sexuality while working on their emotional healing and re-watching another TV series called “I’m Sorry”. “I’m Sorry” is a hilarious take on a not-so-typical mom who has a super weird yet funny sense of humor and is hilariously and unabashedly herself. In one of the episodes, she goes to a bookstore and ends up buying “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. While I’ve not really read this book, I had read enough online articles to be curious about how to further identify my love language. My curiosity led me to 5 Love Languages – a website maintained by the author himself, and a series of quizzes that helps the users identify their own love language, apology language, and anger language. The first two bits were not very surprising except it turns out my second love language is physical touch but I realized that I need to feel super comfortable & safe to allow myself to receive or give any form of physical touch, and my least important apology language is “restitution” which I always thought was important to me. Who knew I never really want people to pay for their mistakes as long as they apologize and make amends? 

The part that proved to be most beneficial and revealed something about me that I had been struggling for a while to identify is what triggers my anger to a point where I lose control. I have never been proud of how at times my anger gets the better of me and had been trying to find ways to better manage it. I had taken a couple of measures to manage anger in my day-to-day life but I knew I was missing the source of this anger. Today, I realized what triggers my anger – the pain of not been heard or seen. This for me is a major realization as it gives me a way to meet this unmet need and work on better managing my anger.

The emotions that bring out parts of us that we’re not proud of are often related to an unmet need. When we’re forced into a situation where someone or something exposes this unmet need, our defense system goes into action and protects itself the way it knows best. Some people retrieve into their cocoon, some people react harshly while some get defensive. In my case, whenever I feel unheard or unseen or unvalued or unsafe in a situation, I get angry at myself for not taking a stand and at others for not “hearing” me which has been a default way to protect myself. When my defense mechanism kicks off, my anger lets me take back control of the situation as it’s through this that I feel heard.

Anger is not always bad. It’s a perfectly natural and a healthy response to certain situations where it helps us protect ourselves when our self-respect or dignity or safety is at stake. However, other times, anger is a defense mechanism that hurts us and those around us more than it helps. My anger and I have had a long-term complicated relationship. Whereat times I have thanked my anger for helping me achieve goals and act bravely in situations, at other times my anger and especially the words spoken while I was angry has caused more harm and hurt to all those involved. Relationships have been impacted, feelings have been hurt and sometimes apologies have not been enough.

While this unmet need of not been seen or heard stems from my childhood and I can see how my environment might have contributed to it, I also realized that the biggest culprit for this unmet need was me. My desire to give in to my temptations and not respecting myself, not valuing my emotions, not taking a stand for myself, giving in to the fear of losing someone/something, and not believing in myself had oftentimes resulted in me putting myself in situations where I was not valued. While sometimes, I have taken actions to remove myself from such situations or improve such situations, at other times, I have simply continued to be a passive receptor. I have allowed people and situations to continue to hurt me and have refused to take a step when that’s what I needed. My fear of losing people or a job or a goal I valued has also led me to continue putting myself in situations where I continuously felt the need to prove myself and where I kept waiting for others to give me what I could have given myself – acceptance and validation. When this need was not met by others and from me, it has resulted in me lashing out in anger to protect myself.

Dear Reader,

Phew! It feels strangely freeing to recognize this source. This realization gives me awareness into a part of myself that needs healing and allows me to take conscious actions to better manage my anger while valuing myself and my power. If you are struggling with identifying and better managing your anger, I would highly recommend taking the above quiz to understand how you respond in different situations that make you angry. If you are honest during the quiz and observe closely, you will start to see a pattern in how you behave when you’re angry. Recognizing your reactions can be the first step towards recognizing your triggers. E.g., if your anger makes you distance people who love you, it might be because of your prior experiences with getting hurt when you were vulnerable with those you love. Digging deeper into such examples from your childhood and teenage years can help you understand what pain triggers your anger to show up. When you become aware of the unhealed emotional wound, you can chose to sit with yourself and feel the emotions that the wound brings up in you. Once you accept this emotion, you start to heal and slowly start to let go of the underlying emotion because now you become the source for tending to your needs. So, the next time you’re in a similar situation, you allow yourself to take a pause and ask yourself if you’re about to react because of your trigger or because of a genuine threat. This gives you an opportunity to not react to a situation like you would by default and instead respond how you would like to without repeating a pattern.

Defense mechanisms like anger might have helped us handle adverse situations when we didn’t know a better way to protect ourselves. Healing these wounds and tending to these unmet needs, not only prevents us from repeating patterns that don’t serve us anymore but also help us feel better about ourselves and end co-dependency. When we start giving ourselves the love and attention to that part of ourselves that couldn’t get from someone else, we start to feel whole and self-reliant. We take our power back and stop relying on an external source to give us what we can give ourselves. We stop allowing external situations to have control over us and we set ourselves free.

Today, allow yourself to listen to your anger and hear what it’s trying to tell you about yourself. Allow it to be free from situations where it has served its purpose and is no longer needed. Thank it for protecting you all those years and bid goodbye to old friend who was just trying to protect you.

Saying “Yes” To Ourselves

“I invite each of you to let go of your fears for just one day and say YES to life… say YES to love… say YES to You! You can always go back to saying ‘no’ another day.”
― Alaric Hutchinson

We all pursue happiness in different ways. Famous saints, authors, speakers, and professors, speak about the plethora of ways to find happiness. Some common suggestions include do more yoga, be more mindful, establish boundaries, exercise, follow stoicism, socialize more, go to therapy, etc. Some go as far as to say that “Happiness is a state of mind”. Well, tell that to a kid dying of hunger. Don’t get me wrong. All these philosophies and tools are good for those who follow them and for those who can benefit from them. If some preaching or tool adds value to your life and makes you feel happy, do it. Don’t stop yourself. But don’t just rely on external preachings to find your happiness. Have you ever listened to a Ted Talk and got insanely inspired by the words of the speaker just to lose that inspiration as soon as the video ends? Or have you ever listened to a preacher and felt like you finally know how to make yourself happy just to lose the meaning of his/her words in the next few days? I must have tried at least 20 different practices myself and they all brought some benefit but only a few things stick. However, the one simple technique that no one told me about because it’s not mentioned in any of the preachings but the one that has proved to be most significant to me was a simple word – “Yes”. Saying “yes” to myself.

For the last few weeks, I have been feeling nostalgic and missing home. Due to Covid restrictions, I haven’t visited my family in more than an year and I can’t wait for the next time I get to travel. As a result, it’s common for me to miss home and my family every now and then. However, this time the feeling felt stronger than ever before until last week when I woke up one morning with this heaviness that I couldn’t shake. This time I chose to sit with my feeling and talked to myself like I would to my best friend- “You can’t go back to hometown at this time. You can talk to your parents over a video call but that will only give you temporary relief. What is it that I can do to help you process this feeling?”. The answer came within seconds – “I want to go to the place I lived back in 2019”. This was an apartment that I had spent 3 months of my life where I had felt very independent and responsible. So, without a second thought, I took a cab that cost me $100 and made a 1-hour long trip to the place I once called home.

This place was still the same as I remembered it. There is a huge market area next to my former apartment that I used to frequent every day after work. There are some nice parks in the neighborhood and a trail where I used to go on long walks and run. I ended up spending some time in the market complex, followed by a walk across the parks and the trail. This trail had seen me introduce some changes to my lifestyle back in 2019. It has seen me give some importance to my body, had seen me lost in my thoughts, create my dreams and be constantly amazed by the life that I was surrounded with. I ended up spending about half a day near my former apartment building and it was only at the end that I realized why I wanted to go back there.

Those 3 months had seen some unique changes in my life and mindset. I had found my dream role, got better at identifying my strengths and my weaknesses, I had realized where it was that I wanted to live my life, I had broken up with my then partner, I had met my best friend but above all, this was the place that had felt safe for me to be myself and see whom I could become one day. While walking on the trail, I asked myself what feelings did that place brought up in me and I realized that I got the feeling of being at “home”. The answer made me wonder what was it about that place that made it feel like home and it was then that realized what I had been missing for so long.

In those 3 months, I had spent most of my time working on projects that I loved. I went to bed at the same every night and woke up feeling fresh irrespective of how stressful the work was at times. I gave myself the permission to step out of my comfort zone and tried experiences that I always wanted to try but did not for fear of what others might think. I had recognized who I was at that time and had realized that I was forcing myself to be in a relationship that was not bringing me happiness anymore. I was passionate about my work, learned every day, and was in love with the impact that my work was making in the world. I went on runs (something that I am not very passionate about), wandered around the neighborhood to explore, and had just allowed myself to observe the life that this place could offer me. I fell so in love with the experience that here I am today, enjoying the life of my dreams albeit in a different city, and being proud of myself for making it.

My “yes” to my unnecessary request to go to my former apartment brought out that feeling of being at home again. That half a day that I spent wandering about just like I used to back in 2019 helped me realize one significant lesson – “Home is where I want it to be”. I can make any place feel like home because it’s not about the place, it’s about the experiences, the people, the hobbies, the love, self-love and the wisdom that I surround myself with.

A week later, here I am having done some experiments with the practice of saying “Yes”. Before I proceed, saying “yes to yourself” does not mean saying yes to every temptation. It’s recognizing that we want to do something but are not necessirily seeking instant gratification. Last Sunday, I wanted to look for a gathering of some spiritual people because I had been aching to meet more people with a spiritual inclination. A little research on Facebook led me to an event that I couldn’t have imagined myself attending. The event was meant to go on for 3 hours and I was scared to put myself between unknown people for that many hours without even knowing what it was meant for. Before leaving my apartment, I told myself that if I didn’t like it, I would leave within an hour – that’s a practice I have developed to parent my inner child. Except I ended up loving the experience. I met people whom I could connect with instantaneously and got invitations to come for more future gatherings. Even more than the community that I got access to, meeting these people gave me an important learning that I didn’t know I had been waiting for – No one knows what the purpose of life is but everyone is trying to figure it out the best way they can. You see, I had been trying so hard not to make mistakes and to find my life’s purpose because I don’t want to see myself fail that I didn’t realize that I had started living my Spirituality out of fear. I was trying so hard to find the perfect teacher, guide, or Spiritual leader who could guide me that I had failed to realize that I create my path. My Spirituality comes from me. I am my Guide and I don’t have to look for a Guide outside of myself. This small event gave me more than my attempts at socializing has given me in the past few months.

The above two encounters proved to be a stepping stone into me stepping back into my power. Sunday’s event followed two more sessions with people who I had been avoiding because I was afraid of following the wrong path. Meeting these people gave me more encouragement to build a life that I want to live. I also ended up enrolling for a course that I had been thinking about for more than a year now but could never validate my want enough to pursue it. A few days back, when I got this feeling to explore a new park in my city, I strolled through a park aimlessly for an hour just to find a lady whose physical fitness inspired me to enroll the help of a trainer because I realized my strong desire to have a better physical life and because I realized that I need help in this area of my life to be as fit as I want to be.

I am pretty new to the idea of saying “Yes” to myself but I can already see how this can benefit me and help me become what I want to be. There are many benefits of saying yes to yourself:

  • You start to say “No” to things that don’t align with you simply because you won’t have time for anything that doesn’t add value to your life
  • You start to give yourself the validation and attention that you deserve
  • Every day you learn something new about yourself
  • You stop dreaming and you start living your dream
  • You stop living the life that makes you “seek” happiness and find happiness in your every day life
  • You stop running away from yourself because you love who are
  • You start to admire the beauty around you and find ways to identify those elements of beauty within you
  • You start to prioritize yourself and become more credible with your needs and desires
  • You stop living your life to meet other’s expectations because you have your own dreams to realize
  • You start to live

Dear Reader,

Finding happiness outside of you or trying to make sense of life through the words of someone else can only bring us temporary relief. When one of these tools or philosophies fail or do not meet our growth, we end up criticizing these ways. The reason is not because those ways were wrong, it’s because they don’t meet our needs for ourselves. The self-help books, the motivational speakers and artists, the various Gurus are not wrong. They all show different ways to make your life a little better. However, if you’re like me where you seem to lose the meaning of these words or tools after following them judiciously for a while, try and change your lens, and spend some time with yourself. Ask yourself what makes you happy. Ask yourself why you admire a talented artist. Is his/her art something that you want to create but are too scared to start? Are you saying “Yes” to everyone else but forgetting to say “Yes” to yourself? There is no shortcut to happiness because there is no definite path to happiness. Happiness is what we make of it. It’s different for every individual because we’re all unique and we’re all capable of finding that path for ourselves.

In the Spiritual/Religious community, I see people running after Enlightenment or Salvation or whatever you want to call it. Every Guru/Teacher/Preacher seems to have cracked the final code or the right way to achieve true happiness. But can this code really be cracked when human beings have been trying to find the perfect way ever since we can remember? Is it necessary that something that worked for someone else will work for you? Can anyone other than you know what your heart, soul, and mind desire? If we don’t even know what happiness looks like to us, how can someone else give us a recipe to pure happiness? You are your Guide, no one else is because no one else can be. Everyone has worked hard in finding ways that has worked for them and it’s beautiful that some take the pain to share their paths with the world. The key aspect to remember, however, is that’s what worked for them. They are not you. You are you. We’re all humans and we all have our journeys. Even Gautam Buddha is said to have changed his preachings as he progressed in his journeys because his own perceptions kept changing the more he dived within himself. Was he wrong? No. Are his teachings the ultimate truth? Who knows? All we can know is what works for us and what does not. How can someone who is still finding his/her own path tell you that their path is the right path to follow? Their paths can guide you but no one create your path for you but you. Gather knowledge from everywhere but choose your own wisdom over the rest. Share your knowledge with those you meet because your way might help someone find their own path. But their paths will be unique to them too.

Say “Yes” to yourself, your happiness, your path, your way of being, your heart’s desires, your energy, your intuition, your feelings and your creativity. Create your life the way you want to live it not how other’s tell you to lead it. They have their own life to live, let them live. Come to the steering wheel of your life’s journey. There is a lesson waiting for you at every corner of your life and all it needs is for you to give the permission to yourself to experience it. Our destinies will meet us when it comes but this journey is ours to create. Make the most of what you have now and be the person of your dreams. Everything that draws you towards someone else is waiting to shine within you. Give yourself permission to shine and say “Yes” to life.

Love “Consumes” Us

“If you are an approval addict, your behaviour is as easy to control as that of any other junkie. All a manipulator need do is a simple two-step process: Give you what you crave, and then threaten to take it away. Every drug dealer in the world plays this game.” ― Harriet B. Braiker

I had lately started to wonder why I find it so difficult to open up to my family about my innate desires and why some of my closest friends could never know the real me until recently. I also started to wonder about the reasons behind my low self-esteem and continuous practice of self-doubt. Even now, there is only so much about myself that I have shared with those close to me and there is only so much that I am honest about. Honestly, I have written more here than what I have spoken about in my relationships.

A recent experience with someone helped me realize how much I have changed and grown in the past few months. When in the past, I would have happily undervalued my opinions and beliefs for maintaining peace in a relationship, this time I decided to be true to myself and end what would have eventually turned into another betrayal of myself. I couldn’t be more proud of myself for ending a toxic pattern that I have followed in almost every major relationship in my life. And I can’t be more thankful to this person for giving me the space to be myself.

To start with, like any other human being on this planet, I too hope to have a companion with whom I can share my life. Unlike many, I have never felt comfortable with the idea of dating and have always preferred relationships that develop organically. This year I consciously decided to go on dates and met someone whom I clicked with. In the past, whenever my relationships developed into something meaningful, I would go into a people-pleasing mode where I would be too scared of losing my partner. I would give more to a relationship than I humanly could and would sacrifice myself, my thoughts, my beliefs, my values, and my feelings to attain a sense of peace in that relationship. Why? Because I would want that relationship to turn into something meaningful someday – a marriage. I blame media, society, and movies for this belief but I always believed that being in love meant being fine with being in pain. The more there was pain, the more there was love. If someone I liked or loved was causing me pain, to me it meant that I had to change something within myself or fight the other person to change something in themselves so that I could love them. Because if I didn’t give my blood, sweat, tears, and identity to a relationship, then, how could I justify being in love? Afterall, love is passionate, it consumes us and we lose ourselves in love is the general idea of love that all poetic love stories teach us. I know this is a very distorted notion of love but the more I think about it, the more I realize how I had equaled love to pain and sacrifice of self.

Going back, I understand a major reason behind this belief is because of the environment in which I grew up. Whenever someone asked me about my relationships with my parents, I used to tell them that we had a healthy relationship where I was cherished, loved, and given permission to be myself (not the parts I hid from them but I had just accepted that as something that was utterly wrong with me). It made it very confusing for me to understand why I have had this fear of abandonment or fear of rejection since early childhood because from the looks of it, I had a healthy family life. And I did except I recently realized that it was because I never allowed myself to make a mistake or to fail or to not be the perfect kid. My parents rarely got a chance to be disappointed in me because I would be so hard on myself if I failed to be my best self that they never had much to say. I exceeded their expecations so that they could never have a chance to point out my mistakes.

I have an elder sister and an elder brother, both 6-7 years elder to me. My sister is very creative, an amazing dancer, an average student, and unlike me, very good at showing her emotions. She had quite a healthy dating life and had her own set of unique experiences with her career. My brother is very intelligent, very analytical, and similar to me, extremely bad at expressing his desires. He spent most of his time and energy building a career for himself and making a name for himself. Guess who was my family’s favorite among the two? Whose accomplishments were broadcasted out in the open and who was told in different ways that they were not good enough? Who had to constantly prove worthy of receiving the same amount of love and who was constantly criticized for not following the footsteps of the perfect kid? My sister – the person I have felt closest to throughout my life.

Growing up with siblings who were constantly compared to one another and other kids in the neighborhood and the extended family, I understood pretty well who a “perfect kid” is. It was a simple recipe – be good at academics, be famous, get involved in extracurriculars, take all those extra responsibilities at school to be admired by your teachers and classmates, speak like an adult, don’t do childish things, don’t date much for it would derail you from your path and don’t show any emotions other than happiness. I have always been told that I am too mature for my age (except when I truly open up to someone and they see all my insecurities) and that I am a high achiever. My teachers used to treat students who were not “intelligent” enough as not being special or not worthy of receiving any recognition. They were criticized in front of the entire class and were constantly made to feel inferior to their “intelligent” classmates. So when I performed amazingly well in academics, I received recognition not only from my teachers but also from my family. I was always made to “bear the burden” of “helping” another student even if all I wanted to do was play. “Good girls focus on their studies and careers, and those who focus on dating & relationships have essentially derailed from their path” was a major theme throughout my school life.

As I grew up, people started comparing me to my sister. She is 6 years elder to me and we are two very different people with very different personalities and skillsets but that didn’t matter to them. All that mattered was how well I was performing academically as compared to how she had. As a kid, I loved that comparison and loved the recognition that I got. Every time I performed better, I received what I craved for – love. Every competition I won gave me what my heart was aching for – acceptance. In 6th grade, I had my first heartbreak. My studies suffered and all I needed was someone to hear me out. But the phobia of opening up to someone especially knowing that no one would accept my “feelings” was so much that I kept it all within. Soon, my classmates started to show me contempt because now I was just another “weird” student in the class. It was a horrible experience for a 12-year-old. It took me another year to come back at the top of the class, break my record and leave the school without saying goodbye to a single person. As I grew into a teenager, I started to despise this constant comparison. I felt closer to my sister than any other human being because I could see a human who was not cherished for what she brings to the world but was forced into being this perfect image of a girl or a woman to satisfy the expectations of society.

My sister still believes that she is not good enough. It angers me to the core every time I get that feeling from her. She is the most amazing and true-at-heart human being I have met (though I’ll never tell her that because of how bad we’re in emotional conversations). She is who she is. She is so bad at lying that sometimes her love for being true irritates the hell out of me. She cares for people she loves so much that she often forgets herself, her needs, and her feelings to make others happy. Then, her pain shows up in anger and ultimately she is made to feel bad for her anger. I was often shown in different ways that all these characteristics – being emotional, not being the best in everything you do, and taking a stand for yourself was a weakness that all women shared. A good woman is poised, doensn’t swear, rarely drinks, doesn’t smoke, rarely gets angry, cares more for others than about herself, never questions her partner, doesn’t show a lot of emotions, is a wonderful cook, cares more about her partner’s career than her own and is not demanding. Well, by these metrics, I am far from being the perfect woman. But, I had to be a strong woman. So, I did what I could. I became the complete opposite of who I am – unemotional.

I took it a notch further, though. I learned how to hold and maintain a facade. A facade of being a woman who is in complete control of her emotions, who aspires to have a successful career, and who in a relationship, will cater to all the needs and values of her partner. In relationships, I used to portray an image of myself that I knew my partner would love. Trust me, I am extremely good at behaving like the perfect girlfriend who cares more about her partner than about her dreams, beliefs, and feelings. My partner’s words hurt me? No problem, he was angry. My partner’s actions hurt me? No problem, we can make it work. My partner does not respect my friends or family? Not a big deal, I will cut them off or reduce contacts. My partner does not respect my values or my identity? No problem, it’s not their problem to deal with. My partner is going through a problem? It must be my fault. I should go the extra mile to make sure that my partner is happy. My partner does not approve of my lifestyle or my past? Big deal, I’ll hide parts of myself or will change myself to fit. My partner feels insecure? It must be my actions. My God! Can you imagine the kind of stress that I was putting on myself and these relationships?

So how does all his tie back to my inability to open up, low self-esteem, and constant self-doubt? I am so used to the idea of this “perfect human” that if I do, feel or say anything that does not tie to this image, I automatically assume that I will be rejected. Before anyone can reject me, I reject myself. I hide parts of myself to feel accepted by others. When we act out of this image of what we “should” be as opposed to who we are, our self-confidence suffers because we don’t even know if something we’re saying or doing is coming from us or this image. It doesn’t help that I am pretty good at anticipating other people’s needs. So, many times, I have used this information to “make” the other person believe that I can provide what they’re looking for. This was probably the one thing that I didn’t want to accept about myself but I can’t lie to myself anymore. I can be pretty good at manipulation if I want to be. Instead of using this information of what these people needed and helping them get that, I am guilty of using this information for feeling good about myself or molding my behaviors to get validation. That makes me so not good a lady. And I realize that I did that because I was craving validation even from those I didn’t love because that’s how much I had deprived myself of my own love.

There is this constant fear of being judged and rejected for expressing ourselves fully and just standing in our truths because when we’re rejected, we lose out on love and recognition. Love is a privilege for people who fit this perfect image. When we know we’ll be rejected for being ourselves, we reject ourselves and those parts of ourselves that truly are us. We hide it under so many layers of our personalities that it would take real love to finally see us for who we are. But when someone sees us for who we are below this facade, that’s the first person we reject because we don’t want anyone to show us parts of ourselves that we have tried to hide all our lives. We keep surrendering our true selves to meet the expectations of those around us to feel something, some love, and get some form of validation. When we get so used to rejecting ourselves, we doubt everything we believe in. We start to doubt our feelings, our values, and our experiences. We become skeletal of a human being who speaks and acts like the perfect image of whom he/she is supposed to be and lose every single truth about ourselves.

Two weeks back, I had a burnout. While my work contributed to this burnout because here, again, I have created the image of a perfect employee who can move a wand to get everything and anything done with utmost perfection, another reason was forcing myself into situations just because I wanted to meet this image of the perfect human. Giving more to people and situations than I possibly could because if you care about something, you keep giving, right? One such area was maintaining a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship because I was too scared to be alone. However, this time, I purposely tried to be more honest about myself, my past, and my beliefs. And it did wonders. We both had passionate discussions about our lives, we gave each other the space that we needed to grow and breathe, there was no jealousy, no lies and there was a lot of mutual respect. It was only when it came to a core value that we both didn’t agree on and couldn’t find a way to compromise on that that we decided to remove the label and be friends instead. Because we make good friends and because we didn’t want to build this relationship on the pretext of being someone we were not. This was the first respectful and honest breakup of my life which left me feeling good about myself and my decisions. I gained a friend who could love me for who I am without needing me to change but most importantly, I gained my self-respect.

Dear Reader,

If you have to break yourself, change yourself, hide your true self and give up on everything that makes you you for the sake of being with someone or proving your worth, give yourself a break. If our family never learnt to love us for we are, we don’t have to force ourselves to be someone they can love. If the society does not know to accept us and cherish us, we don’t have to transform ourselves to win its approval. Love is never going to ask you to be anything but yourself. Love is never going to ask you to hide your true identity, feelings, or values. Love is not crying every other week over an argument. Love is not saying “Yes” when you want to say “No”. Love is not a constant self-sacrifice. If you’re not happy in a relationship (platonic/romantic), then, that’s the truth. There does not have to be anything wrong with you or the person you’re with. It can just mean that you’re not happy and that you want something else that aligns with what you are. If what makes you happy cannot be accepted by those around you, then, it’s on them not you. Love is freeing. It sets you free to be yourself, it supports you, it empowers you and it makes you fall in love with yourself every single day of your life. You won’t have to ask to be valued because love values you.

Ask yourself today, do you love who you are? If the answer is no, there is no one else in this world who can provide you the love that you’re looking for. Ask yourself today, what are you hiding from your partner/friends/family because you’re scared that they will reject you after knowing your truth? Why are you hiding parts of yourself for meeting other’s expectations? Be you. The real you. The right people will automatically gravitate towards you and the others will automatically flush out. Be your champion. Dare to love yourself and accept yourself. Challenge yourself to look into the depths of who you are and step out of the mirage of the comfort zone that you’ve created for yourself. This life will end before we even know it. Ask yourself, do you really want to live it in fear or do you want to live it and do what you want? Be the one you love when no one else can because that’s the one who will attract the unconditional love that you truly deserve. And that unconditional love starts with your love for yourself.

Taking a Break

Sometimes it’s important we take a break from everything and give ourselves some much-needed time to recuperate. We often get so absorbed in taking the next step, planning the next milestone, setting up the next goal, doing what is “right”, meeting the society’s and our expectations that we forget to just be.

I have been a lifelong believer in taking action, achieving my goals, setting & meeting expectations, performing to the best of my abilities, and taking up something new every now & then that after a while I start to lose energy until my mind and body finally collapse. If I say no to something or if I stop giving to those I care for, I feel like I’ve let them down. It’s as if I am betraying them. Before they can say something, I feel like I have disappointed them. As a result, I end up letting myself down, try even harder, and feel even more exhausted.

I can’t remember the last time I took a proper break in the past year where I wasn’t doing something about my job, my relationships, or my experience with spirituality. My life has been a roller coaster ride in the past year. If it was not me dealing with a job loss and the struggles of looking for a job during a pandemic, I was busy taking care of my emotions, my mental health and trying to identify what was “wrong” with me. The minutes I had in between was spent learning a new skill, spending 10+ hours every day in the office, or working on getting into a better physical and mental shape. Something that was successful in calming my mind down, meditation, had resulted in making it even harder to allow myself to relax and had turned my life upside down. Between getting a job and now, I have witnessed more upheavals than in the past 28 years of my life. What can be more than having your entire identity completely shaken up within a span of weeks?

Finally, a week back a point came where my body, mind, and soul decided to shut down. Imagine feeling anxious out of nowhere multiple times a day. It just got too much to bear. I decided to take a few days off from work because it became impossible to sit at my desk and have any motivation to get my work done. Not just that, I decided to take a break from everything. It even came to a point where I didn’t want to blog anymore because I felt like I had no energy left to even write. Every sentence I wrote was draining me. I didn’t cook for more than a week, my blood pressure started to drop drastically, I had to take painkillers for a constant headache, felt emotionally overwhelmed and I started making excuses to not talk or to hang out with anyone. I have gone into a recluse where it was taking 200% of my energy to have any conversations..

Yesterday, I told a colleague that I wish I could take a month off from work. My statement sounded alarm bells in her mind and she replied, “When we reach that level, it’s not good. It means something needs to be done.” While she meant that the company had to do something to improve the work environment, to me the statement also meant that I had to do something to protect myself before I collapsed. Well, now that I am taking a few days off, I am finding it extremely difficult to decide what to do. That was until I realized that that was the problem. I am so used to doing something or making something right that spending just a few hours not thinking or not working or not being “productive” feels impossible.

What I am going through is called “burnout”. The term “burnout” is relatively new, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”. While most often this term is used in terms of one’s job, other areas of life can cause a person to feel burned out too. In my case, it was everything from my job to my experience with spirituality and my constant endeavor to heal myself emotionally, physically, and mentally to improve myself. But, now, I am just tired to a point where earlier this week I told myself that I don’t care anymore and that I’ll just let things take their course without me constantly trying to prove anything. And that’s probably the best decision I could have made.

Some symptoms of burnout include:

  • Exhaustion: Feeling physically and emotionally depleted. Physical symptoms may include headaches, stomachaches, and appetite or sleeping changes.
  • Isolation. People with burnout tend to feel overwhelmed. As a result, they may stop socializing and confiding in friends, family members, and co-workers.
  • Escape fantasies. Dissatisfied with the never-ending demands of their jobs, people with burnout may fantasize about running away or going on a solo-vacation. In extreme cases, they may turn to drugs, alcohol, or food as a way to numb their emotional pain.
  • Irritability. Burnout can cause people to lose their cool with friends, co-workers, and family members more easily. Coping with normal stressors like preparing for a work meeting, driving kids to school, and tending to household tasks also may start to feel insurmountable, especially when things don’t go as planned.
  • Frequent illnesses. Burnout, like other long-term stress, can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and insomnia. Burnout can also lead to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

(Source: Identifying Burnout )

Anyone can feel burnout at any point in their lives. Typically, continual stress from a job or personal life can result in individual burnout. In my case, being a highly sensitive individual requires me to take a lot more time to de-stress and I am prone to easily getting overwhelmed. While I have started to take measures that help me better manage my stressors, there are times where things are out of my circle of control. At such times, removing myself from the situation typically helps but, then, there are times when I don’t have a way to remove myself from the situation. This time when my lucid dreams started again and some spiritual experiences started to feel overwhelming, I decided that this was it. Honestly, I had started contemplating if moving to a different country will help me. But, then, I told myself that I am done running away and that forcing myself to go through yet another drastic change is the last thing that I need. If I do decide to move, it has to be because that’s what excites me and not because I am looking for an escape which has been a pattern throughout my life. Also, right now even trying to plan for a trip is causing me anxiety let alone planning a move to a different land. I need to get a handle over this because I physically and mentally can’t continue to live like this. This has also led me to gather the courage needed to dive deeper into my spiritual experiences and confronting my fears once and for all so that nothing else has control over me. But I’ve also realized that I can’t do it alone anymore.

My decision led me to make a couple of changes in my meditation practices which have so far proved to be beneficial. There are still times when it gets overwhelming but that’s the best I can do at the moment. Next, I decided to take a step back from everything that was not critical and prioritized my need to get some peace. Finally, I ended up contacting a therapist who could understand what it means to go through a spiritual emergence. When I had my first session with her, I was hesitant to tell her about my experiences because I didn’t want yet another person to tell me that they didn’t believe me, try to find “logical” explanations for my experiences and I was too exhausted to explain myself. However, to my surprise, it seems like this person is fully equipped to provide me with the tools that I need because she has 20 years of experience working with people having such experiences. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and gets spirituality! In her words, “Psychology is the study of psyche. And psyche is spirit”. How awesome is that?!! She is perfect! It truly feels like I have been waiting for her since forever. I didn’t even have to explain any of my experiences to her because she could connect with every small incident I mentioned & used a spiritual term to describe those experiences!!!!!! Can you imagine that? And she empathized with how exhausted I feel with having to explain myself, going through this without the emotional support I need and dealing with all the loses that the experience has brought with itself while trying hard not to let the hurt get to me. The constant upsurge of underlying emotions and unveiling of past & new information means I am on the go 24*7. The best part about meeting her was that she was even more excited than I was about my experiences!!! I’ve finally found THE ONE!!!! I guess that was the benefit of me deciding to take a break 😀

In the end, I am taking a break from everything and prioritizing my mental health. I have no plans for the upcoming vacation except taking it one day at a time. It’s either going to be a disastor or it will give me the much needed peace that I am looking for. It’s confusing my friends and family but this is what my body, mind, and soul need right now. Honestly, it’s also confusing me because I am not used to not going after the next thing so sometimes I literally have to coach myself to not do something if it doesn’t provide me peace at that moment. I am taking a break to be with me and just have enough energy to do what I want instead of trying to accomplish something else.

If you or your friend/family member is burning out, here are a couple of tips that might help:

  1. Listen to their concerns & validate their emotions. Please don’t try to explain their situation to them. It won’t help you or them
  2. Don’t ask them to make plans or do anything that you think can help them. Just don’t! Not everything requires solutions from someone else
  3. Ask them what they need. If they say they don’t need anything or don’t know what they need, do something for them that you think can help them without expectations
  4. If they need some alone time, let them have it. They deserve it and so do you
  5. If you’re going through a burn out, just do what you want. If lying on a couch the entire day makes you happy, do it. If eating all the unhealthy food there is to eat, eat it. If anyone judges you, ask them to buzz off
  6. When you start to feel a little better, take it one step at a time starting with making your body and mind feel healthier
  7. Try and not engage in unhealthy behavior. Yesterday, I thought having a beer will help me feel relaxed and my body told me today that it doesn’t want me to drink beer anymore. There goes my love for beer
  8. Don’t force yourself to do something that you don’t feel like doing. Do what makes you comfortable

It’s completely natural to feel drained. Sometimes even our best intentions can make us feel drained because we might be giving more to something or someone than we humanly can. At such times, it’s completely normal to take a step back and re-establish ourselves. You can’t give more than what you have and, if you continue to, a point will come where you will have nothing left to give and that would be a loss for everyone involved. Sometimes you deserve your love more and sometimes others will need to step up to give you their support. Try not to get to a point where you overstretch yourself and if you’re already there, give yourself the break that you deserve.

Finally, continue to love yourself. Remember you’re amazing the way you are and will always be loved! Others matter but so do you! ❤


Friends

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

― Henri Nouwen

“Hey There M! Whenever you read this blog, I request you to go to Unsaid. I am running out of ideas at this point and this is the best that I can do”

So what are friends? Friends are these crazy individuals who adopt us with little to no expectations. They just show up when you need them, sometimes show up to bug the hell out of you, they’re sometimes your biggest teachers, your biggest supporters but above all, they are just these individuals who you can be yourself with without worrying about them judging you. True friendship is such a beautiful bond to have that it surpasses everything else there is. I would go as far as to say that I started to feel closer to my mom when I started to see her as a friend.

A beautiful incident happened today which prompted me to finally write a blog on friends, something that I had been delaying writing about for quite a while. For, the past 2 years, I had been struggling to say my truth to a very close friend. This particular friend is like my family away from my family, and I love her to the core. However, I had been afraid to open up to her about a part of myself that only a few knew about because I was scared that I’ll lose her if she knew my truth. Today, when I had asked her for advice on something that had been bothering me, she mentioned a message that I had sent her last year under the influence of alcohol. Turns out, the part about myself that I had been struggling to open up to her about for the last 2 years was not exactly a secret to her. Last year, I had texted her my truth but I was too drunk to remember it. When she mentioned that text, I kept staring at her for minutes before I could form any words. But, before I could say anything, she went on to make me feel comfortable and removed any fear that I had of her abandoning me after knowing my truth. I have never felt more loved and accepted in my life than I did today. She had known my truth for the past 1 year yet only brought it up today because somewhere there lay the answer to my struggle. I have no words to express how elated I feel today 🙂

The way my friends have always shown up to show me their love and support makes me believe in the power of unconditional love. Last year, I lost my job due to Covid. When I was struggling to find my strength, my friends from every corner o f the world showed up to show me their support. While a couple of friends immediately started contacting everyone they could to help me get a job, a few made themselves available to me with all they had. A friend who went to become one of my closest friends, spent hours speaking to me over the phone to comfort and encourage me to carry on with my job search & tried her best to support me while she was trying to do the best she could to deal with the way Covid had impacted her job and day-to-day life. She, later, went on to become my biggest motivator to accept myself.

Then, I have another friend who, from miles away, continues to care about me and listen to all my illogical thoughts and sometimes illogical feelings. This particular friend is a born mom & had decided to adopt me without really giving me a choice. I have a friend who feels like my soul sister whom I confide in with my deepest secrets. Every conversation with her makes me feel like I am home. Another friend who has been acting like my pillar since high school has seen me at my worst yet accepts me with all my flaws. Yet another friend knows me better than I know myself since undergrad and is not afraid to call my bullshit on my face. And there is another friend who showered me with her love and support when I really needed help. Who am I without these wonderful people who without expectations decided to spend their time and energy on me? How can I not be grateful to these powerful relationships that have offered me more love and support than I thought I even deserved?

I have been in relationships, I have had crushes and I have some crazy extended family members. While I have felt close to these individuals, these relationships could never provide me the security and safety that my friendships had. To start with, I never felt the need to hide any part about myself from my friends, and they’ve always encouraged me to follow my heart instead of succumbing to their expectations of me. I could show up, be myself, tell them about my past mistakes and be vulnerable with them and, yet, they would not stop loving me. There would be no threats, no jealousy, and just pure honesty and love. They would not fight with me for being me and never tried to change me so that they could accept me. They would scold me whenever they saw me going on the wrong track. I once had a friend scold me in front of an audience when she mistakenly assumed my desire to get a temporary tattoo from a shady shop with a permanent tattoo. It was hilarious to see her get red hot with anger! However, what her anger told me was the depth of her love for me.

And that’s the beauty of friendship. We fight, we makeup, we yell, we make mistakes yet we never abandon each other. We continue to love each other through thick and thin. We establish boundaries with each other and respect each other for who we are. We don’t unnecessarily lie to each other and accept each other’s past. We forgive each other and continue to stand with each other through the biggest challenges. We don’t try to make the other person feel bad about expressing his/her deepest desires and don’t put conditions on each other. We continue to motivate each other to follow our dreams and continue to cherish each other’s success. We just live and speak the language of love through our actions and words without expecting the other person to mirror our language.

That does not mean that it’s always all rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes, conflict arises, misunderstandings happen, trusts get broken and feelings get hurt. At such times, having someone whom we can talk to openly about what hurt us, what we could do better in the future, and respecting one another often helps to re-establish friendships. A very close friend and I once had such a rough phase when I was committed to spending my time and energy with people who were only bringing me down. I was madly in love with a guy who was neither good for my mental health nor good for my growth. At the same time, I had another friend who had no space for me but would not fall short of abusing my love for her in every way imaginable. It was a hard time for me where I had lost touch with myself and had become a supporting actor in my own life’s story. I was too scared to let these people go because I had convinced myself that I wouldn’t find anyone else and that, if only, I tried harder I could make things work. The entire experience had a huge impact on my self-worth until one day, I gathered the strength to end these toxic relationships. Throughout this experience, my close friend kept trying to help me get out of the situation in every way she could. But, me being me, continued to disregard her and, one fine day told her that we need a break. It took me 3-4 months to contact her again, apologize for my mistakes and “get back on track”. My luck, she accepted me back and we continue to get stronger with years.

My experience has told that me that if both friends are committed to maintaining a relationship, then, no way force can put them apart. They will always find a way back. If anything, the friendship would be stronger than ever before because the time apart helps them understand the value of one another in each other’s lives. This is not to say that some friendships don’t end. Sometimes the endings could be too painful. But, I feel that that happens when the friendship was one-sided from the get-go, priorities changed, people evolved in different directions so much that they didn’t have anything in common, or when the friendship was not based on unconditional love but was based on the needs of the hour. However, true friendships survive it all.

How to know if the friendship is real? To me, I find it to be real when I feel at peace when I am around a person. I don’t worry about how they would perceive me because I know that they love and respect me. I don’t worry about confiding in them my deepest secrets because I know that they will never use that information to hurt or judge me. I trust them to have my back in my absence because I know that’s how much they respect my presence in their lives. I learn from them because we’re not acting out of co-dependent love but continue to grow in our lives while supporting each other in every way possible. We forgive each other for our mistakes and don’t hold grudges because we recognize that we’re both humans and that “to err is to human”. We’re not afraid of telling each other how much we love and miss each other because we know that we’ll never be too much for one another. After every fight, we find a way back to one another because we’re not afraid of accepting our mistakes. We are not scared of having tough conversations while respecting each other because we recognize that while we can’t change the other, we can try and help the other be the best version of themselves. We don’t belittle each other for things we don’t approve of but simply hold space for them to be themselves without worrying about being abandoned for telling their truths. Above all, no matter how long we don’t talk for or how far apart we are, we continue to hold a space for them in our hearts because we recognize their value in our lives.

True friends are our mirrors. For me, they are my biggest strengths and are irreplaceable. My friends don’t need an approval from someone else because they all have a separate place in my heart. I am humbled to have met these people in this life and hope I do justice to the love that they’ve showered on me. A friend once told me, “People will come and go but our friendship will remain”. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Spiritual Emergence

Before proceeding, please take a few moments to watch a Ted Talk on Spiritual Emergence.

The term “spiritual emergence” was coined by Dr. Stanislav Grof and his wife Christina Grof, two leaders in the field of transpersonal theory, as a way of referring to breakdowns of meaning that lead to transformative growth and greater psycho-spiritual health on the part of the individual. It is, as the Grofs describe it, “the movement of an individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of deeper connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos” (Grof and Grof 1990, p. 34). The term spiritual emergence is often used in conjunction with “spiritual emergency” (also coined by the Grofs), a term used to describe a crisis state in which the process of growth and change stimulated by this “emergence” becomes so overwhelming and unmanageable that the individual is unable to gracefully return to day-to-day functioning. (Source: Webb H.S. (2014) Spiritual Emergence. In: Leeming D.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6086-2_770)

A few weeks back I got in touch with a Shaman based out of California. Speaking to her was like music to my ears. She has traveled the world, learned from the most prominent spiritual gurus, worked with the indigenous tribes from California to India, and has 25+ years of experience in Shamanism. When I spoke to her and told her about my experiences, she patiently listened to me and empathized with me. She gave me the validation that I had been looking for – It can be scary if we don’t know what’s happening but I am not alone. She introduced me to the term “Spiritual Emergence” and explained what I had experienced from the spiritual lense. And that was the first information that I had received in the past five months that made me finally feel like at least someone could understand the mental stress of going through an experience that you know nothing about.

Now, I finally came across a scientific figure who had addressed such spiritual experiences and I am so glad that I finally found someone! Just the awareness of the term, “spiritual emergence” had helped me find various therapists and organizations where trained therapists offer psychological guidance to people having a spiritual experience.

Grof describes a spiritual emergency as: “There exist spontaneous non-ordinary states of consciousness, (NOSC) that would in the West be seen and treated as psychosis, and treated mostly by suppressive medication. But if we use the observations from the study of non-ordinary states, and also from other spiritual traditions, they should really be treated as crises of transformation, or crises of spiritual opening. Something that should really be supported rather than suppressed. If properly understood and properly supported, they are actually conducive to healing and transformation”.

The term ‘transpersonal’ is used here to refer to psychological
categories that transcend the normal features of ordinary ego-functioning, that is, stages of psychological growth, or consciousness, that move beyond the rational and precede the mystical. At the root of the transpersonal perspective is the idea that there is a deep level of subjectivity or pure spirit that infuses all matter and every event. A common metaphor throughout the spiritual wisdom traditions refers to this consciousness, or living spirit, (be it called Brahman, Buddha-Mind, Tao, or The Word) as having been breathed into all being at the moment of creation as a manifestation of divine nature. It is necessary for sentient life, because experience and awareness are possible only through the activating power that flows from this Source. (Source: lycaeum)

When spiritual emergence is very rapid and dramatic this natural process can become a crisis, and spiritual emergence becomes a spiritual emergency. When I was going through this emergency, I had come across several stories of people who had gone through similar experiences for whom the lack of emotional & professional support had led them to take drastic measures, some going as far as committing suicide. Reading those stories had scared the sh*t out of me. It was only when I had read an account of another individual who had gone through a similar experience, had got himself admitted to a hospital, got an MRI/CT scan, and finally realized that nothing was wrong with him, that I started to believe that I was not alone. He, now, hosts a group on Facebook where hundreds of individuals from across the globe share their experiences about the Dark Night of the Soul. 

Listening to all these Ted Talks and hearing stories about people who could understand these experiences has helped me feel much better about my experiences instead of trying to find reasons to run away from them. It took a long time to reach here but I don’t have words to express how grateful I feel towards all these people who took the initiative to speak up. What baffles me is the lack of awareness and support for such a common occurrence. We’re aware of the most uncommon diseases and would have some therapy available for the rarest needs, but something that has been on the records by so many individuals across the globe is provided absolutely no support, let alone awareness. When a person intentionally takes classes and seeks guidance to raise his spiritual undestanding, he/she is equipped with the tools needed to guide them through such experiences. He/she has the support of their teachers and guides to help guide them through these moments. However, spiritual awakening/emergence is not limited to people who intentionally seek these out. I am a living example of such people. While some people experience this after going through a major loss, some experience it as if it’s an everyday occurrence. For me, I consciously didn’t suffer any loss but for my soul, the loss was significant enough to slap me hard & force me into an awakening. I can’t say how helpful it would have been at that moment had someone given me the right support that I needed without me contemplating taking drastic measures myself. Don’t get me wrong, I received the support that I needed from my guides but my awakening would have been much easier had these experiences received the recognition that they deserve.

Yet, another aspect that confuses me is that people who claim to be “spiritual” seem to also reject those who have such experiences. Spirituality at it’s root is based on the three pillars of mind, body and soul. Then, how can someone getting in touch with their soul be rejected by someone who is spiritual? People follow various spiritual gurus, read multiple books, pray to Gods or medidate to reach “inner peace”, yet when someone shares with them their spiritual experiences, they tag the experiences as “weird” and label the person “crazy”. How can someone who follows the words of spiritual gurus who base all their teachings on soul, divinity, energies, past lives & soul connections blindly believe the words of someone they have never met yet deny the truth of someone they know and probably care for? It’s like saying I believe in the power of technology, will use it to serve myself but will refuse to acknowledge it’s existence. It does not make sense.

It’s my utmost hope that whoever is reading this article finds this as a validation that if you or your loved one has experienced any “out of ordinary” experiences, then, you or your loved one are not alone. Speaking from experience, I know it’s tough. Some days you wake up, praying to whoever is listening to give you a break. Some days, you try hard to make sense of what’s happening and get all the answers that you need. Some days, you’re overwhelmed with emotions, memories of lives you don’t remember, feel energies & emotions that don’t feel like yours, see visions & dreams that seem so unreal but are real, experience connections that you cherish that you never knew you had, display abilities that you didn’t know you possessed, and have answers to questions that you never remember having. Some nights you can’t go to sleep no matter how much you try while some days you’re too tired to get out of bed. Sometimes you’re filled with so much energy that you can’t sit still yet other days you feel so cold that you start to shiver. Some days you wish you had just one person who could hug you and tell you that they know how tough it can get but assure that everything will be fine, and some days you’re just left wondering what is the meaning of life.

I am here to tell you, it gets better. Equip yourself with tools and knowledge that can help make sense of what’s not taught in school. Ask questions and reach out to those who have had similar experiences. But above all, believe in yourself. You’re completely normal. We’re all just becoming aware of a reality that is not captured by the streamlined media/ & today’s science/society. It’s a weird position to be in because most people close to you won’t understand anything that you’d share with them. Some might even leave when you’d most need them. No matter what happens, I am here to tell you that you’ve got this. Keep telling yourself that until you start to feel it. The moment you start to feel it, the experiences become much more calmer, and over time you get equipped with tools that can help you deal with the experiences. The experiences that scare you can also liberate you. Trust yourself and believe your truth even if no one else around you does. Seek out people who do, and you’ll start to realize that you have nothing to doubt. It’s all real and it’s all safe. It already exists, most of us just can’t see or remember it. The only difference between people who go through the emergence and those who don’t is that the former can see the truth. That does not make it unreal, it just makes it difficult to prove. But you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. It’s your truth, just trust yourself.

Below are a few things that helped me. I hope it helps you too:

  • Ask for help – Reach out to people who you can trust. Be it a spiritual teacher, a spiritualy inclined friend/family member or an acquaintence who has shared his/her experience, getting help can make you feel less isolated and bring these experiences into context. Keep in mind, that some people might leave you at this time but try and not let it break you down. Things that our logical minds can’t make sense of, scares us. Some people are just afraid of facing a truth about themselves that they are running away from, and hearing some of your experiences can bring all their subconscious fear to the surface that they won’t even be able to recognize. Initially, it would hurt like hell to see people you trust beyond doubt, run away from you. But soon, you’ll reach a point where you’ll be able to empathize with them and forgive them even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. You’ll start to realize that it wasn’t personal. You’ll continue to love them and will wish them the best. But, don’t let this dishearten you. You will for sure find support in someone who can offer you the right support that you need. Though it might be difficult to have faith at this time, pray and ask for help. It will come.
    For those whose loved one is going through a similar experience, don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to make sense of it. Even your love one can’t. The best you can do in such a situation is to believe them. Offer your support. Equip yourself with knowledge and, if possible, help your loved one find a spiritual teacher who can help him/her make sense of it. Above all, be with them. Don’t leave them at this time because these experiences make a person feel extremely vulnerable. They’re going through something that’s not considered “normal” but is completely natural. They’re feeling extremely isolated and scared. The worst you can do is distance yourself from them at this time. Offer your support while recognizing that you don’t have the answers. Help them carry out their day-to-day activities because these experiences can be too overwhelming to function normally. If you’re guilty of not believing someone who had such experiences, it’s never too late to reach out and let them know that you accept their truth. You’ll probably not be able to make sense of it and that’s fine. You don’t have to. If you’re supposed to, you will when the time is right. Trust me, it would make a huge difference to your loved one. They’ve literally gone through a life changing experience and not everyone makes it.
  • Take a break from meditation – For me, my experiences started after I had meditated for 21 days for 40-45 minutes at a stretch, sometimes meditating even twice a day. It need not be the case with you. But, if your experiences started after you started meditation, take a break from meditation. I have read accounts of people for whom these experiences started after using psychedelics. In case that’s you, take a break from that too. Your brain has literally gone through a series of transformations and it’s overloaded with information. Take a break to allow your brain to relax until you start to feel a little more in control.
  • Mindful exercises – For me, I was lucky enough to meet a Shamanic teacher who helped me release the fear that had a crippling effect on me. For a week straight, I performed 3 exercises that helped me calm my mind and body, and continue to do it now whenever I feel overwhelmed. First, a breathing exercise where I breathed in positive energies like love, courage, and strength, and breathed out fear and self-doubt. Second, a tapping exercise helped me ground myself in my body. Third, an establishment exercise that helped me cleanse my aura. Finallly, learn to shield yourself. You’re most probably going to feel quite sensitive to energies that may impact your emotions and state of mind. In my case, I sometimes feel energies of the masses, sometimes certain individuals leave me feeling exhausted/anxious and sometimes I feel emotions of those who I share a strong soul connection with. When India was hit with the second wave of Covid, I could feel the energies of fear and heartbreak while sitting in a different part of the world. It was anxiety inducing to say the least. Energy shielding can help in such cases to help you stay safe in your aura. When I started these exercises, I had zero clues about what they meant. I was desperate to just do something and anything that would work, and they did. They only started to make sense as I progressed in my journey.
  • Seek a guide – Again, for me, I was fortunate enough to meet my guides from the beginning of these experiences. In retrospect, I was constantly asking for help but didn’t realize that my experiences were showing me the support that I was asking for but I kept running away from those who were offering me their unconditional love and support. It wasn’t until I met someone I trusted and whom I knew in this life that I started to feel an iota of safety again. In your prayers, ask for a guide to help you through these experiences. You might find a friend for life too. Ask for a teacher to help you release your fear, and protect you from what doesn’t serve you. You’ll be surprised by the love and support that’s showered on you.
  • Journal – During one of my meditations, I was asked to start journaling. Without giving it a second thought, I started to do just that and that was probably the best decision of my life. Not only did my journaling help me get in touch with the writer within me but also helped me make sense of what was happening around me. Most of the time, the blogs I write are written within 30 minutes without me consciously choosing the words or the topic. Words just flow and once I am done, I start to feel relaxed.
  • Surround yourself with friends/family – Having a support system or at least one person who you can openly talk to about your experiences can help a lot. For me, that someone was a friend who made it her personal mission to listen to all my stories and offer her suggestions whenever she could. She had never had such experiences herself but, fortunately for me, believed the spiritual books and gurus that she followed. Above all, just having someone who believed in me provided me the strength that I needed to progress in my journey. I will forever be grateful to her for accepting me when I had rejected myself.
  • Accept – Things will change. You will change. Your reality will change. You will soon find that your emotions, thought processes, and behaviors have gone through a major transformation. The speed of change would be faster than all the growth that you’ve done so far. Sometimes your experience will not even make any sense but know that they will as you progress. Sometimes, I find it difficult to relate to the person I was five months back. My outlook on life has changed and it keeps changing every single day. What helps me with my transformation is acceptance. Acceptance of myself, my truth, my experiences, my reality, and my life. The more I accept myself, the easier it gets and the more I find myself accepting everyone and everything around me.
  • Help others – A powerful shift happened when I started to write these blogs and when I started my Instagram account. All of a sudden, I wasn’t writing for myself anymore. I had this urge to help and support others – those who are still asleep or others like me who had gone through similar experiences. And the more I wrote, the better I felt. When a few people reached out to ask for help, I felt humbled to, finally, be in a position where I could offer some guidance.
  • Move – While initially it might feel like you can’t get out of bed, when you’re ready, move your body. Do something as light as taking a walk or going to the gym or doing yoga. Anything that works for you and helps you introduce some movement into your life. Movement helps clear the extra energies that we sub-consciously carry. I have tried doing qi-gong, yoga, dance, exercise, combat and walking, and everything seemed to provide different benefits.

In the end, you’re the creator of your path. You don’t have to follow someone else or even wait for someone to give you validation. Validate yourself and find your own path. Whoever you are, please know that there is at least one person who completely believes in you and has no doubt about your experiences. And the more you’ll seek, the more people you’ll meet who have been on this path before you. Continue to believe in yourself and love yourself. Know that you have all the answers within yourself. I wish you soon find the peace and love that you have within!

What If

There was once a boy born in the deserts of a place far away from the society of men & women. The people who occupied that land had spent their entire lives living in that cocoon. No one dared to step outside for it was considered alien and unnatural to look at what was beyond.

One day, the young boy had a dream. In this dream, he met a beautiful girl. For all his life, he had not seen anyone so pretty whose beauty radiated from every pore of her being. The girl showed him a land that was different from his but still similar. She showed him a world he was not aware of before yet something that he found familiar. They spoke for hours for everything and anything. The boy felt more lively in the dream than he felt in his life. The girl offered the boy her hand and asked him to come along but just when the boy was about to take her hand, the bells rang and he woke up.

Excited, the boy ran to his parents to share his dream. He told them about the girl and how he believed that there was someone outside their land who was waiting for him. The parents looked at him confused. His father could not understand what his words meant. He tossed it off to a childish game and asked the boy to focus on his studies. The mother was scared after listening to the boy for she had heard stories of other children who had left the land after similar dreams. Scared and angry, she asked the boy to stop talking like a kid, and focus his time and energy to become a man.

Defected, the boy went to his friends. He wanted them to know what he had experienced. In his mind, he was convinced that his friends would connect with him and will be as excited to follow the dream. Alas! His hopes were short-lived. His friends got scared after hearing his dream. Their parents had told them that whoever had such dreams was a bad kid, and should not be made a friend. Scared of what they were hearing, the friends left the guy for they were sure that the boy had lost his mind.

Now, the boy started to feel hopeless and wondered if it was all a lie. “Maybe it was just a dream”, he told himself. But, surprising to the boy, the dream continued and as they continued, he met more kids and adults he had never met before. They helped him see what was there in the other land and asked him to continue to try and reach that land. They never asked him to leave his family and friends, but continued to encourage him to find his own path to find his homeland. Hearing about a homeland, confused the boy. “But I was born here, not there. How could I go back to a place where I never belonged.”

To answer his question, he saw a vision of someone who felt like his mom. In the dream, his mom asked him to trust himself. She showed him how he never truly belonged anywhere yet was present everywhere. She showed him how he had been waiting for centuries to go back to the place that was his home. She sat next to him and guided him to challenge himself, and see the truth of where he was. There were people around him lying every day to achieve something that never was. People who claimed to love yet hurt those they said they loved. People who were so scared that they were not even alive. People who were searching for love yet were afraid of accepting that love. People who cherished happiness when it came to them and felt betrayed when it came to another. She showed him how people of his land had chosen to deny the existence of the other land so that they could reject the notion of there being something bigger than themselves. Finally, she looked at the boy and told him this – “The happiness and love they seem to struggle to find lies deep in their heart but they choose to deny. They live in a dream and call this a reality. Once you start to see the truth of what is, you stop believing what’s just an illusion of minds.”

The boy felt like he had lost everything yet in the embrace of his mom had found everything. He asked her, then, “Why make two lands? Why not just combine the two and put this misery to an end?”. Mom smiled and looked at the boy, “It’s not separate. It’s all one. It all exists right here and now. It’s only the people who have divided the land. The lands are the same. The people are the same. You and the girl are the same. You and I are the same. There is no you, there is no me. What there is, is simply eternity. I can guide you to see it for what it is, but it’s up to you to stay here or come to where you belong. No one can make you go where your heart wants to take you but you. No one can force you to believe in your dreams. No one can force you to accept your reality but you. It’s only you and you alone who can guide you to where you’re from.”

The boy woke up to the dream of his land. Everything looked the same, yet everything felt different. He could feel the love within himself, he could feel the call from his homeland, he could experience the dream of this land but he could also see what was not his land. Soon, he realized that the land that he was chasing could not be chased. The girl or the mom of his dreams never wanted him to run after them. They wanted to show them the reality of the world so that he could choose where he wanted to be. The real challenge was never about proving the dream. The real challenge was accepting all the dreams and letting go of everything that was not reality.

The boy continues his quest to remember his homeland, find his path and hold the hands of all those who are still asleep. The question now that makes him stay up all day and night – “How do I go alone when everyone I love is asleep. How do I abandon those who have loved me for me. It’s not their fault that they’re still asleep”. But the boy also knows that this is all a dream, separation is nothing but an illusion of what is. If there is no you and there is no me, how can he leave without all that he already is?

With a new direction in his heart and a sense of peace, the boy continues his journey towards eternity while trying to wake up those whom he can help see, so that they can all enjoy the journey to where they want to be. The boy now believes that one day, they’ll all be together. And that one day is now, it’s already here. Because time, my friend, is again an illusion.

It’s not a big deal…

“Gaslighting qualifies as a form of emotional abuse that involves denying a person’s experience and making statements, such as “that never happened,” “you’re too sensitive,” or “this isn’t that big a deal.”

Ramani Durvasula

“New kid go to Unsaid”

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing”, “You overthink”, “That never happened”, “You’re too sensitive”, “I don’t believe this happened”, “I believe you but”, “I can’t remember that happened”, “I think you got it all wrong”, “Do you have proof that happened to you”, and so on and on. How many times do we get these reactions from others when we share a part of ourselves or our experiences with them? How many times do we invalidate other people’s experiences by ignoring their emotions, memories, or stories? What can seem like us sharing our “belief” about someone’s story, every time we deny their experiences, we take their power away and send them a subconscious message that they don’t matter and that, probably, they shouldn’t believe themselves.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. (Source: What is Gaslighting). Gaslighting is a technique that undermines our entire perception of reality. When someone invalidates us, we often second-guess ourselves, our memories, and our perceptions. We are left feeling dazed and start to wonder if there is something wrong with us. Tactics like these can confuse us and cause us to question our judgment and overall mental health.

Back in 2014, I went to a therapist to seek help for my insomnia. During our conversations, I tried to open up to her about my challenges with nightmares and my not-so-healthy relationship with my grandfather. To date, I remember her response – “You’re a daughter of a powerful man. You shouldn’t feel scared of something so small as a nightmare”. Later, she continued to completely discredit the challenges that I was facing in my family. The experience will continue to have a huge impact on me for years where I decided not to go to a therapist again and where I started to believe that having nightmares was my fault.

In later years, when I opened up to my mom about a part of my identity, I was told that she didn’t think that was true. A few years back when I told my boyfriend how sad I was that a friend was leaving, he told me that I was being oversensitive. A while back when I told a friend that sometimes I feel like her words invalidate my feelings, she told me that I overthink. When I shared my political views with someone I respected, it took him a second to dismiss those even though he had similar beliefs about the concerned political party but did not “believe” my point of view. While I had realized sometime back how these invalidations had affected my self-confidence, it was only yesterday that I realized how broken all these experiences had made me feel. Yesterday, I had tried to open up about my spiritual experiences with someone and the immediate response was “You don’t have to prove yourself but I don’t think that happened. Had I experienced what you did, I would not have believed that’s what it was”. His immediate response reminded me of the response that I had received when a few months back I had tried to open up to someone I really valued. And that’s when the hurt and pain that I had held onto for years came rushing out. I was right to open up to this person, however, because the moment he saw the hurt that his words had caused me, he realized that he was not just invalidating my experiences but was also invalidating me just because he could not understand my experiences. Furthermore, he took the pain to understand how we can have similar conversations in the future without either of us rejecting each other’s identity. His immediate response had come from whatever he could and could not logically make sense of. It didn’t help that either of us had no explanations for my experiences after I told him my entire story. Going by his following behavior and actions, I knew that he had made an honest mistake. I asked him again that he did not have to try to provide me a solution to what my experiences were, I was not asking for his help, I did not ask him to explain those experiences to me or to help me because he simply could not but to just accept my truth because I was tired of people dismissing my truth. And that’s what he eventually did.

I don’t think I understand humans. On one hand, we want others to respect us and our stories but, on the other hand, we take a second to invalidate others. The little girl in me is so disappointed at this time that she feels people are inherently abusive and insensitive. They choose to give so much value to themselves that if someone shares a part of their story with them, they immediately make it about themselves. It’s as if they take the role of the “validator” or the “rescuer” who has to tell the other person what they think about their experiences because if they don’t, then, hell would break loose. It’s as if everyone’s life’s stories needs validation from the listener because otherwise is it even real? And if they can’t validate my story, I am either lying, overthinking, being over-sensitive, or downright crazy. And that’s what all these responses had made me believe about myself – I am crazy.

Looking back, I can’t count the number of times my feelings have been invalidated by my family or people close to me. They didn’t have any ill intentions towards me and I know they love me more than I can imagine. However, I can’t overlook how often my experiences were invalidated because they didn’t fit the image of the “perfect child” or the “perfect family” or the “perfect friend” that they held. When I had told my parents about how a certain family member made me feel, I was told that it was all in my head. It would take years, me finally breaking down and my sister providing “proof” of my experiences for them to see the kind of emotional abuse I was made to experience because my truth did not align with their image of that certain someone.

These experiences are not limited to me by a long shot. Look at the several accounts of people recounting their horror stories with sexual abuse, racism, narcissistic behavior, sexism, homophobia, mental illness, etc. and you will start to see how easy it is for us to invalidate someone’s experience just because we need “proof” for every story someone tells us. I am not saying people don’t lie. If you know for a fact that someone is lying, by all means, call them out. But if you have no other proof to discredit their story and only choose to do so because their stories make you feel uncomfortable, there is something wrong with you and not the speaker. These people who take a second to judge the experiences of others and take it upon themselves to validate or invalidate their experiences without being asked to are the ones who need therapy to get over the “self-righteousness” belief that they have held onto for all the years of their existence.

If nothing else, look at the time and energy people spend on social media commenting on random accounts just to let the owner know how much they disagree with them. Disagree all you want but all these people have the same right to speak their truth as you do. Just because their beliefs don’t align with yours does not give you the right to invalidate them or abuse them. These platforms provide you the “unfollow” button and your space to share thoughts/ideas for a reason. Use your privilege and go ahead, share your thoughts. But most won’t do it because it’s easier to find faults in others than opening up about our experiences and the fact that we know how ruthless we get while criticizing others scares us to even imagine being criticized the same way. I recently received a threat message from a random guy threatening to punch me and yet another message from another random guy calling me names for sharing an Instagram post about loving ourselves and those around us! Can you imagine? A message on love instigates a message on violence just because that’s a message that someone somewhere in the world is not comfortable receiving? Just how scared are we that a random message can threaten us so much that we don’t fall short of abusing someone we don’t even know?

I know I am angry but I can’t help it and I am not going to hide this anger anymore. I am hurt by those who I gave nothing but love and respect, who I didn’t ask to give me proof for their beliefs, who I apologized to for my mistakes, whose accounts I didn’t discredit, and who I simply chose to love but who continued to not give me space to tell my truth. I am hurt by those who I opened up to and who chose to misuse their value in my life to invalidate me. And I am done giving these people the benefit of doubt. Given that all these people were aware of their value in my life and either chose to use their words to gaslight me or were so rigid in their beliefs that they chose to discredit anything that did not align with their version of the truth, only goes on to “prove” that I made a mistake in trusting them. While in some cases, I did not have a choice, in other cases I did and I am willing to take the responsibility for putting my trust in the wrong individuals. For those I don’t even hold close but who choose to judge me anyway, I don’t even have words for such individuals except “get over yourself”.

I have made the same mistakes when someone has shared their truth with me and where I have given more importance to being right than to the person in front of me. And I am making the conscious choice to not invalidate someone else’s experience or beliefs just because they don’t make sense to me. I choose to only have respect for all those who continue to put out their thoughts and have the courage to speak their truth. Because it’s not easy being you and speaking your truth in a world that’s so hell bent to be proven “right”. It’s as if our biggest achievement in our life is the number of times where we could prove someone wrong and establish our superiority over that someone. Seriously, how fragile is our ego?

Dear Reader,

Today, I am not going to tell you that it’s your validation and your validation alone that matters. It does. The first step to accepting yourself and love yourself is to validate yourself. But, I also don’t want to undermine the impact that the words and actions of those around us have on us, especially of people we love and trust. Gaslighting is not cool. It does not make anyone saner or more intelligent or wiser. Making someone question their sanity is a narcisstic trait and stems from the manipulator’s low self-esteem. What it makes someone is an abuser. If you have doubts about someone’s story, don’t believe the story but believe the individual unless you have “proof” not to. Even the biggest scientists of our times have been criticized by their own community of scientists because they lacked proof for their discoveries. Case in point, Michael Faraday, who was ridiculed for his discovery of magnetic waves until Maxwell could prove his theory using mathematical formula that our human minds could comprehend. Or Elon Musk who was ridiculed for his vision only to take his companies to where they are today. While these are big celebrities, we all have people around us who are waiting for someone to lend them a listening ear and, for once, just take their word without being judged for their experiences.

Let me ask you something – How does it impact you if someone tells their story that you can’t believe in? Does it have any negative impact on the masses or the people close to that individual? Does your “discrediting” someone’s account help that person prosper and do you have enough “proof” to prove that person wrong? Why is your ego more important than another person’s whole identity? When a person shares a part of themselves with you in confidence, they do so because they trust you. If you can’t accept them for who they are, do them a favor and tell them the truth instead of forcing your beliefs on them. Do they ask you to share your thoughts or do you consider yourself so privileged that you consider it your right to pass your judgement? Do you have what it takes to apologize for your mistakes or is your ego so big that you’ll continue to live in your cocoon even when you know you’ve hurt those who you “claim” you cared for? For you, these would just be words but for the other person, it could be their whole identity. Measure your words and if nothing else, at least, have the courage to take responsibility for your actions and mend your mistakes.

We all have our limits. We’re all humans. We all have emotions and we all have our unique experiences. Don’t push someone who loves you dearly so much such that they start to regret opening up to you in the first place. Just like you don’t need someone’s validation, others don’t need yours either. They don’t need you to believe their entire story. What they do, however, need is acceptance. Not because you have all the answers in the world but because for some inexplainable reason that person chose to trust and value you. Unless you have don’t care about them at all and want to punish them for loving you, take the effort to simply accept them. For God’s sake, we have people committing suicide everyday because no one gave these people the space to be themselves. Don’t shed crocodile tears when you yourself turned your back on someone who was struggling with depression/anxiety because you didn’t even have the capacity to lend an ear to someone who you claim was your “friend”.

If someone shares their story with you and you have a doubt, ask them why they opened up to you before your ego tells you that you have the right to discredit someone. If you can’t accept them, then, there is nothing wrong with them. It’s about you. You can’t provide someone the space that they need to be themselves. And that’s fine. You’re not a messiah and neither is any living being on this planet. You’re a human but speak this truth instead of invalidating that individual. Ask yourself why is it so hard for you to accept them even if you don’t necessarily understand or trust their stories? If you can guide them to look at a certain experience from a different light because you know that can help them progress in their lives, by all means, go ahead but seek permission before offering unsolicited advice. If you can’t, let them be. The truth will reveal itself. If their beliefs or experiences don’t adversely impact them or those around them, why make them doubt themselves? Is you being right so important that nothing else matters? Is your truth really the only truth? If you’re doubtful that something happened, why not increase your awareness by asking questions before ridiculing a person who is only sharing a part of themselves with you because they made the mistake of loving and trusting you? Ask yourself why you’re afraid to ask questions. Ask them if they would like to have a discussion, ask them more questions provided they feel comfortable to answer those, ask them how you can help them and, if at the end, you don’t find your “proof” against what they say happened, let it be. Don’t make other’s life stories about yourself to boost your ego. Don’t blame others for trusting you with a part of themselves just because their truth challenges your core beliefs. If it makes you uncomfortable, let them know that but if you truly care about them, accept them even if you don’t completely believe or understand their stories. And if you can’t do that, stop lying and telling them that you care for them because you don’t. You care about the version of them that you “approve” of because that version aligns with your beliefs but you don’t fully accept them. Accept that truth because your actions are providing you the “proof” that you so dearly love.

At the end, it’s our validation for ourselves that matters. It’s our acceptance of who we are that matters. But if you have such people around you who continue to invalidate your existence, maybe it’s time to take a deeper look into what that relationship really is. You matter. You’re valued and you’re loved. But so are those around you. And if someone can’t provide you the space to be yourself or you can’t provide them the space to be themselves, there is no love in that relationship. There is only an illusion of love and that’s a very sad relationship to be in. If you’re guilty of gaslighting others in the past, take the time to reflect on how your words/actions would have made others feel, recall the times when your truth was disregarded to empathize with yourself and with those who you’ve put in that position, try and understand what you can do better in the future, apologize to those you have wronged and try to make a conscious effort to make people feel accepted. Change starts with one and your small effort to listen without judgements can make a huge impact on someone’s life. Ask a survivor, she/he will tell you the truth (with proof).

Everything Comes Back to You

The potential you’ll be that you’ll never see

The promises you’ll only make

Drink up with me now and forget all about

The pressure of days, do what I say

And I’ll make you okay and drive them away

The images stuck in your head

Between the Bars, Elliot Smith

While I don’t know what inspired Elliot Smith to write this song, when I heard it for the first time, I was so touched by the lyrics that it soon became my go-to song anytime I wanted to make myself feel calm. For years I have felt so close to this song that whenever someone asked me about my favorite song, I didn’t mention “Between the Bars”. I was scared that if they didn’t like the song, they would judge it and in doing so won’t just be rejecting the song but also me. I know I didn’t create it and I know that it’s already quite popular but I felt so attached to it that I felt like I was a kid who had just discovered the most beautiful toy and could not bring myself to share the beauty of that toy with anyone or have anyone criticize it unless I fully trusted someone to have the capacity to appreciate the meaning behind the words. The song to me was a message from someone I hadn’t met who was telling me that I’ll never be alone and that I’ll always be loved and cared for. That message has helped me get over some of the most difficult phases of my life and it continues to do it to date.

It’s interesting to see how sometimes when we’re looking for love, it comes to us in unexpected ways or from unexpected sources. In 2000, a 19-year-old Kevin Hines decided to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The impact of the fall broke his back, and the overwhelming pain rendered him unable to tread water. But something miraculous happened that day. A sea lion came to his rescue. It kept circling him, nudging him, and keeping him above water. After 10 minutes, authorities were able to get to him and pull him out of the water. It took an animal, a series of bystanders, and a crew of coast guards to save his life. Today, he works on preventing suicides by promoting mental health (Source: Animals Save Humans).

This is not a one-time incident by a long shot. There have been several such documented examples of unexpected support coming from those who we least expect it to come from. For me, this support came from someone I met a few days back when my trouble with sleep had resurfaced again. While I was contemplating different ways to help myself, I constantly kept wondering how good it would be if I had someone to guide me. And then I met that someone. Someone who decided to give me her love and guidance without asking me for anything in return. She saw me struggling and showed up to offer me a helping hand. But me being me, I ran away.

I tried to block her out in every way I could. While I kept telling myself that I was willing to take her help and kept telling her how grateful I was, my actions spoke differently. I kept looking for reasons to not interact with her because I was afraid of the feeling that her presence induced in me. I kept thinking that I was scared of getting hurt in the process of healing myself. Until one day, I realized that I was not afraid of getting hurt rather I was afraid of accepting the unconditional love that I was being offered because I believed that I didn’t deserve to be loved.

My ex often asked me why I loved him. He used to say that he had so many flaws that there was no reason for me to love him. I could never give him a concrete answer for all the years that we were together. When I developed feelings for someone else, that person too asked me why and I could not provide any answers. This time I really tried. I could see a lot of similarities between us, could see the value that our interactions brought into my life, and could logically justify why I enjoyed our time together. However, what I could never justify was why I loved these people in my life because no reason seemed enough. I argued with myself that if someone else came into my life with the same positive characteristics that these people shared, I would probably love them too but I realized that it wasn’t the characteristics of these individuals that drove me to them. It was their presence and just who they were as a whole that made me want to shower my love on them. And I have come to believe that I can’t come up with a reason for loving those I do because love requires no reason. It just is.

So, when this someone offered me her unconditional love and support, why did I run away? Because, this time, I kept asking myself what had I ever done to deserve this love. When I asked her what could I offer her in return, she only asked me to take care of myself and that she only wanted me to be happy. That answer didn’t sit well me. I kept reminding myself of all the mistakes I have ever made, all the “wrong” thoughts I have ever had, all the times I have failed myself and every regret I carry with me. This image of everything that’s wrong with me kept forcing me to believe that I don’t deserve to be loved without conditions. It’s kind of hilarious that when it comes to people in my life, I am a big believer in offering them my love without expecting anything in return. When I start to expect, I have started to challenge myself and ask myself if my love for them is coming from a place of “need” or a place of “want”, and then act accordingly.

In the past, whenever someone (friend/partner) has not felt comfortable with that level of affection coming from me because they didn’t think that they deserved it, I have tried to reason with them and remind them of how amazing they are. In most cases, that reasoning has worked. When it didn’t work, I have realized that I can’t force someone to change the way they look at themselves or at me, and I have allowed them to go. However, in all these interactions, what I failed to realize was my resistance towards accepting love when it was directed at me.

When I did some introspection, I realized that in all my relationships there was a pattern. Anytime someone has openly directed their love and affection towards me without asking for anything in return, I would run to the mountains. It’s as if I had long ago told myself that I am too broken to be loved for who I am. I had told myself that I had to prove my worth to deserve love, and if someone loved me without me trying to “earn” their love, then, there was something wrong with the entire situation. What scared me, even more, was the fear of losing this other person because by allowing myself to be loved by another, I was allowing myself to be my most vulnerable self. And sometimes I have been hurt when I had allowed that to happen. So without realizing it, I had created this shield around myself that prevented me from accepting unconditional love. This meant that I was either attracted me to unavailable people, people who struggled to show their affection, or people who wanted something in return. Anytime the love was unconditional, I have struggled to let myself fully feel it. What’s more, is that this pattern also shows up in my relationship with my parents where I constantly keep asking myself why they love and care for me the way they do. I used to believe that their constant worry about me irritated me but I have only now realized that it was their love that made me feel uncomfortable because I didn’t believe that I deserved it.

After taking a long time to sit with this feeling, I have, now, decided to make a conscious choice to stop myself from believing that I have to prove anything to be accepted for who I am or for being loved. I have my flaws and I have my limitations but this is who I am. When someone loves me unconditionally, they see the whole me just like I see the whole of them. They choose to direct that love towards me knowing fully well what makes me me and I don’t have to justify their love to myself. It doesn’t mean that I’ll stop to grow and transform myself for the good but it means that I don’t have to worry about the reason for anyone to love me anymore. The reason is simple – Unconditional love does not require a reason. If there is a reason, it is a love of needs. It’s a love that has manifested to make some of our requirements met. This realization also helped me get clarity about what to do when the people I love can’t love me back. It’s simple, they don’t have to because they’re not where I am or maybe they can’t love me the way I love them. That does not mean that I have to stop myself from loving them but it allows me to take a step back and appreciate what we can offer each other without forcing either of us to change ourselves.

Recently, I came across Aristotles’ definition of love. It was humbling to find out that he had a similar theory about love. In fact, he too used love and friendship as equals much like I have always done. I personally have never met anyone who holds all these relationships at the same level without differentiating their status in their lives. For most people, their romantic relationships hold more importance than friendships. Unfortunately, in some cases, friendships suffer because we tend to give more importance to our sexual partners and, in doing so, lose out on the beauty of friendships. I am not saying that these people are wrong. When we’re in a relationship, it’s obvious that we’ll spend more time with our partners. If we find our best friend in our partners, that can be such a beautiful relationship that it probably can provide us with everything that we need to grow. However, what I personally don’t understand is the comparison that we force ourselves to make between those we love and the way we love them. If it’s love, it’s just love. There is no reason, there is no wrong/right way, there are no limitations and there are no definitions. Then, why choose one kind of love over another? Why not enjoy the beauty of both these relationships?

I know I deviated from the topic at hand in the above paragraph. The reason I did so was that I have sometimes been told that the kind of love I shower at others should be reserved for a romantic partner. Well, I have failed miserably at it so far. I genuinely cannot differentiate the love that I have for my close friends and for my partners other than the fact that I don’t want to indulge in sexual activities with my friends but sexual initimacy stems from our desire and is not a feeling. And if that’s the only difference between the two, is that worth putting some relationships above the rest? Now, while I had realized a long time back that for me the two loves are quite synonymous, the message still got to me. I had made myself believe that a non-romantic could not offer me unconditional love that only the perfect romantic partner could. This explained why when I was offered love from someone who was not a romantic partner, I ran away.

I have now made a decision to follow my heart that has been telling me since I was a kid that love is just something that we feel. It can be towards a human, an animal, a plant, a book, a song, a hobby, or anything that we fall in love with. There is no reason required for unconditional love but there are always a lot of reasons present for conditional love. E.g., loving someone because that someone will help us have kids or provide stability, loving someone because we’re lonely, loving someone because they love us, etc. I think I am just over the conditional aspect of love and I am so glad that I can finally reject the notion that love requires a reason or is limited to certain people or relationships.

After going through this entire introspection exercise, I spoke to that someone again and gave myself permission to accept her love. I won’t lie, it’s taking a lot of effort because I am breaking my 29-years of strongly held belief of not being worthy and for not allowing anyone other than my romantic partners to show me their love openly. I do, however, know that I love myself enough to grow and will continue to try. Just this acceptance has already started to provide me a sense of relief and guess what? I have been sleeping for 7-8 hours since the last 2 days.

Dear Reader,

Sometimes we get so lost in giving love that we forget how to receive love. We try so hard to be a better version of ourselves that we don’t see how amazing we already are. Sometimes we don’t take the time to reflect on how far we have come and how much we’ve grown. Just like you would tell your love ones how much you appreciate them, allow them to tell you how much you’re appreciated because you are wonderful the way you are and deserve to be cherished. You are valued. You are loved. Tell that to others as much as you tell yourself that and see the blockers slowly fade away.

Finally, let me leave you with Niall Horan’s This Town. A song that reminds me that at the end of it all, everything comes back to the place we know is our home where there is only love and where nothing else matters!

A short post on Who Am I

Ever since I came across this video, I have been sharing it with anyone who is interested to know more about my spiritual experiences. Sharing this as a short post here for anyone who wants to make sense of some of the more abstract ideas that people into Spirituality write about – The Egg by Kurzgesagt. With that said, I am not sure if the creators intented the video to expand on the concepts of Spirituality but that’s how I could relate to it.

The video beautifully uses animation to describe quite a complex concept. While anyone who has experienced the Dark Night of the Soul (like me) or has advanced in their Spiritual practices will find the video quite relatable, I found it to be quite comprehensible for those who are new to this world. Infact, the person who shared this video with me has never been into Spirituality yet this video resonated with him.

I personally don’t know the people behind this video but a huge kudos to them! They definitely inspired me to put some of my more abstruse experiences in a simple language without necessarily scaring my audience 😀

Unconditional Love

Unconditional love is not so much about how we receive and endure each other, as it is about the deep vow to never, under any condition, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other. 

– Mark Nepo

“I love you” – these are probably the most overused phrases in today’s society. We go around throwing these words at everyone and anyone who makes us feel good or does something good for us. Be it a friend, family member, partner, spouse, child, pet, or a crush, any small act of kindness on their part prompts us to let the other person know that they are loved. The beauty of the word “love” is that irrespective of who the speaker or the receiver is, it has an equally powerful impact. It induces a feeling of self-worth and belonging in both parties.

Unconditional love is so different from the love we are used to receiving and giving that most of us don’t even know what it is and are not able to recognize it when we experience it. When we feel the power of true unconditional love, we feel completely seen, understood, forgiven, accepted, and loved just as we are. We don’t have to hide our identity, our past, our flaws or our mistakes because we know we will be accepted for who we are. In fact, unconditional love is the most healing energy in the universe. It’s a love where no matter what another person says, does, feels, thinks, or believes in, we continue to love them unconditionally without expectations. Unconditional love can be offered to all platonic and romantic relationships as well as to animals. But perhaps most importantly, unconditional love can be applied directly to ourselves. It’s a force that makes us feel so wonderful and completely ourselves that it makes us want to heal ourselves, confront our shadows and be a better version of ourselves. Irrespective of whether we grow or not, unconditional love remains the same.

Love in itself is hard to define and given the unique experiences that all of us bring to a relationship, the way we express love differs from person to person and from relationship to relationship. As per Gary Chapman, the author of “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts“, there are primarily five unique styles of communicating love – “Words of affirmation”, “Quality time”, “Acts of services”, “Gifts” and “Physical touch”. The language we use in our relationships is primarily influenced by our childhood experiences and who we are as a person. 

I have always found it difficult to pin myself down to one love language. I love to let people I love know their value and worth in my life. I love to encourage them and remind them how wonderful they are. When I see the effect that my words have on those around me, I feel happy. When I love someone, I love spending time with them, learn more about them, and offer them my help whenever and in whatever capacity I can. If it’s a friend or a partner who I cherish, I love showering them with meaningful gifts to let them know how special they are. Before I moved out of my home country, I gifted my closest friends $1000 worth of gifts because I was struggling to put into words how much I was going to miss them. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for them, they did not want these gifts because they knew me quite well and knew how much I loved and appreciated them (I could have done away with a letter each and saved those $1000 😀 ). Finally, while physical touch is a language I take some time to get comfortable with, once that comfort is reached, that’s another language I love to show my appreciation to those around me. For myself, I guess the most important love language is quality time but all others are appreciated too.

A friend and I send random texts to each other letting the other person know how amazing they are. The same friend and I sometimes drunk text to tell each other that they’re missed but find it too difficult to say it when we’re sober. Another friend and I send each other hateful messages for not giving enough time to each other, end up having a video call and never tell each other that we miss or love the other. Yet, another friend and I randomly call and talk for hours at length. This friend puts into words their love for me to which they always receive a smile. Again, fortunately for me, they know what my smile means. With my parents, we’ve never put our love for each other into words. It’s always quality time or an act of service. With my pet, I was guilty of overdoing all the 5 love languages and smothering her with my love which was not much appreciated.

What is common among all these love languages is that it shows the other person (or a pet) your love for them without expecting the gesture to be returned. And that’s something that I don’t think most of us understand. We’re so used to being loved with conditions that when someone does something for us out of pure love, we tell ourselves that we have to do something for them to return the gesture. When we do something for someone expecting a certain condition to be met or something in return in the pretense of love, that’s Conditional Love. It’s a love that lets the other person know that they have to earn their love by proving their worth. Similarly, when someone does something for us, we force ourselves to do something for them because even the thought of being loved without conditions is so uncomfortable for us that we don’t believe that we deserve it. We often think that we love our partners, friends, or family members unconditionally. In truth, however, we are all guilty of having this “strings attached” love present in our relationships where we withdraw our love if our demands are not met. Conditional love is the opposite of unconditional love. In fact, conditional love isn’t even “love” in the truest sense of the word, because it comes from the ego, not from the heart.

A few common phrases or thoughts that come with conditional love are:

  • “You have to make me feel good because I love you”
  • “You have to maintain your attractive looks because I love you”
  • “You have to act this way because I love you”
  • “You have to believe me because I love you”
  • “You have to let me control your decisions because I love you”
  • “You have to let me control what you do in your life because I love you”
  • “You have to love me because I love you”
  • “You have to give up your dreams because I love you”
  • “You have to forgive me because I love you”
  • “You have to endure how I treat you because I love you”

We all have experienced these kinds of shallow relationships. While sometimes we have succumbed to the conditions of others, sometimes we have been the ones putting our conditions on others. Sometimes in our relationships, we give these conditions so much importance that if they are not met, we withdraw our love. We make the other person suffer for not meeting our expectations. We punish them for not being our image of perfection and we make them feel bad for our own lack of understanding of love.

However, unconditional love does not mean loving someone without boundaries. Healthy boundaries are essential for any and every relationship. That’s simply because unconditional love is essentially an energy flow between those involved. We can’t love someone unconditionally without loving ourselves. And if we’re not valued in our relationships and if the relationships fail to meet our basic needs – kindness, respect, and safety, then, we do a disservice to ourselves and to others by not allowing ourselves and the other person to grow. We act out of co-dependent love where we’re so scared of losing the other person that we let go of our own needs and happiness. But we can’t love another unless we love ourselves. We can’t love another unless we learn to stand up for ourselves. We can’t love another unless we encourage each other to be a better version of ourselves without forcing our image of “better” on the other. 

There is a sense of freedom and acceptance that’s felt when we start to accept the unconditional love that resides in our hearts. When we stop judgments and let go of expectations, we free ourselves from the burden of changing ourselves or the other to be the perfect image of who we think we or they should be. When we allow the other person to be completely and authentically who they are, we set their hearts free and we set ourselves free. We start to understand if this is the person whom we want to spend our time and energy with without expecting them to change them to meet our needs. All of a sudden, the feelings of insecurities and jealousy leave our systems. We don’t tie our happiness to the other person because we love ourselves so much that we recognize our responsibility towards ourselves. We don’t hold ourselves responsible for the other person’s happiness because we realize that they’re fully capable of taking care of themselves. We act on the love that we have for them without expecting them to meet our demands because we have no demands from them. We just love.

So how do we experience the power of unconditional love? By starting with ourselves.

  • Embracing every part of ourselves – Letting go of the “shoulds” and accepting the reality. Letting go of the image of perfection that we have in our minds and cherishing who we are. Stopping ourselves from running away from those uncomfortable “wrong” emotions & thoughts, and taking the time to sit with them to understand what inner wound needs healing or what parts of ourselves we are ignoring. Allowing ourselves to be led by our hearts and finding the balance between being logical vs being emotional. The more we love ourselves, the more love we find within ourselves to love those around us.
  • Forgiving ourselves – Imagine having a friend who could never forgive you for your mistakes despite all your apologies. It sucks, doesn’t it? To lose someone you’d always love and cherish who doesn’t want you in their life anymore? Now imagine yourself to be that friend and remember the mistakes that you haven’t forgiven yourself for. In an ideal world, every mistake deserves a proportionate punishment. A slap for a slap, they say. Now, ask yourself how many times have you punished yourself for the same mistake, thought, or emotion? Once we start to accept ourselves and get the courage to forgive ourselves for everything we’re angry with ourselves for, we develop empathy for those around us. Forgiveness becomes a way of life because we start to see ourselves in others and the burden that we carry gets lighter and lighter over time
  • Acting out of love – Immerse yourself in self-care. Take that vacation, allow yourself some me-time, meditate, breathe and pamper yourself like you would someone you love dearly. Do for yourself what you would do for someone else with one goal alone – showering yourself with love. The more comfortable we get with loving ourselves, the easier it gets for us to show love to those around us without expecting anything in return. Small acts of self-love also show ourselves our worth so that we stop tying our worth to someone else’s expectation of us. We start to realize how wonderfully beautiful we are just the way we are. Slowly, we also start to love others for who they are. At the very least, we start to see clearly whether our relationships are built on conditional or on unconditional love and we get to decide our next course of action. If it’s a relationship that we want to mend, we change our definition of love and start to act without conditions. If it’s a relationship where we’re not valued for our authentic selves, we set our boundaries to allow the other person to grow. If we still don’t feel the energy of unconditional love flowing from ourselves through them, we can set ourselves free from the illusion.

Unconditional love is the absolute acceptance and openness to ourselves, others and to the reality. It is a love that allows us to be happy irrespective of what our circumstances are. It frees us from our expectations of perfection and lets us see perfection in everything around us. Unconditional love is not something that we get from another person, location, job or object. It’s within us and starts with ourselves. The more we love ourselves unconditionally, the easier it gets to recognize unconditional love when it’s directed at us. When it comes, it has the power to change our worlds.

Bidding Goodbye

Sometimes do you feel like you’re missing something but you don’t know what that is? You look at your life and you see that you have so much to be grateful for but you get this nagging feeling like this is not where you are supposed to be? Like there is this something that you can’t put your finger on that has to be here in your life to add more meaning. You start to question if this all there is, if this is all that you can contribute to the world and this is all that the world can give you.

Today’s blog is not inspirational. It’s me sitting on a couch, re-watching Gilmore Girls because the moment I finished all the seasons, I felt like I was already missing these girls. Now, while I am re-watching this series, the nagging feeling of missing something is back. This feeling has been following me around for years. Now and then, it would come back and try to remind me of someone or something and my mind draws a blank. All I feel is a knot in my stomach, a tightness in my chest and this need to do something about it. Somedays I wake up in the morning and the first thought in my mind is that my life is not going in the direction I want it to go. The challenge is, I don’t know where I am supposed to go.

A few months back, I had created a life value matric for myself. It was my version of rebuilding your life inspired by “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Unlike the four pillars as suggested in this book, I had created an eight groups metric highlighting the different areas of my life that I valued. Looking back, I can see that I have taken and continue to take steps in each of these areas, and I would say that I am doing okay. I see progress in almost all of these areas and I know I will continue to improve on these with time. Despite the progress, the feeling of missing something/someone came back a few days ago. Now, I wake up most of the days feeling like I have either lost something or that I am missing something/someone but I don’t know what that is.

My quest for this question brought me to this blog – Something Missing In Life where the author dives into this nagging feeling from a Spiritual perspective. She says that sometimes when we feel like we’re missing something but don’t know what that is, we’re essentially yearning to align with our inner self. To do this, she proposed getting more in touch with our inner selves, understanding who we are, and spending time and energy on things and people who speak to our souls. After I read her blog, I got this unsettling feeling in my stomach which told me that she is right and, in the past weeks, without realizing I have somehow drifted away from what I know deep down I crave to become. 

When I had created those eight metrics some 4 months back, I had used a lens to dictate how I wanted all of those areas of my life to look like in the future. This lens came from the perspectives and perceptions that I had the awareness of at that moment. What I have realized now is that those perceptions don’t hold the same importance in my life anymore and I am struggling to let them go.

I always wanted a huge mansion for myself, the latest gadgets, the most expensive and beautiful cars, a very active social life filled with a plethora of parties and everything and anything that the modern world could provide us. I always wanted a helicopter – I don’t know why or what I would do with it but I had always imagined my future life to be filled with all these elements and I was sure that the day I have any or all of these, I would know that I have made it big in life. I had this perception of what ideal love would look like which would fulfill me to the core. I am starting to think that that’s not true for me anymore.

Now, when I think of what I want in my life, I realize all I want is a peaceful and simple lifestyle. A lifestyle where I am surrounded by people who value me as much as I value them. A space where I can spend time with my books, blog, meditation practices, music, and physical activities. I want a house with a dog and a cat. Hopefully, a space for more animals (horses, elephants, nothing is off the list) with a lot of greenery. I want a well-earning job so that I am financially independent to spend the rest of my time working on what brings me the most happiness – emotional and mental healing. I have stopped enjoying drinking alcohol which used to be my go-to activity to relax. I have stopped chasing what I thought were perfect relationships and started giving value to the relationships where I am valued. I have stopped looking for someone else to come and complete me because I have realized that I am the only who can make me whole. Now, I enjoy having deep & meaningful discussions with people to learn more about them and to learn something new from their experiences rather than spending drunken nights partying with a crowd I know nothing about.

When I look at my bedroom, it’s filled with items and artifacts that I feel like are adding to my burden without doing anything. I get this nagging feeling to de-clutter my house and my life of anything and everything that adds to the noise. When I am asked to go on a night for bar-hopping, I find myself saying no right away. If, however, I am asked to hang out to meet and catch up with old friends or to meet someone new, I am in. If it’s something involving a new activity, I always say yes. However, if an activity only pertains to escaping reality, my default answer has now become “no”. I guess the most significant change has been in my caffeine consumption. I went from drinking 2-3 coffees a day to no caffeine at all. I, now, enjoy my decafs instead!

I think what I am missing now is the part of myself that I am finding hard to let go of. A part of myself who brought me to where I am today. I am grateful for this part because it has helped shaped me into what I am today. It has taught me some of my most valuable lessons and has fought various battles to bring me to where I am today. It’s a part of me who will always be remembered and cherished for every lesson that it has brought to me. It is now, however, time for me to thank this part for everything that it has done for me and bid it goodbye because I am not what I used to be anymore.

My values, ideas, perspectives, and goals have gone through a major shift. Things that I used to run away from don’t scare me anymore. Things that made me happy do not provide me content anymore. Things that never made sense to me bring me more meaning than anything else ever did. I don’t react to events/people anymore the way I used to. I don’t measure my success anymore the way I used to. Things that once bothered me, do not irk me anymore. People’s expectations of me do not drive my decisions anymore. Fear of abandonment does not drive my behavior anymore. My definition of love, truth and life has transformed and it does not align with my past reality anymore. I, now, spend more time becoming a better version of myself than spending time finding faults in my enviornment. I have started to prioritize myself while empathizing with those around me.

I am proud of who I was and I am proud of what I am becoming. This feeling is me missing a part of me that has fulfilled it’s role. It’s me antipating the changes that I am about to make in my life where the new direction will require a new me. But it’s time. It’s time to let go of parts of me who have served their purpose and embrace the new me that is waiting to blossom. It’s time to align with what brings me happiness and let go all that does not integrate with the new me. It’s time to say my goodbye, grieve the loss and bring in the new me which is waiting to be born.