Smokescreens

Every behaviour has a purpose & every emotion tells us a story, about ourselves, about our needs. I know this, yet there are so many times I forgot this. When I forget this, I cannot listen to myself, deeply, honestly & authentically.

What I end up listening to are the numerous smokescreens I have built up over the years. One such smokescreen is ‘I am not working hard enough’. This is just the first layer of the smokescreen onion, if I may call it that. The real deal is ‘I am not enough’ and with that is the accompanying, utterly debilitating mortification which I feel in the pits of my stomach and sits like a big pulsating ball of iron on my chest. When I encounter these sensations, my knee-jerk reaction is panic. I hate, detest, absolutely loathe this feeling and believe me when I saw it, I will do anything to rid of it. Anything.

For the longest time, I would buy into the smokescreen that I am not doing enough and I would feel stupid and silly and keep working hard. Most likely I would give a mile of leeway to the others as a collateral gain. After all why should anyone suffer cos of my incompetence. That is completely unacceptable to me. What the other person brings to the table is of no consequence when I am buying into this layer of the onion. You may be thinking, ‘oh! Oh! This doesn’t sound good!’ You are much smarter than I am. It isn’t and I only realise that when the other has taken to liking the collateral gain and expected it as a routine part of our interaction. Once I realise this, I can’t really hold them responsible. So it again reinforces my smokescreen, it proves my stupidity right!

How anyone of you have had this feeling? Like you keep moving in circles and keep finding it tough to move out. I feel like Arjuna caught in the chakravyuh, though not as accomplished or for a cause!

So what’s the way out?

Listening. Really listening and tolerating my emotions, including the loathsome body sensations.

That is what I realised. When I wrestled with the shame and the panic, I bore with the risk of it never going away, of the risk that it will tell me really terrible takes about myself, of the risk that I may be the stupidest person ever, so on. As I focused on my chest and tried deep breathing, I picked up a pen to draw, right whatever caught my fancy and I scribbled for well over 15 minutes and then here is what came to me and magically the ball of iron dissipated as if it weighed nothing at all, nothing at all!

I realised I find it difficult to honour my needs in the face of another’s pain and hurt. I don’t believe I ought to listen to mine cos someone’s needs are more important than mine. As I say this, you and I both know it’s not true. We are all worthy just by the cause of being human. And I realised I need to learn the skill of stating my needs gently and sincerely in the face of someone’s pain. And that brings me relief cos that is doable. Cos that is a skill, cos no one is born knowing that, cos that means I am not the forever stupid, just a bit deskilled.

So why do such smokescreens come up?

Good question.

Children believe due to the developmental mandate of believing that everything around them happens because of them. Most times this works well, it builds a sense of agenc, a belief that they can influence the world. But when repeated experiences leave them alone, without care and helpless, the smaw developmental mandate works the other way to hold them responsible for the bad things too, that’s where shame comes from and that’s where smokescreens are born.

So the next time, you have the urge to flee from a feeling, stay, breathe, play and listen, really listen to the needs.

They tell you what you are.

And you are worthy, always.

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Unfathomable

Some truths are really hard to comprehend. Climate change, terrorism, human trafficking, child abuse, 30 feet tsunamis, street violence, and many more.

It’s human nature, a protective shield, to build ways, at times lies, to deal with what may seem unfathomable. It may feel like being weak, stupid, incompetent, a nincompoop, may be a loser. But we all do that, at one time or the other to deal with one thing or the other that seems very very difficult. We all need to survive, our brain and body when overwhelmed, sometimes to the point of life threat, devises unique protective shields aka lies to make our life bearable.

The lies may be ‘If I am weak, then I will no be loved’, ‘to be loved, I need to be perfect’, ‘if I am responsible for everything that everyone feels, then I am ok’, ‘if I control every thought, I am safe’, ‘if I feel angry, I am a loser’, I am guessing you get the drift. This is one of the common one and the most painful and possibly devastating, ‘if I need or Ask for something, I am selfish. I don’t deserve to be loved’.

So next time you find a protective shield aka a lie, look at it with some compassion, ask it, ‘what is your purpose? What are you protecting me against?’, ‘thank you for doing such a great job when I needed that protection. Do we need to that today?’, ‘is there any other way we can accept it today? I am bigger and stronger, more resourceful. May be we can fulfil that need, the need to be loved, to be competent, to belong, to be successful, to be human in a healthier way!

And you will discover, the lie doesn’t exist anymore and the truth is easier to live with.

The Journey

I took on a journey years ago amid much chaos, opposition, confusion and conviction. I started with a belief that I just want this cos it speaks to me more than anything ever has. The how, why, when, all these aspects weren’t and couldn’t be answered. Things were just not as clear. Today, in retrospect, we may call it passion, belief, a purpose, courage.. today with today’s wisdom. When I began my journey, it seemed foolish at best, a bit silly in the least.

What was there was anguish, pain, loss, fear & a healthy dose of panic. My journey has not been straightforward. I have taken the long route, lost my way, back trapped a bit, found another way, lost again and came on the path that was thrown with many an obstacle. By the time I found a semblance of a path, clouds cleared a bit, thoughts settled a few, all I had energy was for a few deep breaths. It has taken me a fair amount of time to ground myself in the today, with the path I have travelled. I still have to pinch myself to know how clear it seems now, how settled I feel inside of my body, how sure I feel in some of my beliefs, my increased ability to tolerate ambiguity for life has fair amounts of it too.

Taking a cue from my experience and finding words for it, I want to share that retrospect wisdom is ideal, it’s easy to read a story and think the person knew all along what they wanted and in what way. It’s what Lionel Messi says in an advert, “it took me 17 years of practice, day & night, to become an overnight success”

It’s easy to think that conviction and passion gives us a free pass for the pain, anguish, loss that we feel when things are chaotic. It’s not only passion or courage that sees you through. Like a diamond that needs polishing and the coal to make it, it’s the difficulties, hard road that give birth to parts of us. I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for the adverse circumstances that dropped in my life, I wouldn’t have the courage if it weren’t asked of me, I wouldn’t have the clarity if confusion didn’t reign, I wouldn’t have the groundedness if it weren’t for it weren’t for the chaos that my body struggled with. There would be no wisdom if there wouldn’t be ignorance, pain and a bit of foolishness in it.

Choas, confusion, pain, anguish are meant to be in our lives. If they are in healthier doses it propels us into a growth spurt. Sometimes we have to seek an helping hand if it’s a bit more than healthy.

So the next time, you see chaos, confusion welcome it and let it polish you into the diamond that is waiting to be found..

The Beauty of Being You

In the last blog, I spoke of loneliness and disconnection. Internal one primarily. Today I speak of compassion. Compassion was been featuring in my life a fair bit through multiple mediums. Work, experiences, strangers, innocuous novels and tv serials. Or may be I am choosing to and am ready to see it.

What is not accepted is disowned. We figured that last time. What is disowned is mostly disliked, hated, treated with disgust & repulsion, evokes hostility in us. More often than not, when we see in others what we have disowned in our self, we then to hate it as well. And when it is in others, it’s easier to hate, easier to disown either.

If we leave the extremes of human behaviours aside, there is always a reason for our behaviours. Always. Even when we think it is stupid, it’s silly, it’s despicable, it’s disgusting, there is a reason. And most of the times, it has been an adapted one. We do what we need to do to survive, to live in our environment. What works, it stays. Sometimes, if repeated enough number of times, it stays even after the life situation has passed, even after it no longer has served the purpose. Cos sometimes we get stuck in time, or rather a hurt, wounded, scared, may be angry part of us gets stuck in time. The part that most of us wish wouldn’t be there. That most of us wish would just disappear, that most of us walk around hiding. What is resisted, persists.

What do we do? We like I said the last time, make friends with it. We circle around it, tolerating its presence, we stand a distance and bear our disgust and look at it and wonder, ‘what made you? What makes you?’ As we wrestle with these questions, we play Sherlock homes. Most of us would love Benedict Cumberbatch in our fantasy. So bring him on. Imagine standing with him, wondering about this despicable part’s motivations, purpose. Odds are as you be curious, you will realise you are inching closer to it. Aha! And you may discover you aren’t feeling as bad either. Hmm! Interesting! As you keep at, you may feel anger, shame at how human that makes us and may be sadness at what we endured. We inch closer.

As we seem within touching distance, you may feel some compassion, may be some pity for this sad little stuck part of you. You inch a bit closer. When you seem close enough and feel kind enough, imagine what you may offer a sad, lost puppy. A loving, a soothing touch.

Imagine taking that part, hugging it and just feel it. Keep doing that as that part surfaces time and again.

And one fine day, we will feel that part of you, within you, no longer despised, no longer distanced but a part of you, sharing with you the wisdom of how she survived, what she learned and believe she does have lots of it.

This my friends is self compassion. And when we do that time and again with ourself, we own each humane piece of ourself like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

As you feel yourself getting complete, always remember,

You is smart,

You is kind,

You is beautiful,

You is unique,

You is human,

And you is you, just plain old, unique you,

And there is no one just like you.

Loneliness

It’s been a while since I posted. It’s been a very busy time mentally and a leap in learnings. I have found some time on my hands for the last few days and it has given me the time to reflect, i introspect, touch upon experiences that seemed to need words.

It is no longer a surprise that the theme in my work seemed to be around disconnection and loneliness and it is no surprise that my life showed similar experiences.

I have struggled, like most of us do with some aspects of our life, with disconnection. I have been not in complete touch with parts of my authentic self. I am slowly realising and mind you, it’s one of the painful of insights that I have a rich, complex world inside of my brain. It’s buzzing, making connections, writing stories and responding to the world with strong emotions. I kind of shut it down along the way. As I grow in my mind today, I realise these aspects can be shut down only if I agree to lose my vitality. And now I realise I no longer want to agree to that. So a chance interaction, part humiliation, unlocked the deep grief inside of me for I realised that this buzzing, passionate part seemed to overwhelm me and others. We know when we are overwhelmed, we tend to put some distance and we also know that when people put distance, we tend to panic. And when there is a choice to be made between keeping people close & giving up a part of us, most of will chose the former, especially when younger.

And any one of us who has been in this painful predicament, we know to own this part of us, we will need to bear the grief of loss, work through the panic and learn to love that part of us. The rest and the people will follow. The sadness and the fear will need to be borne. The loneliness could be a disconnection from anything that seemed not ok. For me it may have been the passion and buzzing thoughts, for you it may be your determination, may be ability to tell funny stories, may be to be compassionate, may be to be a bright mind, may be to compete, may be to give..

So a shout out to all of us out there, who have that lonely little child inside of us, look for her, listen to her story, hold her pain, build a relationship with her, show her some love and feel the loneliness melt, strength emerge and meet a new facet of you which possibly may hold the vitality, may be the purpose of your life, may be a calling that you missed, or may be just the experience of the joy of being alive.

For if you connect with the loneliness in you, you will not be alone even when you are,

For you got you, watching your back.

On the Journey towards Self

Self-discovery is undersold and oversold. To know and understand we are dynamic in nature and constantly changing if we allow ourselves to see is not much known piece of information. On the other hand, given the renewed interest in ‘self-help’, it appears to have a strong streak of commercialism in it. So we are privy to things that have the possibility of profitability. A lot of times.

Yet, if we chose to look closely, self- discovery is needed. In fact I will go as far as to say cannot be avoided. If we choose not to look at, it like a persistent, demanding uninvited guest keeps showing up on our doorstep. At first they may just be gentle reminders. The more it is ignored, the more it persists and finds unusual ways to make its presence felt. Self-discovery is best taken on willingly. It has most chances of success and opens the door to unbridled joy, peace and excitement.

Alas, before we let it in. We may need to look at some not so pleasant emotions or beliefs. Most of us may feel fearful of what we may find if we look closely inside. If we have been at the receiving end of being told not-so-nice things about ourselves in not-so-nice way, we may dread finding a monster beneath. If we have been told we are really special, can do nothing wrong. Well, you would think that may make it easier. Ironically, buried deep, deep inside we may find the same fear and dread that we may have a monster inside. If we have never been told much about ourselves, we dread we will find nothing but emptiness inside, for we don’t much matter.

Whatever we have been told, we never even find that. Ever. In the myriad journeys, I have taken inside of me, some you have witnessed over the last year. In the myriad journeys I have accompanied others take inside of themselves, no one ever found that monster inside them. Most times, the monster like figure almost always seemed to protect a lovable, kind and capable, very worthy being inside.

And most times, the collateral gain we make while we traverse the dread, fear, despair, may be shame to find that totally cool being deep inside of us, we have such collateral discoveries about ourselves.

I found my love for nature, plants, art, books as I journey along.

What did you find on yours?

Your Story Matters

To bond, to build relationships is one of the most innate human actions, a need hardwired to ensure our survival and also to give us a meaningful existence. What proves to be life sustenance, what makes our life a possibility of colourful rainbows, what can be a strength, a joy; at the same time can make us the most vulnerable, make us open to the most pain, make us not like ourselves or/and others.

One of the ways we bond, attach is when we share our stories. It’s in the understanding, the resonance, in the empathy the glue that binds us together. That’s also the glue that can easily come undone and leaves us a gaping hole of vulnerability.

It’s been my toughest line to walk, what to share and how much. I realise when someone asks me about my work, it being very close to my heart I tend to speak unabashedly, openly without looking at who’s asking. Are they really interested? What can I sense? How much is ok? Is this a safe relationship? Is it safe enough? Is what I am saying resonated with or dismissed?

Most times, it’s my naive belief if you have asked more than 2-3 questions, you are interested. Well, it’s not so. It took me some hard lessons, some pain to realise that sometimes you are being set up. I really really want to tell people about what I learn everyday, how much an honour it is to be a part of someone’s story, how healing it is to share pain, how human it makes me feel, everyday, without fail. So in my eagerness to share, to bond, to build a connection, I forget something very important. A question?

Have you earned the right, the honour, the privilege to hear my story? Do I feel safe with you? Do I feel respected? Do I feel heard? Do I feel a lightness of heart when I share? Do I see my heart reflecting in your eyes? Do you see me?

Till I feel all or at least some of the above, my story is my right. I forget this, for I would like to bond, to be valued for what I am. When I am not, I feel pain. Yet, when I share and am not heard, I feel pain.

So often now, I ask myself, what pain is better for me in the long run?

The pain of not sharing my story or the pain of sharing my story when the right is not earned by the other.

Most of than not, I get a healing painful answer.

I matter,

My story matters,

Always

The Story of Shame

The emotion of Shame is such a difficult emotion to bear especially, in our world today. It’s something that has been routinely used to discipline, ensure good behaviour, punish, to connect with people (strange but true) and strangest of all, motivate or encourage!

Shame is an useful emotion, it helps us to act according to our values, it helps be ok to make mistakes, to learn from them since we really don’t want to make them again.. but this is when it’s a healthy form of Shame.

Most Shame we know is toxic which like the annoying drone of a pesky mosquito tells us how bad, unworthy we are, how short we fall of good standards, how unlovable we are.. I could go on.

And some of us who have unfortunately been at the receiving end of Shame-based encouraging behaviour, tend to imbibe it in our very character. We may not think twice and dump this toxicity on others as our right and entitlement to feelings of hurt, sadness, Shame and anger.

For some of us at other times, we accept this shame dumped on us by others, at times erroneously believing we deserve it.

Both are toxic to our inner world and both do damage. Both have the same core difficulty at heart, we believe we aren’t worthy enough. And we can’t connect to people healthly.

Whether you chose to deal with toxic Shame by dumping it outside or taking it inside and owning it up, remember the message remains untrue.

You are worthy, always are. By just being born.

And you have a right to feel so, for the ones that externalise it, learn to bear your real feelings of hurt, sadness and anger. For the ones who internalise Shame, learn to be ok with all feelings. Feelings are ok, they are not you. They just are the messengers of what you need in that given moment.

You are ok.

Like the picture below, Shame paints a bleak picture. But night doesn’t have to be scary. It has its own beauty and it’s own purpose. Look for that, you will amazed at how calming and fulfilling and alive you will feel.

We are different, yet the same 

It’s common to hear the refrain, “let’s not get emotional about it, think practically”. Well, I spend majority of my life doing just that. Working hard to keep my emotions aside and use my enhanced thinking brain to solve the problems of my life or even advance further. Being ‘emotional’ even as an emoticon is a crying face, so it’s known that in common parlance, it stands for being weak, swayed detrimentally by feelings. As the British do, maintain a stiff upper lip, it has great social value, you looked up to as the ‘strong one’.
So we know why and how we came about not liking emotions. Now research time and again shows that the human brain works in its entirety to make pragmatic decisions. The prefrontal cortex or the thinking brain doesn’t work in isolation to give you the wonderful decisions you take, it needs to take the emotional part of the brain and the reptilian or the oldest part of the brain into account. Cos it’s the reptilian brain that takes in information from the environment, passes it through the part that seats our emotions and memory and then, what seems ‘emotionally significant’ is passed on to the upper management, the thinking brain. There is no way you can surpass the part of the emotions. If you try to, and believe me, a whole lot of us try very very hard; it either makes the emotions take over and make faulty decisions. Or it doesn’t take into account much of feelings and hence, makes skewed, rigid and robot like decisions. If anyone has a boss with the latter characteristics will know how touch it is live with it. 

So emotions remain vital. When we take into account what we feel, it makes for a complete, wholesome decision and collateral gain, you will feel good and content inside of you too. 

When we are in touch with what we feel, it’s also easier to see another being, see them with their unique likes, dislikes, beliefs, preferences, eccentricities and still be ok with them. It’s easier then, to see it in the background of their life, their circumstances, their stories and it’s easier to be accepting, it’s easier to connect, it’s easier to find compassion, it’s easier to love, it’s easier to be humane, it’s easier to realise and know,

What makes us unique and similar is the same, our ability to feel differently yet with the same emotions.

The dish is different tasting for each but ironically made with similar ingredients.

The Joy of Health 

Being healthy, both mentally and psychologically is a huge gain in itself. When we get into the cycle of looking after our health and start seeing results, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, albeit of a good sort.
I recently started linking my physical self to my mental health in a conscious, systematic manner. My biggest gain out of my increased self-care is my ability to breathe through my pain. Pain is something we turn away from and try to make as many efforts to keep away. For a whole lot us, life is about keeping pain away. In that quest we keep joy and excitement and a host of wonderful emotions and life experiences away too. The moment I could learn to breathe through my pain and bear it, I knew I could do it. I could believe in myself,

In ability to ‘handle’ things. It didn’t kill me, it didn’t break me. Did I take a step or two back? Yes. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I learn? Yes, in time. Did it feel good to be alive or present through it? Yes, you bet. Would I keep doing it again? You bet, yes, yes, yes!!! 

I note both physical and mental aspects of well being separately even though they are intrinsically linked, as we rarely look at Mental Health. As I have said above, when I pushed my physical self, I learned much battle is psychological. 

Mental Health is more than illness, it’s about being in touch with your psychological self, knowing your inner world, being able to bring up joy and bring down distress, it’s your ability to tolerate pain, it’s your ability to breathe through pain, it’s about enjoying life’s full range of technicolours, it’s about being friends with your emotions, it’s about accepting different aspects of you, it’s about growth, it about exploration,
Mental Health is about life, 

Yours, mine and our shared humanity.
The hope is when we take care of your psychological selves, we take care of all of ours. May be, just may be, peace and authentic connection to each other may not be just an utopian concept. May be, just may be we will ourselves and each other once again. 

#worldmentalhealthday