Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking Back

Today is 31st December. The year 2013 finally comes to an end. As I review the year, I realize that it has been a particularly interesting year for me. 2013 was packed with challenges and there were some moments where I felt I had completely hit rock-bottom. Of course, there were several good things also that came my way which, to some extent, neutralized the effects of some of the lows.

While each day is a learning experience, these are some of the important lessons I learned in 2013:

Lesson 1: Set Goals.
This year I realized that it is easy to feel lost when you don’t really know where you are headed. Making a list of things to achieve not only helps you develop skills or gather experience but it also helps you keep a more positive outlook towards your future. While I still advocate others to go with the flow and not to have plans set in stone, sometimes it is good to define one’s goals – it really helps one stay focused.

Lesson 2: Relax.
I love what I do! I feel I can be a complete workaholic simply because engaging in work gives me sheer pleasure. However, it is extremely important to take ample time out of your busy schedule to just chill! It is perfectly alright to take a day off work and just sit at home – you don’t need to do that only when you fall sick.

Lesson 3: Say ‘NO’.
I haven’t found it easy to refuse people. I used to give in to people’s demands even at times when I knew they were inconveniencing to me because I was scared of hurting them. This year, I learned that saying “no” isn’t such a big deal! People aren’t so delicate that they will be shattered because you refuse to do them a small favour. They’ll move on and you need not feel guilty about saying “no”.

Lesson 4: Enjoy Your Own Company.
In the past, I was known as a social butterfly. I always fluttered from one group to another, forever mingling with all kinds of people. This year I realized how important it is to appreciate your own company. Spending time by yourself helps you connect with your core – allow yourself the space for that communication.

Lesson 5: Be Non-Judgmental.
From the very first day of my counselling course, it was hammered in our heads that we need to be non-judgmental, empathetic and have unconditional positive regard for all our clients. This year I realized the value of extending this to every other person with whom I come in contact. Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources available to them – think a million times before passing a judgment about someone.

Lesson 6: Never Treat Others The Way You Don’t Want To Be Treated.
Karma really is one heartless bitch! Sooner or later, you are going to have to pay for your actions as what goes around comes around. Take your precautions and avoid causing pain to others. It is extremely painful when the same treatment is meted to you!

Lesson 7: Travel.
Visit new destinations. Learning about new places, people and culture only expands possibilities for your universe. You also learn to be tolerant and appreciate people from backgrounds that are completely different from your.

Lesson 8:  De-clutter Your Life.
Get rid of all the excess baggage. Clean your closet regularly to discard things you no longer use. Donate to the needy or throw them away if they are not in a condition to be distributed. The faster you get rid of things you don’t need, the sooner you will have room for things in life that you actually want. Similarly, get rid of people who are causing you pain and allow awesome people to fill their void. Drop all grudges and other negative emotions if you wish to feel the positive experience that is life.

Lesson 9: Ask For Help.
We don’t always have all the answers. It is alright to seek guidance from others when you find that you don’t know how to help yourself. Turn to your near and dear ones to assist you in your life’s journey – they will be happy to help because they know you’ll do the same for them! Also remember that no one can read minds. When you want to be helped, you need to ask for it.

Lesson 10: Cherish Your Friendships.
Even if you are extremely busy, take time off your schedule to make that call to your old friend in your home-town. Friends help you get through life by supporting you in your good and bad times. Value them and nurture the relationship. In moments when you feel that you are stumbling, you will need these friends to help you discover your inner strength.

Lesson 11: Don’t Hesitate In Taking A Few Steps Backwards.
Have you ever tried aiming at a target? In order to make the arrow strike the target, you first need to pull the string of the bow backwards. The further behind it goes, the greater is the distance travelled by the arrow. Similarly in life, sometimes in order to move forward, it is necessary to first take a few steps back. Do not get depressed if you feel you are hitting one setback after another instead of advancing towards your goal. Just believe in yourself and be patient. When the time is right, you will reach great heights.

Lesson 12: Prioritize.
While we may wish that we had all the time in the world, the sad truth is that we don’t! Build your life around things that matter to you because you don’t have a lot of time to do all the nothings that you want!

Lesson 13: Love Yourself.
This is probably the most important lesson that 2013 taught me. It is good to love and respect others but it is most important to love and value your own self. We all have faults and it is a common human tendency to feel insecure and fearful because of them. But do not be harsh on yourself. Remember that nothing is perfect and being human means to be fabulous despite your flaws. This year I realized that I need to stop being overly critical of myself. Life is beautiful and so are you. Forgive your flaws. Accept yourself the way you are. Love yourself. It is the first step you will take towards loving another being.

What did 2013 teach you?

Friday, 27 December 2013

The "Letting Go" Battle

Yesterday I met a friend of mine after almost two years. As we were catching up, she mentioned how she had just ended her four-year long relationship because she wanted more of his time and he was unable to give her that. I was amazed at how easy she made it seem. I was impressed because recently I have recognized how hard it is for me to just let go. I am not proud to admit that my life at the moment seems infested with people who don’t really treat me the way I deserve. There was a point of time when, for me, walking away was a piece of cake and I have no regrets over dumping some excruciatingly annoying people from my life. Lately, something has changed – sometimes I wish I could pinpoint exactly what is it that has brought about this transformation and re-wire myself to go back to my old ways. Why is it so hard to let go?

We've all been there. There comes that point of time when you realize that, for the sake of your own sanity, dignity or self-respect, you need to walk away. There are friends who lecture you and agree with you. They nag you about doing it because it is the right thing to do but no one really talks about how hard it actually is.

Arriving at the decision alone is a complex process – each time you find yourself weighing pros and cons of having or not having that person in your life. Once you have decided, it is a decision you have to stick to every single day. It’s as difficult a thing to do as it is to give up on chocolate! You may be able to ask your friends to stop gifting chocolates to you and dispose the stash you have stocked in your refrigerator but then there are unanticipated cravings. Cravings are easy to get rid of when you are craving a food-item but what do you do when you are craving the company of that particular someone you want to walk away from especially when that person intends to stay in your life?

The person in question sometimes comes up with effective justifications of how walking away from them is not a viable thing to do and there happens to be a moment when you believe these explanations because there is a part of you desperately trying to hold on while another part of you is doing its best to break away. One never knows which side will win the battle. You can remain strong and tell the person that it’s just not working out and you are not going to change your mind. You notice the hurt and puzzled expression on their face and try looking away. They leave you without saying a word. You are now left with guilt and then doubt enters the picture making you question whether you did the right thing or not.

Another strategy that some people, including myself, adopt is slowly distancing yourself away from that person so that by the time they realize you are gone from their lives it is too late. Some take refuge by putting in extra hours at work so that they can use that as an excuse for not being in touch. Others just take up a new hobby or start socializing with new sets of people. While you do this, you are still resisting the temptation of picking up your phone and calling that person. Sometimes you give in to your cravings and type them a message only to delete it before sending. You restrain from spying on their accounts on social networking sites and sometimes even avoid common friends. You are especially on your guard after over-indulging on the alcohol to avoid drunken messages or calls. When you don’t hear from them, you feel a sense of victory which gets falsified the very next moment that you realize they haven’t bothered to connect with you. Why do you always have to initiate? Why are you the one always taking the first step in every relationship? These questions cause you pain and you feel that your decision of deleting them from your life was indeed a wise one. And just then their name pops up on the screen of your phone. You can feel the lump in your throat and the knot in your stomach. Your validations were just about to get confirmed and they had to choose that very fated moment to remember you. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You are a little happy but angry at the same time. You blink back the tears that may have welled up in your eyes and try talking to them as normally as possible. Each second is a rigorous combat and you feel a huge sense of relief when the person finally hangs up.

The worst part about such an episode is that it does not happen just once – it’s a forever recurring phenomenon. You have to be forever prepared. At one point of time that person may realize you are being cold and distant and question you – you have to be brave throughout the interrogation. It isn't easy. You wish they would just read your mind, comprehend what you are going through, change their ways so that you could throw away this entire fa├žade and return to your almost picture-perfect world; and if they are too incompetent to understand you, you wish that they just stay away.

Staying away after you have chosen to walk away is extremely challenging. You wish there was a manual that could tell you the exact length and sequence of these feelings but unfortunately you just have to allow time to take its course and keep hoping that eventually you will feel better. Sometimes I feel confrontations are better – at least they give you some form of closure. It is better than realizing one fine day that someone you cared for has randomly disappeared from your universe and you are totally clueless about what exactly happened. According to me, there never really is any good way of breaking up with someone you once cared about deeply. Even though having “the talk” may seem to be the adult thing to do, it doesn't always go as one has planned in the head.

The final confrontation may happen days, weeks or even months after you decided to finally end things and the entire fiasco is saddening, frustrating and infuriating. From time to time you will realize how difficult it is to say “no” because somewhere you still want to say “yes”. You will find it difficult to just ignore text messages. It’s very difficult to keep your promise of trying to stop when you aren't sure you do. It’s as difficult as recovering from addiction.

I always thought walking away was easy. When I wanted to walk away from someone, I thought I would just call it off and walk away with my head held high feeling great that I finally ended something that was causing me to suffer. Now I see it for what it really is – an ongoing relentless ordeal of consciously saying “no” even if you feel otherwise until you have officially moved on, all the while hoping in your heart of hearts that by some grace of the Divine, things miraculously change and you have to put an end to all this. Of course it is easy sometimes especially when you don’t care anymore or didn't care at all to begin with but those times are rare.

People aren't black or white and in the battle of letting go, you are constantly fighting in the gray area, forever negotiating your stance. Sometimes you do lose a part of yourself and I have come to realize that it’s alright because the new ‘you’ that emerges is a better version. The doubt may never leave you – in between the instances of feeling good, there may sometimes be a sense of regret. One can never be 100% sure if they are making the right decision by letting go. You will question that decision almost every minute. However, there is a part of you that has realized that life must go on and it is time to move away. The question really is – are you ready to take the plunge?

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Christmas Miracle

She stared at the world outside her window squinting her eyes to help her see through the fog. The streets were empty and the trees were barren. No one was in sight. Everyone seemed to have retired indoors to escape the icy chill of winter. Usually, she despised the cold.  Some winters, all she longed to do was slip into hibernation, snuggled under the comforts of her warm blanket. She always battled the cold by wrapping herself in multiple layers of clothing and sipping incessant cups of hot chocolate.

This time, it was different. She found herself opening the windows and inviting the cold inside the chambers of her home. Somehow, the dreary weather outside seemed to be aptly reflecting her gloomy mood. She had been living all by herself for many years. Yet this was the first time she felt completely alone. She stared at the decorated Christmas tree decked up in blue lights – it was a pretty sight but she wished she had someone else beside her to admire the view. There was a feeling of emptiness seated deep within her heart and she wished she knew how to fill up that void.

The sun had set and outside her window was that unimaginable and deserted vastness of night coming in. She put on her coat and stepped out of the house to take a walk, hoping she would be able to get rid of the loneliness monster that seemed to be hot on her trail.. She walked alone without the company of another person or any of the modern gadgets like her iPod or phone. She was armed with absolutely nothing to distract her from her thoughts.

As she trudged along, she became increasingly aware of her hatred for the cold. She hated the feel of the cold wind gushing up her skin. Her nose was vulnerably frozen and she could feel the hair standing up at the back of her neck. As she looked around, she realized, once again, that she was the only one present. No one else was in sight. Suddenly, hot tears started rolling down her cheeks. She could not believe herself. What was she crying for? A lost love or a love never lost? Or a love that never happened? She had no idea but she did not stop the tears from coming down. She was tired of fighting and she just let them flow. Suddenly, she felt engulfed by a huge sense of relief. Perhaps she wasn't as frigid as the world perceived her to be. Maybe, there was still hope for her. She found herself bursting with laughter at that thought and she let out a hearty chuckle.

It was still misty everywhere. Her vision was still blurred, on account of her tears and the fog, but somehow she had a clearer picture than before of the way things were. Winter was not as heartless as people described it to be – on a cold, wintry evening, she had finally found a part of herself that she thought was long lost. It was the best gift that she could have asked for! In the darkness, despite chances being bleak, she had managed to stumble upon her light. It was a Christmas miracle and it had come true!  

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Speak Up Against The Section 377 Verdict!

Every day, the sun rises in the sky and fulfills its promise of bringing to me a beautiful, new day. Today morning, I was particularly excited. It was 11.12.13 – an iconic date even more special because today was the day when the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was coming out. Like many, I was hopeful that the verdict would validate the landmark Delhi High Court judgment of 2009 and the LGBT community would finally heave a sigh of relief amidst a lot of celebrations. What a fool I was!

I checked my Twitter account – a lot of tweets had already started to trickle and with each tweet that I read, my heart just sank deeper and deeper. The verdict was completely contrary to what I had hoped for. I was disappointed. I was angry. I couldn't believe that the Supreme Court had just stripped 2.5 million people off their basic rights to freedom and equality. They may be a minority in a country that boasts of having a population exceeding one billion but 2.5 million is not really a small number. Re-criminalizing homosexuality has just set the gay movement in India behind by several decades. It just didn't seem fair to me!

Thankfully, a lot of people echoed my sentiments. I was relieved to know that I was not the only one who was so outraged. What angered me immensely was some of the arguments that had been raised. I refuse to believe that decriminalizing homosexuality will increase cases of HIV and cancer. I also do not accept the argument that homosexuality is unnatural. It is definitely not a disease and for all those who think it is, they should read the latest manuals of the WHO or the APA.

One person asked me why I care so much about gay rights. I would like to point out that it is not a question of my sexual orientation. The question is about equality. What two consenting adults choose to do in the private space of their bedrooms should be nobody’s business. It is called “private” for a reason. It angers me to think that homosexuals are considered, according to the verdict, even bigger offenders than rapists – after all if you rape someone, you get sentenced to jail for seven years but if you are a homosexual, you can be imprisoned for life. Where is justice in this country? Why is someone being denied rights on the basis of their sexual orientation? By re-criminalizing homosexuality we are denying an entire community their identity.

If the Supreme Court believes that social acceptance is more important than legal acceptance, I would like to know what their take is on discrimination against rape-victims inflicted by society. The court may punish the offender but society still antagonizes the victim on several levels. Why are religious sentiments suddenly so important in a secular nation? Once upon a time, religion advocated evils like caste, sati and raised movements against education – why are we listening to these leaders? Choosing to see homosexuality as unnatural and a criminal offence will only encourage homosexuals to live a life of deceit as they will be too scared to come out of the closet. 

Section 377 was instituted by the British but, with changing times, Britain has not only legalized homosexuality but also gay marriages. Why are we, then, moving back in time? Besides, if one reads Section 377 closely, according to that, even oral sex between a man and a woman is illegal. Since when does the Parliament regulate acts in the bedroom?

We all have the right to love and live a life of dignity. Do not deny these basic human rights to the LGBT community. The verdict is definitely a major setback but the fight must still continue. I appeal to all those people reading this to speak up for the LGBT community and show your support. It does not matter if you are gay or straight. The more the number of voices that speak out, the more will be the pressure on the Parliament to take up this issue. Hopefully, justice will not be denied even though it has definitely been delayed. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Expecto Patronum!

There are times when the world we inhabit seems to be quite a scary place. We are, sometimes, presented with a continuous streak of horrible days that just seem to get from bad to worse. There are some days where we can’t find even one reason to smile. It becomes worse when we turn to some people with the hope of getting cheered up and, instead, end up getting our spirits dashed down and completely crumpled. As a fan of the Harry Potter series, I use the term “dementor” to explain the existence of such people.

For people not familiar with the series, according to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk the earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them…Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy feeling will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”  

Have you encountered such people in your life? There are some people who shove us towards the shores of our own fears and limiting beliefs far away from the uncharted territories of our true, inner self. We strive enormously to live up to their expectations but no matter how hard we try, we never seem to be good enough. It is in those moments of anguish that we start questioning ourselves. Such people create an atmosphere in which nothing good can thrive and you seriously start believing that life is over.  The horrifying part is that such people are not rare in number – there are so many of them that it is difficult to completely wipe them out.

There are times when I believe that I am the most bizarre and the most flawed person alive. It usually happens when I turn to these dementors in order to get a reality-check. Instead of showing me the mirror, these dementors validate my negative beliefs by accentuating my faults. At the end of every meeting with such creatures, I am left feeling completely empty, depleted off all my energies. I cannot seem to reason with them because they only hear things they want to hear.

What do you do with these dementors who just feed off your happiness? Luckily, the world is not inhabited by such creatures alone. In the course of our life-time, we come across some people who always bring out the best in us. They put their arms around us and love us even when we aren't really very lovable. They accept us totally and love us unconditionally to such an extent that we feel all our shortcomings have been washed away into obliviousness, thanks to their care, support and concern. These people stand by our side, conjuring up the very effective Patronus charm to protect us from the vile dementors.

I apologize once again for the reference to the Harry Potter series - the Patronus charm conjures a magical guardian that is a projection of all of one’s most positive feelings. Usually, the guardian that is produced by this charm takes the shape of an animal with which it shares the deepest affinity. According to the books, it is extremely difficult to master this spell and when I reflect on this, I can understand why. It is very difficult to show a ray of light to someone who is immersed in a world of darkness. The light at the other end of the tunnel starts petrifying them – they were once a part of it until everything was shattered. They know what it feels like to lose everything that caused them bliss and are now at peace with their pain. They fear travelling down that road again.

It is extremely difficult to love a self-loathing person. It is even more difficult to accept people who have rejected themselves. I am fortunate to have a few people in my life who have never given up on me even when I showed no signs of getting better. I am sure all of us have such wonderful people in our space – we just forget to count our blessings and we often fail to give these people the credit they deserve.

You may have only a handful of them in your life but you know they will not hesitate in pulling out their magical wands to conjure up the Patronus charm to protect you when you are in need. With such people in your life, the dementors can never dream of occupying even a tiny corner.
Life is beautiful and it has its fair share of ups and downs. You will always encounter people who will try to bring you down but you will also have those keeping a lookout for you ensuring that no matter how rough things get, you don’t break. We are all human beings and, unlike machines, it isn't that easy to fix us when we are broken. But with a little help from such stunning people, we all get by. Today, make it a point to thank those people for trusting you when you had no one by your side and let them know that you would do the same for them. Let’s make our lives and the lives of our near and dear ones dementor-free!

P.S. If I had an actual Patronus, it would be a silver unicorn with purple hair neatly set in place with pink tic-tac clips. What would your Patronus look like?