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It is another Sunday afternoon. My father and I have just returned from the gym. I can barely feel my legs as I lower myself onto the floor, by the sofa where my mother is seated. She is perusing the newspapers for the day- her morning ritual, reading out parts of articles that amuse her.

It is the 8th of May 2016.

This time last year, my mother was fighting for her life in the CCU Unit in a derelict hospital in Varanasi. I was away at that time, traveling through the less explored parts of China. I only knew about her condition when I landed in Singapore several days later. I still remember receiving the call from my father, telling me to make the necessary arrangements to come down as soon as possible because he didn’t know if my mother was going to make it.

I was 24 years old, and my mother was dying in a hospital very far away from me.

There are some moments in your existence where life makes sure that you are aware of your priorities very, very quickly. It is like a shock to your system – a violent, tumultuous shift of tectonic plates somewhere deep inside your soul that forces you to remember exactly what is important in life, exactly what matters most.

My life has been filled with those moments, and most of them have to do with my mother. To cut a long story short, I made it to India in time, my mother eventually made it out alive, and here we are today, her methodically reading her papers, and me sitting on the floor after a hectic morning workout.

My mother mispronounces a word and I quickly correct her, my voice laced with irritation. This is not an unusual occurence.

I wrote several days ago that I am very unforgiving of home. What I really meant to say was, I am very unforgiving of my mother. I expect perfection from her, in her deeds and in her thoughts, because to me, my mother is the pinnacle. She’s it. If she falters, then what more can one expect from mere mortals, random strangers, friends?

(A deeper fear is, if she falters, then what more can I expect from myself, her daughter, who is so far removed from all that she is?)

I don’t know how to rationalise these expectations. So instead, I unleash my derision on her. Picking on her for little things. Getting angry when there is no reason to be. Etc. Etc.

You would think that as someone who has nearly lost her mother several times in her life, I would have more perspective (what happened last year is just the tip of the iceberg that is my mother’s fantastical, almost miraculous life). But, I forget. It is easy to take for granted someone who gives unconditionally. It is easy to take for granted someone who is so good at what she does, and who she is – be it keeping the house clean, managing the finances, having excellent aesthetic sense, giving advice, etc – that it is easy to forget that she too is human, with her mood swings, her good and bad days, her insecurities, her infinite human complexes.

It is easy to let the little things cloud the bigger picture.

This period since I’ve been back home has been an exciting, sometimes turbulent, mostly joyful experience of getting to know my mother as the woman she is. It has been a journey of rediscovery, and a renewal of a relationship that has seen its fair share of wear and tear. It has been a journey of detaching enough to understand that my mother is her own woman, as much as I am my own woman. Our personalities are very similar, and yet, so different. Acknowledging the similarities and taking pride in that has been my journey. Acknowledging the differences and accepting that her daughter is her own person, has been her journey.

On most days, we meet in the middle, and laugh at each other. On other days, we yell at each other, our quick tempers rising to the fore and abating, with one of us eventually conceding and raising the peace flag.

And so life goes on, my mother and I walking our paths together, yet separate.

And today, there is only gratitude, that we have both arrived at this together, and that we will both continue together.

What more can any daughter ask for?

Happy Mother’s Day, dearie. For everything that you are, and for everything you’ve taught me to be.

 

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Musings.

***

I suppose one thing remains true:

We are all afraid of getting hurt.
We are all afraid of putting ourselves in a position where we can be rejected by another; when the reactions to this rejection are beyond what we have carefully planned for ourselves.
We are afraid of losing control.
I have realised that the person who needs my own advice the most, is me.
“Learn to let go”
“Give up these expectations that you have of other people”
“Remember that no one person can plug the love-holes (no, not that one, the others) in your life.”
“You cannot wait be waiting for absolutes all your life”
“The search for perfection is futile”.
Etc, etc.
Sometimes, I forget that the words I keep repeating oft are not the ones that others need to hear; these are the words that I need to internalise more, to believe more, so that maybe, I will feel better, feel better about
the fear
the loneliness
the rejection
the possibility of happiness
or otherwise.
There are no coincidences in life.
People don’t come and go from our lives by chance. The roles they have to play have  come a full circle – the necessary exchanges have been rightfully conducted. Exit stage left, because a new beginning is waiting, waiting to enter.
Learn to let things go with grace.
Learn to invite people in with grace.
Learn that hurt too, is made better with grace.

Seems like this has been the theme of the week for many people I’ve been talking to : old habits, and how to let them go. 

***

Old habits are like the lovers under your skin who refuse to leave.

They sit on the back of your neck, in the base of your spine, on the underside of your feet, tattooed black and grey, and sometimes a little red, pretending that they are permanent.

(Foolish fellows, they don’t understand that even tattoos in the softest, reddest corners of the heart fade with time.)

Old habits are like the childhood scars that you never could quite remember about, seemingly inconsequential, omnipresent.

They reach out and grab you by the hair when you’re walking down a quiet street, and the sudden pain makes a scream rise in your throat, one that you quickly swallow because that’s what you have been taught to do.

(Ah, but you see, even childhood scars can be rewritten into light-ridden stories, those swallowed screams released into the morning dawn as bird song, or as a conversation between two people after a long, long night of lovemaking).

Old habits are like the recurring nightmares on dark nights, and the heavy hearts of cold, grey mornings, the drudgery in your soul and the muck in your hands as you clamber on and around the ravines of life, trying, trying, to trip you up and dirty your mind, insisting on excreting venomous power that they don’t quite have any more.

(Remember, remember, old habits are old only because you have let them grow in age with you – even today, even now, you can dive into the waterfall of belief and possibility, and let all of it, let all the fuck of it go. Even now. Especially, now. Go.)

Picture taken in Kerala, India.

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I turn a year older tomorrow.

This time last year, I was recovering from an awful bout of stomache flu and tonsillitis. I couldn’t eat anything for days, everything hurt, and I realised, for the umpteenth time, that health was the greatest wealth that any human being could have.

This year, I am well and healthy, though I still haven’t eaten anything for days. I started the New Year on a liquid fast, intending to finish after 21 days. The first few days were all right; I was constantly pumping myself with liquids, I felt light, I felt free, I felt like I was accomplishing something. All was rosy in my world.

Come Day 5/6/7, I started experiencing mood swings. Cramps. Exhaustion (the bone-weary, world-weary kind). My tongue started turning a strange colour. Something wasn’t right, and I had to stop. On day 10, 11 days before the end of it, I called it quits. When I had my first morsel of food, I think I cried. I didn’t know whether it was because I was so thankful for having food in my life again, or because I was disappointed in myself for not seeing something through, or because my throat was so sore that I couldn’t handle the spices that were in the meal I was having.

This is the first lesson I’m taking along with me as I grow a year older. It is okay to stop, give up and say that I can’t do this anymore. Not because it is a sign of failure, but because it is a sign of self respect and humility to bow down to the ego and concede defeat. “No, the self isn’t all that great. And that’s perfectly okay. Perfectly okay.”

It’s going to take me some time to ease into this new paradigm. I’m okay with that too.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try it again, though.

And that’s the second most important thing I’m going to hold close to me as I move into another new beginning. That the possibility of success the next time around is even greater, because of this awareness, understanding and humility that I now have. Possibilities always exist. It’s just about whether we are brave enough to consider them after not quite having succeeded, before.

It’s a funny thing, this life. It keeps throwing us these opportunities and curveballs for us to keep moving forward, doing, being, thinking, always for the better. If only we take that step to fall into risk, fall into vulnerability, fall into surrender, knowing that we are going to succeed, despite the odds.

Anyhow, here’s to another year of trying to be a better person.

Picture taken in Nongsapura, Batam, Indonesia.

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I was thinking of how to write this while pondering over the conversations and experiences for the past week, when this brainpicking article came up on my social media feed. The article, nor the quotes do not belong to me. Opinions are my own. 

***

I have come to the conclusion that we are all drowning in our own little hellish whirlpools of insecurity and misery.

It doesn’t seem like much of a conclusion, but it has been one that I’ve not been able to get my head around for a while, and now, I think I understand it a little better. I think I have some kind of context to why this is happening, and why we are trapped in this “age of insecurity” as Alan Watts so eloquently describes it.

We are all pretty miserable, aren’t we?

Miserable because we’re running some kind of race against time/others/time/others/others/time to gain some measure of this all-elusive success/wealth/love/havewhatyou/yourdeepestdesire etc. Miserable because we’ve gotten so damn caught up in the running, that we’ve all kind of forgotten about the living.  Miserable because we are trying to prove  something about ourselves to someone out there (I’m still not quite sure who this “someone” is, educate me if you can) about how “good” we are, how “worthwhile” we are, how  “productive” we are, how “powerful” we are, yada yada yada, blah blah blah.

I’ve had the utmost privilege to encounter many such people throughout my life. I’ve also had the utmost privilege to be sucked into this whirlpool of wants and desires and always feeling “not quite good enough” or “never quite there yet” more often than I would like.

I’m not entirely all too sure if this will change anytime soon.

Regardless, it has taught me some things; mostly, about context.

The context is this: deep seated insecurity breeds some form of unhappiness that manifests in this modern day and age faster than you can say “ebola”. People become grumpy;  jealousy becomes the new black;   person a bitches about person b to person c and person d feels the negative externalities of it all; people produce and consume at a rate that is in no way proportionate to the happiness/joy that they could get out of enjoying what they produce and consume. Misery becomes the normcore, the default  emotion, and the basis to which the rest of life sort of happens. It doesn’t have to be this way, but it is.

And I suppose the penultimate reason for the above is that we forget the utter temporal nature of life.

Alan Watts explains this much more  lucidly than I ever can in the article linked above, but  in simple lay-man terms, I guess what he is trying to say is: this universe is bigger than you and I, the I is mostly a myth, and more importantly, the I isn’t going to be around  for too long a time anyway, so why don’t you/I just let the fuck go of things? Enjoy the present, cos that’s the only certainty we have, mate. Let go of all the worries that things are not going to last because….the truth is, they aren’t.

“To understand this is to realize that life is entirely momentary, that there is neither permanence nor security, and that there is no “I” which can be protected.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

It doesn’t mean all of life is meaningless. On the contrary, this just increases the value of every single thing that we do; makes every single encounter and relationship that much more precious; teaches us that if we’re going to laugh, scream, cry, get angry, fall in love, make love, we should do everything with our whole hearts and nothing less, because right here and right now, that is the only certainty we have.

“To put it still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t be that person who is ‘taut as a drum and as purple as a beet’. #notetoself