Article first published in +Medium Click here
When young, Birthdays are occasions for having fun. As one grows older — they become days of reflection. Whether that is a sign of age or maturity is difficult to say — but most certainly there are intimations of mortality at play in the sub-conscious. Perhaps, it is the same realisation of days being numbered that once again make people look forward to birthday celebrations as more years go by. But, even then there must be those undercurrents of reflections and reminiscences.
I am probably at the cusp of such a transition — because I found myself more in the zone of looking back at the year that has gone by than really thinking of what lies ahead. Partly, it may be because — the last one year has been one of the most rewarding and enriching for me in many ways (not just materially — though bit of that too, to be honest). Most importantly, I experienced personal growth — which makes me feel that I am in a better place in life today than a year ago.
This triggered two trains of thought. Rewinding slowly the last 20–25 years (may be called the prime period of my life) — I was remembering some of the miserable periods that I have gone through. In retrospect — it seemed amazing that I could get past those turbulent phases without losing total equanimity. At the same time — it was instructive to ponder upon when the ride was smoother, what helped — circumstances or effort ? Tried gleaning some lessons both from the rough and raisin patches, which I felt like sharing more as a mark of gratitude and tribute to those from whom I imbibed them overtly or subliminally. I will not mention any names. They are people living or long gone, some characters from fiction, lives of people read in books — biographies of the great or memoirs of people who have achieved or seen a lot in life but had feet of clay.
- Turning inward — In the ultimate analysis we all have to dive deep within ourselves to find answers and strength. It is imperative to create what is now fashionably called “me time” — so as not to lose touch with one’s inner self. Each one has their own way of doing this — through internal or external means. Some achieve it through — reading, meditation, prayer. Others through activities — be it sport, workout, listening to music. Visiting temples, listening to spiritual discourses or devotional music may be another way. But, it is important to check that the activity itself doesn’t take over the purpose becoming an end in itself rather than a means to finding something more meaningful. Self-nourishment is not just a prescription for sustenance but also a tonic for self-renewal;
- Self-awareness: How little attention we pay to ourselves — be it our health, thoughts or emotional states. We become aware only after — we are hit by unpleasant outcome — be it illness, anger outbursts, negative thoughts. Successful people are supposed to be high on self-awareness. I have lost out a lot in life — both personally and professionally — for not being conscious of my own feelings and sensations (emotional and physical) as they arose before going out of hand or 'losing it' as they say. “Mindfulness” is the fashionable term these days — thanks to the Cambodian Buddhist Monk — Thich Nhat Hanh. But, it is a concept that has been there in all religions since the beginning of time — yet so difficult to practice. Far from having mastered it even to the first degree — I have found that simply being aware does help to deal with the feelings and emotional responses. Wish I had discovered this much, much earlier.
- Confront the feelings and Seek Help: A natural extension of self-awareness is confronting the issues. Just like we do not hesitate to see a doctor for physical ailments — problems of the mind should not be left unattended either. Over time — I am a great believer in therapy (psycho) and, won’t hesitate to say, I have personally benefitted from it. It not only helps to improve the quality of our own lives but also those around us. If therapy has to be accompanied by medication — so be it. Shying away from treatment can be foolish. I know of many a tragedy among friends and family which could have been averted by timely professional (health-care) intervention.
- Re-engineering the self — Life is not just about self-improvement. While there is no end for self-improvement — after a while it not only starts yielding diminishing returns but also becomes boring. Ultimately, most of us are not in the race for Olympic Gold Medals or Wimbledon Championship — in our chosen calling in life. Those who make it to the top — high fives and best wishes to them. For the rest of us — it is ok to fall short and yet possible to live happily. But, we can’t push ourselves to a dead end and withdraw from life — which would turn us into losers. Therefore, as we go along it is important to re-engineer ourselves even if in small doses. If at 60 — we remain the same as when we were 40 one has wrong somewhere and need course correction. I have always admired people who have been able to reinvent themselves over the years. The most remarkable among them have managed to do it more than 2 or 3 times — and they are simply awesome.
- Invest in yourself: Typically — not sure if it is an Indian middle-class mindset — we feel guilty of investing in ourselves, not just in terms of money but also committing time. We have been conditioned to think that anything we do outside or work-space or home-front — we are short-changing either our employers or the family. I think Westerners do it much better. Picking up a new skill — be it a sport, language, hobby or craft — can be not just a liberating experience but also an self-empowering one. I did take up a course recently — my first in 30 years after leaving college — and I do feel a sense of internal rejuvenation already. When one thinks about it — it was just a matter of forcing myself to find time for it;
- Relationships: Friendship and Socialising are at a discount in my book. In my view, it spreads our emotions too thin and make us superficial. However, it is important to cultivate a few strong meaningful relationships. Never mind even if they are just a few. And, it is ok if those do not last forever — as both should have the freedom to move on, which is a part of growth. Often, relationships are confused with attachment and dependence. Those are limiting factors and ultimately lead to claustrophobia and suffocation. Space is essential for souls to grow. Ultimately, relationships are more about the soul than the mind or body. It is important to realise, and more importantly, to accept that.
- Keep a journal : A journal serves many purposes. It is therapeutic and cathartic. Cleanses the muck from the mind as well as distills experience. Also serves as a Ledger for counting our blessings and keep a gratitude tally.
Finally, it is indeed all about me. But, without the “me” the rest does not exist. So, we need to sort out ourselves first before we think of helping others or changing the world.
There is a thin line of difference between being selfish and mean. This I call — the art of being benignly selfish.
Thanks for being there.