A Conversation with a Friend

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Oh, and I want to recommend this book to you – ‘Come As You Are’ by Emily Nagoski. I am recommending this book to all my women friends”, I told her while handing her the book.

“What’s it about?”, she asked browsing through the pages.

“It addresses women’s challenges regarding sexuality and sexual desires. You know how in our society we don’t openly talk to girls and women about their sexuality? It’s more or less a concept talked about in hush-hush tones among friends or most of us only open up about it with our partners. On the other hand, men have plenty of content and platform for themselves to address their concerns and questions. On top of that, our culture puts women down for having any sort of sexual desires whereas celebrating men for the same.”, I responded waiting to see her reaction.

“Ooh, that’s interesting. It’s like having sex only for men to have an orgasm while it’s okay for women not to have one? You know my friend says we have two different vocabularies for women’s sexuality and men’s sexuality. Men having high sexual desire is expected while women are sluts?”, she sighed.

“Exactly. So the book addresses the impact of being raised in such a culture and environment. It starts by explaining our physical bodies. I must say I never thought of a human body that way.”

“Really? Like we read in biology?”, she asked, now really interested in the topic.

“Kind of but it does it in a way that’s easy to comprehend and not just textbook knowledge. After just reading the first chapter, I found myself thinking about the human body in a different way. The following chapters talk about how our central nervous system, brain, emotions, environments, culture, etc. play a role in our sexual development. I wish I had access to this book when I was a teenager. It’s that good.”, I told my friend.

“I’ll get a copy for myself. What has been your takeaway so far?”, she asked.

“Well, I am still only a few chapters in. But, I already realized that I had some misconceptions about myself. You know a few years back I wondered if I was asexual. Turns out, it’s quite the opposite. I am just very good at putting a stop to myself. Safety and trust are really important to me. If something is not right, I just won’t be in it.”

“So you’re a demisexual?”, she asked out of curiosity.

“Well I am demi, sapio, and also I am bi”. And just like that, I came out to a new friend.

“Okay, and?”

“That’s it? Is that your reaction?”, I asked, surprised by her lack of reaction.

“How else would I react? You’re attracted to both men and women, right?”, she asked.

“Yes. It’s just that I am always nervous before coming out. I never know how someone will take it.”

“Oh. Who else have you told?”, she asked, surprising me with her genuine curiosity.

“My mom, my sister, and my close friends. My last relationship was with a woman.” My friend didn’t know that I had spent weeks wondering if I should come out. And I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath until her reaction (or lack of one as it turns out).

“How did they react?” she asked.

“Well, my best friend(s) and sister pretty much had the same reaction as you did. Most of my friends did. One cried because I hadn’t come out earlier. My mom went into denial. Told me that I just wanted to be like the girls to whom I was attracted. It was only recently when I had a fracture and my girlfriend was taking care of me that I got some kind of acceptance from her. You know because she was the only one here.

Oh, and when I told my ex-boyfriend, he thought that I had been lying to him. We actually went on a break for a week. After we got back, things were just not the same. Can you imagine that he was worried that now he would have to worry about me cheating on him with both men and women?”, I laughed.

“That just means that he was already insecure. I am assuming he had a problem with your guy friends and after you came out, with your girl friends?”, she asked rolling her eyes.

“He did. To be fair, we were already in a long-distance relationship and had slowly been growing apart. I think that just made it more difficult to continue”.

“So how long have you known?”, my friend asked.

“Since I was born. You know it was the society that taught me that feeling anything for a woman was inappropriate? For me, it came naturally to love everyone and anyone. But I was told to hide it. I remember the exact moment that thought was shared with me. I was 10. My aunt asked me who I would like to spend my life with when I grow up. I answered it could be a man or a woman, and that I didn’t care as long as I loved that person. My cousins took me away and told me that people who said things like that are not normal. They told me never to say it again. So I just told myself that I wasn’t normal. That’s when I internalized homophobia for the first time. But I couldn’t help who I loved. So I told myself that if someday I met someone who I would like to take that leap with, I will come out.”

“The lies we’re told as kids! That’s why I don’t want to go back to my country.”, she sighed.

“And it’s only getting worse. I miss my mom and I really want to just go back home and live with her. But every day I am reminded of a thousand reasons why not to.

Isn’t it ridiculous to see how we as humans are expected to only feel love for someone that society thinks is right? Some people don’t allow you to feel that way for a person of another religion, some prohibit castes and until recently, it was race. They say homosexuality is not natural but choose to ignore how it’s present in almost all animals. “Selective takeaway from knowledge” is what I call it. Distort the facts as it fits your narration. Use the fear of religion to tame other humans. They say God is love but that God will hate you if you don’t meet their standards. I sometimes wonder what it would be like in a world that didn’t want to control our lives so much in the fear of losing control.

You know I have this belief that if we remove this archaic thought process and controlling behavior from our cultures and societies, we’ll grow up being truthful about who we are and who we love. We’ll just accept ourselves and be happy instead of pretending to be someone we’re not. Love is beautiful and that’s all it is. It doesn’t need a seal of approval from someone who doesn’t even understand their own God. “, I voiced my disappointment with the world we live in.

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know because I really want to be myself with you and not pretend to be someone I am not. Else I’ll need to hide so many parts of me from you and I just don’t want to do that anymore.”, I continued, smiling.

“Thank you for sharing. I am glad you told me and I can understand that not everyone might make you feel safe enough to open up. What was it about me that made you feel comfortable?”, she asked.

“It was just a feeling. Honestly, I thought I could open up to you after I met you the second time. I just wasn’t sure when to.”

“Well, I am happy that my aura makes people feel safe.”, she joked. “Can I ask you something? Who do you see yourself with in the long run? I know for some people it can be one sex over the other.”

“Honestly, my answer hasn’t changed since I was a kid. I can see myself with either. I don’t fall for people easily. There has to be an emotional depth in the connection. So by the time I am there, I know that I can see myself with them.”

“Was anything different when you dated a girl vs when you were with a guy?”, she asked.

“No, not really. There was definitely more communication and emotions involved with the girl but I think that might have been because we had a lot going on against us. I think because I could be more open about my hidden parts with my girlfriend, I felt more like myself. But overall, both relationships were equally good and I loved them both.”, I told her while going over all my interactions with my exes in my head.

“When was the first time you ever fell for a girl? Did it freak you out?”

“Oh, I didn’t even realize that that’s what was happening until way later. I must have been eleven or something. She and I did an act together in a play at school. We were playing the lead as husband and wife. And I hated her. I hated everything about her without any reason. She was new to the school and was pretty bright. Maybe I was jealous? I don’t know.

However, after the play concluded, I found myself missing her. One day, while walking down the stairs with my friends, her topic came up. I don’t remember the topic but I remember making a joke about her. And just then I turned back and saw her standing on top of the stairs, staring at me. I don’t know if she heard me or not. But I still remember the way her eyes were looking at mine.

That day I realized that I didn’t hate her. I felt guilty for making fun of her and, if anything, wanted to be her friend. I spent the remaining year just getting to know her more. We used to speak for hours on the phone. I used to feel so shy around her and would love to spend time with her. She also influenced me a lot. She got me into sweatshirts, Hollywood and Enrique. It’s been 18 years, and I still love all three. Something about her also inspired me to dream bigger. To step out of my shell. And I started to yearn for freedom.

After some time, she left. We tried to keep in touch but lost contact. I went into a shock or a depression. I don’t know what it was but everything changed after she left. I changed. From someone who was known to always smile, I changed into a person who rarely smiled. It took another few years to realize that that was my first love. And recently discovered how that entire experience had a huge role to play in my psyche. She is now married to a guy and lives here in this country.”, I narrated my childhood love story.

“Did she ever say anything to you?”, my friend asked.

“No. I never got to know if it was just me who felt that way. She grew up dating guys so I assumed it either meant nothing to her or she doesn’t know? All I know is I loved her.”, I said.

“I am sorry. That must suck. Has it happened a lot of times? Falling for someone but not knowing what they felt?”, my friend asked. Turns out, she is quite a curious personality.

“Far more than I would like. Growing up, I would fall for a girl and pretend to continue to be her “close friend”. That’s all I thought I could get and that’s all I thought I deserved. So every time when they would go about dating guys, I would feel broken. It would be so hard to pretend to smile while I was hurting. I would tell myself that I was not normal and cry alone. For whatever reason, they all had a habit of choosing the most broken guys too. When things would not work with that guy or when that guy could not provide them with emotional security, I would be their emotional dumping ground and I would tell myself to be content with being that person. And after some time, they would all move on and I would be left with nothing but pain from that entire experience.

I didn’t have anyone to share that pain with. No one knew why I was getting more serious and sad as the years passed. Everyone pointed out how I laughed and smiled less but I never felt safe enough to open up. And whenever I would fall for a guy, I would tell myself that I was normal. I would have a sort of dance in my head. Heartbreaks with a guy were acceptable in society but not if it was a girl. It wasn’t real love if it was not with a man.”

“I am sorry. That must have been very lonely.” my friend empathized.

“It was. I kept telling myself that no one really knew me or cared to know me.”. My friend’s curiosity and her show of empathy touched my heart. I knew I had made the right decision to come out.

“Is it okay if I ask you what changed?”, my friend asked.

I exhaled, “I think it was me just wanting to be free to feel. To feel accepted and validated for my feelings. I fell for someone again. This time I confessed, hoping that if not my feelings at least my pain would be validated. But I didn’t get that validation that I was seeking. I was instead expected to just move on as if nothing had happened. Like falling in love meant nothing. However, when this time my pain was invalidated by her and another friend who had witnessed everything, it broke something in me. The more they ignored my feelings, the more invalidated and hurt I felt. I waited for them to validate it with their actions or their words. But neither of them stopped to check and see how I was doing.

This other friend had known for a while how much I was hurting. He had seen me struggle. But he chose to continue and ignore it. Either he wanted me to pretend that I was not hurt or he didn’t know what to do with it or my pain made him uncomfortable. But, whatever might have been the case, I felt invalidated. I was hurting, bad. And it’s not like I wanted him to talk to me about it but I also didn’t want him to pretend like nothing happened. He would continue having these conversations with me about her and later about her and her boyfriend as if he didn’t know what happened. I asked him multiple times to stop. To stop bringing her topic up because damn I missed her and it pained me to know that she didn’t even want me in her life. But he didn’t. Or he would forget. Or he didn’t care. I don’t know. Initially, I tried to pretend too because that’s the only way I knew to feel accepted.

But one day when he came over and again pretended like nothing happened, I decided that was it. I was done pretending and I was done feeling invalidated. The next day, I stopped contact with him. I thought that would also be a good way for them to continue being friends without the awkwardness. A couple of weeks back he tried to start the communication again. I tried too but soon realized that I was done pretending like nothing happened. I was in love, I was hurt, they weren’t there and it sucked. He couldn’t understand or empathize. I am not angry with him but just don’t want to put myself in that situation anymore.

Well, that plus all the interactions that I have had with others who have gone through similar experiences plus my therapists helped me see the baggage that I had been carrying since that first childhood love. Finally, I have been watching a lot of lesbian movies and tv shows. Elena Undone and I can’t think straight have been some of the best to help me cope.

I guess exposure to content and discussions that make me feel like what I experience is normal has helped me validate myself. I realized I was done just carrying that baggage and invalidating myself just to feel accepted.”

“And you don’t have to carry it anymore. How do you feel about all this now?”, my friend asked.

“Normal. Proud of myself. I just fall in love I guess. It doesn’t matter to me who you are or what you are as long as I feel that connection with you. I love a person for who they are and nothing else matters to me. And my love is valid and the pain of heartbreak is valid too. I would not tell a friend who is hurting that their feelings don’t mean anything so no one can tell me that either.

I don’t have to fear being “caught” for having feelings for someone I shouldn’t. I don’t have to pretend to be okay. And most importantly, I can set boundaries. If someone can’t give me what I need, I don’t have to hide what I feel and keep myself in a situation where I am not valued for what I bring to the table. Or continue pretending to be okay with just having an emotional affair with someone anymore because they can’t be honest with themselves and can’t see the pain that they’ve caused.”

“You don’t. And thank you again for sharing your story. What can I do to make you feel better?”, my friend asked consoling me.

“Let’s have some tea!”

From the Fallen Ashes, Phoenix Will Rise – Part 2

“From the ashes, phoenix will rise” – Her

For more background and context about this post, go to From the Fallen Ashes, Phoenix Will Rise

“Have you heard of functional medicine?”, asked the person I had just met on a dating app.

“No, what’s that?”, I asked.

“It’s a form of therapy. You know how cardiologists only treat ailments of the heart, an orthopeodic only looks at bones, etc. A person who performs functional medicine focuses on the entire body.

Another option is Craniosacral Therapy. Here, let me send out details of two of my friends.”

I was pleasantly surprised by this stranger. This was our first video call and she was already advicing me on what I could do to live a healthier life.

“..and I meditate and practice Heart Rhythm Meditation. Meditation changed me and all these techniques have helped me heal my body.”

Ignore it… Ignore it… She just meditates, everyone medidates. It doesn’t mean anything – my protective brain told me.

“And now I have developed a daily practice and try to align with my heart rhythm.”

Okay fine. Ask her.

“Do… Are you aware of something called Spiritual Emergence or Spiritual Awakening?”, I asked hesistantly.

“I haven’t heard of emergence but, yes, I have some experience with awakening. Why?”

“It just sounded like you did. I do too.” Interesting.

We continued to speak about different topics for another half hour. Towards the end, she said, “I was hurting when it started. Someone had left and it was just painful. That’s when I met the craniosacral therapists and also got introduced to Heart Rhythm Meditation.”

Noooooooo. It can’t be. It’s okay. Many people have these experiences. Fine, I’ll ask – my internal conflict chimed in

“Can you tell me more about your experience with this person?”

After listening to her for a few minutes, I had no other option but to ask her, “Would you like to meet? I think we have a lot to discuss.”

“Yes, please. When?”

Our first meeting turned into spending an entire evening together. We just opened up to each other about every crazy experience that we’ve had in the past few years. In the next few days, we shared more with each other than we had shared with anyone in the past, opening up about things that neither of us had felt comfortable talking about openly. It was like we had finally found someone who could understand the depth of shock, pain, and love that we had experienced. She had her awakening a year before I did and it had been as crazy as mine.

“You should really try functional medicine or CST.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

For the past few months, I had been searching for someone who practices Somatic Experiencing Therapy – a type of alternative therapy that works with the body to release trapped emotions/traumas that are too intense for a person to otherwise process. I had been unsuccessful in my search so far. I had found some therapists but hadn’t felt like going back the second time. Since my search for a Somatic Experiencing Therapist had proved to be in vain, I took her up on her suggestion.

I looked up both her friends and decided to reach out to the one I felt closer to. In my first call with her friend, I asked the therapist about her methodology, her experience working with people suffering from PTSD, and her knowledge about Spiritual Emergence. She checked all the boxes. But, there was more. She knew Reiki (I am trained in it) and Somatic Experiencing Therapy. I booked my appointment for the next day.

The first time I entered her office, I was greeted with a hug. She was so kind that my body immediately felt at ease. However, my brain went into a fog. I looked at her and in my “third” eye saw a green aura around her.

That’s new, I thought to myself.

My first session was nothing miraculous but it was peaceful. I had an emotional release that weekend and knew that I had to go back. I called up my ex and told her about my experience.

“I am so happy for you. Looks like this is a good medium for you and you had been searching for such a therapist for a while. I am glad that you finally found someone.”

“Yes. There is just one thing…”

“What?”

“I feel like I know her. I don’t know from where but I just have this feeling that I know her from somewhere.”

“Who? The therapist or this girl?”

“The therapist.”

“Have you met her before?”

“No.”

“Interesting. Will you go back?”

“Yes. My brain went into a fog after I entered her room. The session was helpful. I don’t know, I just feel like I know her.”

“I trust you. You’ll know.”

“Ya.”

On my next visit, I told my therapist how I had been feeling after the first session. In her room, however, I ended up having the same experience that I had the first time I was there. My body was at ease but my mind had gone into a fog. We had our second session which was even more impactful than the first. In this session, I had visions and communicated the same to my therapist. She guided me through those visions and I ended up having my first somatic release.

After the session, we sat down to chat.

“So how are you feeling?”, she asked.

“I am feeling good. Tell me something, are you a Reiki Master?”

“Yes, I am. How did you know?”

“Your hands get really warm during the session. I am certified in Reiki therapy so maybe that makes it easier for me to identify. You know, with my Reiki teacher, I can’t be in the same room with him for a longer duration. I start to feel all this energy and I have to take a break. I feel a lot of energy from you too.”

“That’s because you’re an empath. You feel other people’s energy and emotions even if they are not aware of it themselves. It’s a gift.”

“It is and is also tough especially when they are not aware of what they’re feeling or don’t want to accept it. Can I tell you something?”

“Yes, please.”

“I feel like I know you from somewhere. Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so. Not physically at least. What do you feel?”

“This is going to sound weird but the first time I met you, I had this vision of you just being surrounded by a green aura. And ever since our last session, I kept feeling like I’d met you somewhere. I just can’t… SHIT.”, my mouth fell open.

“What? What do you remember? Tell me?”

“You’re Her!”

“Who?”

“Last year when I had my awakening, there was a night when I felt like I was about to die. In my helpless state, I had asked for help from someone, anyone who could help. That night, I had a vision of someone surrounded by green light. She supported me and guided me at the time. It was because of her that I survived. I had felt so much love, unconditional love.

You look like her.”

“Did she tell you anything else?”

“Just that she has always been with me. And that she would soon meet me.”, I was still looking at her with wide eyes.

“Looks like a part of my soul was with you during your awakening”, she exclaimed with a broad smile on her face.

“Yes”, I said still shocked. “She was my guide at a time when I desperately needed help. She was the one I held onto and the only one I trusted when it was all happening. And now your physical self… Shit”, I again felt goosebumps.

“And now I am quite literally guiding you. Wow! I just got goosebumps.”, she exclaimed, equally surprised.

“Shit.”

“Shit.”

“Do you believe me?”

“Of course I do. I don’t know how any of this works either but I have felt a connection with you ever since you walked into this room. I didn’t know what it was. I don’t see things like you do. You have the gift of sight and empathy. I feel and hear sometimes. And I felt you.”

“I can’t believe that I am finally meeting you.”

“You are. You know I had been thinking about why I suddenly started this practice. I had been thinking about it for a while but due to certain circumstances, I could not make it happen. And, then, I opened this practice just a month earlier. I was on leave and had just come back when you called. I had been wondering to myself, why now. I guess now I know why.”

And that’s how after almost two years after my awakening, I met the human who had acted as my guide without meeting me in person. I finally met Her. And she’s as awesome a human being as she’s a guide.

I had written the original blog with this title as a way to let out my truth and unburden myself when my experiences had first started. It was a way for me to put my experience on paper with the hope that something will somehow make sense. Almost two years have passed, and my experiences have continued albeit the intensity has reduced. Either that or I have found a way to manage them better. At the time when I wrote the original blog, I hadn’t imagined that a day would come for me to write about that experience again. Well, feels like that day is today.

She is real and she is here 🙂

Ode To This Land

Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr

“I sold my recliner yesterday. It was so strange. You know, I got really sad and ended up hugging it and saying my goodbye to it? I’ve moved around so much in my life but this one feels much harder. I can’t understand why.”

“Because this one is not your choice.”

“Oh.”

I had the above conversation with my best friend last night. For months, I have struggled with this feeling. I have tried to delay checking out houses, finding resources, and doing anything that I could do to delay the inevitable – allowing myself to feel the sadness of leaving a place, maybe the only place, I felt at home.

Growing up, we moved around a lot as a family. I left the city I was born in when I was just three but still have a special attachment to it. I spent my school years in four different cities and five different schools, and the next twelve years in five different cities and in two different countries. Any time I would make a group of close friends, it would be time for me to leave for a new destination – sometimes by choice, sometimes for lack of one.

Every time I moved, I would feel excited about what was to come. Struggling as a newbie in a new city would be tough but eventually, I would find a way to make it work. If it didn’t, I would move again. I’ve made friends across these places, some who are still in contact and some who I parted ways with. There are some good memories and some bad associated with all these places but I have never regretted moving on. I’ve also never given myself enough time to say goodbye to these places. Yes, there were farewells and goodbye exchanges but never to the entire experience that that place had to offer.

However, this time it feels different. I feel like I am leaving behind a part of me or maybe multiple parts. This time it feels different because, with all the experiences that this place had to offer, I felt more at home here than afar. This goodbye is for the land which felt the closest to me coming home.

I came to this country in 2018. In my confusion about which college to choose, the uncertainty of the future of my relationship, and my dilemma about leaving my loved ones behind, I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare for the move. The decision to come to this country was made two months before leaving and all the remaining time was spent in paperwork and packing for the new life. The move hit me hard after I arrived in the new place. With no one to call a friend and so many new things to learn, I felt alone. Past hurts and trauma started to resurface without me understanding why. Depression took hold of me and I started to doubt my decision to move. Relationships I had held onto started to fade away and life started to look much darker than ever. Looking at the sky, one cold midwest winter, I observed how dark my surroundings looked. It wasn’t the darkness of the evening but the darkness that I felt within – a lack of light, a lack of peace, and a lack of love.

In my darkest times, this land offered me a hand that slowly but steadily started to pull me out of my own darkness – therapy. Speaking to my therapists and learning about myself became the crutch that I needed to keep going. Months after months, I started to unpack my trauma, unlearn beliefs and patterns that didn’t serve me well anymore, understand my psyche, and see myself more clearly.

The five years that I’ve spent here have not been the easiest, to say the least. If anything, I have experienced more ups and downs here than anywhere else I have lived. I went through a breakup with someone I thought I’ll marry, lost a job during the pandemic, went through an awakening that shattered my world, injured myself in more ways than one, fell in love and felt loved, came out to half of my family and to most of my friends, got promoted at work and got in touch with my creative side. Throughout these times, while therapy gave me an outlet and a platform to heal, the journey itself was no piece of cake. It was hard to witness years of trauma stored in my body, feel the unprocessed emotions stored in various corners of my psyche, and become aware of the repressed memories tucked away in boxes. When you commit to healing yourself, it takes your entire being to surrender to that healing. Sometimes you cry in the middle of the night, sometimes you feel scared of the darkness within you, and most of the time you feel like you’re all alone in your fight.

At such times, this land gave me hope in the form of therapists and spiritual healers. They gave me the space I needed to open up, guided me, and helped me deal with the numerous wounds that were waiting to be treated. They gave me the love and support I needed to feel “normal” and helped me see the light in me. At times when I had lost hope, they gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. At times when I felt like there was no way out, they became the friend I needed to find the strength within me. When I had believed the world and those close to me who thought I was lying, these therapists and healers asked me to believe in my truth and told me that I was gifted. When I was too scared to take a step without falling, they guided me to ground myself and take it one moment at a time. When no one believed me and in me, they asked me to ignore the messages and believe in myself. These unfamiliar faces became my guides, friends, and teachers who helped me every step of the way to ensure that I survive and come out the other side alive.

Yet throughout the journey, I craved. I craved a friend, a companion who wouldn’t doubt my truth and just for once, hold me and tell me that I was not insane. I longed for someone to hear me and let me feel a little less lonely on my journey. I told a friend I recently met, “I wish I had met you earlier. It has been lonely. But it’s already time to say goodbye.” It has been hard to make and maintain relationships in this land. Very few people stayed till the end and I guess I had a role to play in it too. When I was struggling with my identity, I found it hard to relate to people who didn’t know my truth or didn’t understand my truth. When I was struggling with childhood trauma, it became hard to fake happiness and to lose myself in relationships, parties, and booze. And when I experienced something esoteric, the only way I had was to go inside.

Yet, this land offered me support in the form of connections that influenced and challenged me in their own way. Starting with meeting a person whose openness about her sexuality made me question my secrecy. To a friend who adopted me as her own and chooses to do so till this date. A friend who I lost on the way but who in her own ways left a mark on me. A lover who offered me support without understanding the depths of my struggles and finally, a lover who offered me the one thing I had longed for – for someone to believe in my story without doubting my truth.

But all connections didn’t come to me as friends or lovers. Some of them were there as colleagues and mentors. From a colleague who believed in his gut to get to know me more only to realize we’re more similar than different and took the role of a cheerleader along the way. To a manager who continuously chose to believe in my worth even when I had little to offer, cherishing me, guiding me, and laying out opportunities for me to become the person I am today. Finally, a leader, who took the role of a mother at a time when I was scared of drowning. Without asking me why she gave me what I wanted and became a pillar that I needed.

Yes, some of these were passing connections. Some came and left without much explanation. But they all played their parts in helping me get to where I am today.

This land showed me a way of life I was not familiar with yet gave me the tools to make it through. The city and the apartment I am in for the past year, have called out to me as home since my first day here. This is where I wanted to come back to after my first trip some three years back. This is where I chose to live by myself despite the challenges of the night. This is where I explored myself and found what I had been hiding my entire life. This is where I cried, loved, walked, broke, and survived.

In the past five years in this land, I have broken down mentally, emotionally, and physically. To the point that I asked my ex to write a story of my journey in her words if and when she chooses so that another Tanu knows that she too can survive (she’s a much better storyteller). When emotional and mental turmoil was not enough, my body gave in to back aches and finally to a broken foot. Yet, this land held me as its own. It gave me rest and solitude when I didn’t know that was what I needed. It gave me sun and now a downpour of rain as if to let me know that it’s all washed away.

Oh! the love I have for this strange land where I wasn’t born but where I died and survived multiple deaths. Words are not enough to show my gratitude to this holy land that I called home and will always cherish as the place where I was born again. Here is where I met myself and found ways to balance myself. Its trees, streams, skies, and streets – all stayed with me throughout my time. They offered me love and shelter when I had none, and showed me the right way to love. It taught me gratitude and broke down my illusions. It gave me peace and taught me what it means to surrender. Away from the noise of the cities, it showed me what it’s like to connect. It showed me the suffering of the masses and taught me to love without asking.

One blog will not be enough to speak volumes of my love. Even while I write, I can’t help but grieve and cherish the memories of the past five years. There will be more tears to flow and more healing to come. There will be more memories to rejoice and more times to mourn. But right now, I take the first steps to surrender to what’s to come and grieve the loss of the land I love.

A little more sense

TW – Death

“But she was a good person. Why do bad things happen to good people”?

This question has bothered me ever since I first experienced death. I was in grade 4 and a student from my school had passed away in a road accident. I didn’t know her and had never spoken to her. But, I always saw her with her sister, riding together to a coaching institute. One day, I saw the two sisters coming to that institute. It was like any other day but I felt stuck with grief looking at them. I couldn’t understand why but I remember going back home and feeling low throughout the day. The next morning, I heard about her demise. They had been in an accident. While the younger sister survived, the elder sister couldn’t make it. As soon as I heard the news, I went to my classroom and set there by myself, crying. It didn’t make sense to me how I knew but most importantly, it didn’t make sense to me why I was crying for someone I didn’t know.

Years later, I still don’t have the answer to how I knew something was about to happen but I know why I was crying – I was grieving. I was grieving for the sister who passed away and for the sister who stayed. I was grieving for the family who lost their daughter and I was grieving for her friends. I didn’t have to know her to know what the passing away of someone can do to a family and close ones.

The meaning of death has always eluded me. Sometimes I have been left emotionless and sometimes scared. When my maternal grandfather passed away, I was surprised by how numb I felt. I took the role of the supporter and tried to support my mother in her grief. The only time I could cry was when I saw the pain in my mother’s eyes. Years later when my paternal grandfather passed away, I became a pillar of support for my entire family. This time, my dad’s and sister’s tears did not make me cry so I just hugged them silently. The only thing that could eventually make me cry was wondering why I could not cry.

Grief strikes everyone in different ways. For some, the reaction is immediate. For some, it takes a while and for some, it takes years. It comes and goes in waves. There is no right way to grieve and there is no right time to grieve. It’s okay to not have a reaction and it’s also okay to break down. It’s okay to let it come in waves and it’s also okay to not know how to grieve. I grieved for my maternal grandfather through a series of dreams. For my paternal grandfather, it took years for grief to strike and months to understand what I was grieving.

Last night, I heard the news of a colleague passing away and I again felt the same distant yet familiar feeling strike me. I was shocked and sent my blessings to his family, friends, and loved ones. Today at the office, we had multiple meetings and interactions where people shared how they were feeling. While some knew exactly what they felt, some were silent. Some were trying to support the others and some were trying their best not to break. Here again, I took the role of a listener to give people space to grieve, sending them my love and blessings along the way.

During one such conversation, someone asked the same question that has always haunted me, “But he was such a good man. Healthy and full of life. Why?” The question made me wonder and I heard an answer – “Because his soul had served its purpose for this lifetime”. The answer gave me goosebumps and it started to make a little more sense.

We think of people’s purpose in a physical sense – relationships, finances, properties, etc. But most of the time, we don’t know what their soul’s purpose was. We don’t know why their soul chose to take birth, why it made connections with whom they met, why they made choices that they made or why they left the way they did. We don’t know what their soul had to learn or teach, how they chose to influence this world – in a good way or bad, or even where they will go next. But they were here for something and whatever it was – they achieved. So they left – maybe to come back for another lesson or to transcend.

I had the same thought when Paul Walker passed away. I used to ask why is it that good people die but bad people stay? A part of me had whispered an answer back then – “Because their role is complete while the others are still serving their role”. I had ignored the answers back then and instead blamed God for being unfair. Today, that answer made a little more sense. “His role was complete while others were still playing their role.”

So grieve for those who have left. Grieve for yourself and for others suffering the loss. And bless and celebrate the soul that has passed – for it accomplished what it was here for.

Internal Family Systems

We are not one-dimensional, and our multiple dimensions are not static. Just as our bodies are made of many parts that form a dynamic, interwoven system that works together, so it is with our psyches. We are more awake, alive, and complex than we know.” ― Ralph De La Rosa

Today I had one of the most impactful therapy sessions of my life. In my session with my therapist, we visited a part of me that has stayed in the darkness for a long time, hiding from the world, unseen, too scared of all the pain it had experienced, and feeling too alone in the dark. This part of me was a little girl hiding in a dark room, crying for years and waiting for me to come and rescue her. When I asked her what she needed from me, she hugged me and asked me for love. She, then, showed me the place I was born, letting me know she was just 3 when she went into that dark room. Since, then, she has been hiding, afraid of the dark and too alone to feel safe. As soon as I realized her age, I started to cry uncontrollably realizing how long the pain has stayed in my body. She, then, took me to another room, this one filled with light. When I asked her if she could let off some of that pain, she told me that she was afraid that I will forget her. I told her I wouldn’t and held her hand to reassure her. Still sensing her hesitation, I asked her how old she thought I was, and she said I was 9. When I told her I was 30, she put some of that pain in my hand which looked like a black blob, telling me that she could trust an adult. When I asked her what she wanted to do with that black blob, she asked me to burn it and let it leave. After we burnt it, she hugged me again. When my therapist asked me what that experience felt like, I told her I felt like I was a mother to this little girl and that’s all that little girl needed – for me to be my mother.

Last year, I had a similar experience with my Shamanic teacher who had taken me to my childhood and helped me recall parts of my life that I had completely forgotten. Today, when my therapist did something similar, I asked her how she knew how to do it since she is not a spiritual therapist. She told me that the practice is based on Internal Family Systems and has proved to be extremely beneficial in helping people heal.

IFS was developed by psychologist Richard Schwartz. In his work as a family therapist, Schwartz began to observe patterns in how people described their inner lives. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self. (Source: Internal Family Systems Therapy)

With today’s session, I didn’t just bring that little girl to light but also realized something about my own psyche. Since the last year, when I first experienced my spiritual emergence, a shift had happened in the way I dream. There have been several dreams where I could see a lot of people talking about me, advising me on how to tackle a challenge. Some were criticizing me, some were shaming me, some were protecting me and some were loving me. It almost feels like a debate is held on what’s best for me while I get to decide what I go along with. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. I see some friends who help me decipher what’s going on with my life and body, acting like guides and companions especially when the dreams would otherwise scare me. I see my mother as two very distinct personalities – a mother who tries to protect me by asking me to hide parts of me and a mother who cares for me and tells me how much she cares for me by allowing me to be my whole self. While I always tend to run away from the former, I tend to phase out the noise of my dream with the latter and listen to every word she says, intuitively knowing that I can trust her.

In spiritual practices, the Mother is a Goddess of the Universe, the creator, and the nurturer. Last year, I told my Shamanic teacher how I had started to see a woman in my visions who told me she was Mother. Every time I asked him to do a Shamanic journey for me, he told me that Mother was with me for some reason. While he didn’t know why and I didn’t ask him to clarify, I could not understand what that meant to me. Until today, when I experienced and embodied that energy unintentionally.

Outside of my very interesting dreams, last year I also experienced something that blew my mind – I could place the origin of different thoughts in different parts of my body and brain. Each thought had a different tone, a different associated emotion, and a different message. Thanks to some research done by the University of Wisconsin on meditation practices, I could understand that this is something that meditation can sometimes result in – creating separation from our thoughts and emotions. IFS helps in identifying and connecting with these parts, understanding them better, recognizing the role they play in our psychological development, and helping us integrate these parts in a way that helps us heal and grow.

I still don’t know what all this means and I am still trying to figure out how my brain works, how my body works, or how my spirituality works. However, I again realized today that it’s all interconnected somehow. That Mother energy/archetype/Goddess/part of my psyche helped me release some pain and bring me some much-needed peace.

I think it will never cease to amaze me how much wisdom exists out there in the world and how connected spirituality, science, and psychology are. At the end of the day, we all have the answers and support we need within us, accessible all the time. We just need to try and trust ourselves to bring ourselves into the light.

Judgements & Limitations

“Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.”
― Naya Rivera

Our brain is a very interesting organ. At times of distress, it is our savior, a guide when we have to make decisions, and our go-to place for reminiscing our past and exploring the possibilities of our future. However, at times, the same brain can bring us much un-needed chaos and can bring us dismay to a point where there is only darkness and no clear path forward.

Last night, I had a dream that was a bit stressful to witness. In the dream, I was surrounded by people I love. We had entered a huge bungalow to seek shelter in the darkness of night but from the very beginning, I had a bad feeling about the place. While everyone enjoyed the new place and soon got accustomed to this place, I kept struggling with how people had started to forget about the outside world. When I asked others to leave the house and tried to remind them of the bigger world outside of the bungalow, everyone declared that they didn’t want to leave. They started to tell me how much they enjoyed the house and that the bungalow was too beautiful to leave. Their response did not sit well with me and I kept asking them to come with me even if for a few minutes. A guy, who looked like no one I know in real life, came toward me and told me that even if people tried to leave the house they couldn’t because something was keeping them inside and “controlling” them. He told me that I could do an experiment with him and force him outside of the house but to be cautious because even though he loved me, he won’t be in control once I try to force him out. I did as he suggested and as soon as we got closer to the door, he got so angry that he tried to break my hand. Fortunately, he could stop himself from going any further but only when I told him that he was hurting me. He stopped and, then, I woke up.

Needless to say, I woke up terrified after the dream. It was too detailed and seemed too real. Unlike in the past, when I would have succumbed to the fear that the dream induced, I took a couple of deep breaths and decided to try and decipher the psychological meaning of this dream and what my subconscious was trying to tell me without attaching a meaning to the dream. I thought of all the “characters” in the dream as various parts of my personality, psyche, aspirations, and dreams. I thought of the house as a box in which these parts of me were trapped and had found solace. A part of me wanted us to step out of this box, a box that I had created for myself, and recognize that there was a bigger world outside where all parts of me could be free to be themselves. That part of me could see the plethora of opportunities available to me outside of this box and wanted the whole of me to take a step. However, whenever a part of me tried to step out of this box, my “fear” kept stopping it and it kept succumbing to the “limitations” that I had placed on myself. The “something” that was stopping me from going outside was not an outside force but the fear of stepping out of my comfort zone and the fear of losing control.

My takeaway from the dream was simple – I am only limited by my beliefs. If I believe that I don’t have a way out of my current predicament, I will continue to find solace wherever I am stuck and find reasons to continue to be stuck there. However, moving out of this place into the unknown requires courage to go beyond fear and determination to keep moving. Even the guy in my dream who wanted to hurt me for forcing him out of this box eventually stopped as soon as I told him that he was hurting me. All I needed to do was make him aware of how his succumbing to the fear was hurting someone he loves. In other words, all I had to do was tell myself how I was hurting myself by limiting myself and by surrendering to my fear.

Judgments about self and limitations of our capabilities come from various sources within and outside of ourselves. The way we talk to ourselves day in and day out determines our sense of self-esteem and invariably affects our chance to expand psychologically, mentally, and spiritually. These judgments become so intrinsic to our way of life and sense of self that we start to overlook the different ways that we’re hurting ourselves. We start to look at ourselves and our experiences from the lens of all these judgments and become prisoners to our own minds.

Let me share a personal example. I learned swimming when I was around 7 years old. I am a good swimmer and I love the feeling of being immersed in water, shutting out the outside noise, and staring at the sky for unlimited time. Swimming for me has always been a cathartic exercise that I have loved more than any other activity that I have ever participated in. Despite my love for this activity, I stopped swimming a few years back. The last time I entered a pool was some 6 years back. Since then, I’ve had numerous opportunities to indulge myself in a swim but have always figured out a way to not do it – weather is too cold/I don’t have the right swimsuit/no one else is doing it, etc. So, when I moved to an apartment complex that offers a huge swimming pool in a city with the perfect weather and I was still reluctant to take a step inside, a friend asked me why? I looked at her and confessed – “I don’t look good in my swimsuit. I am on a heavier side and I don’t want people to see me that way and make comments.” Before she could respond, I heard myself say, “But I don’t think that’s the real reason. Maybe it’s not about what other people say about my looks. I think it’s more about how much I criticize my looks. When someone else goes inside a pool, I see a person enjoying an activity that I hold close to my heart and it makes me feel happy for them. However, when I feel like doing the same thing, I tell myself I am too fat. I’ve been depriving myself of indulging in an activity that I love so much just because of all these judgments that I have about myself. No, it’s not what other people will say about me. It’s about how negatively I look at myself and my body”.

You see, a lot of our limitations for ourselves or others are nothing but judgments that were at some point in our lives passed on to us that we’ve started to believe to be true. We hold these judgments so close to our hearts that we start to identify with them. We judge others based on these superficial beliefs about what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s pure and what’s impure, and what’s true and what’s untrue. Worse, we force these judgments on ourselves and deprive ourselves of things that bring us joy claiming that we’re scared of what society will think. The truth is that society will think whatever it will think. What matters more is what we think. If we see ourselves as bad, ugly, corrupt, wrong, or unworthy, even the changes in society’s way of thinking won’t be enough to influence our beliefs.

Self-judgement is worse than being judged by others because we can always disconnect from others but we can not quiet down that voice in our head that judges everything that we say, do, or feel. I have, at times, felt paralyzed by this voice of judgment that loves to tell me how fat I am, how ugly I look, how I don’t dress well, how I am not smart enough, or how I am not worthy enough. When I show my vulnerable side to someone I am close to, this voice tells me that I am weak. When I express my opinion, this voice tells me that I am dumb. When I express my beliefs, this voice tells me that they are invalid. When I share my concerns about a situation, this voice tells me that I am paranoid or that I am over-reacting. When I write a blog on this topic, this voice tells me that I am craving attention.

I spoke to a life coach and separately took some help from a therapist to try and understand what I could do to shut down this voice. With their help, I realized that shutting down this voice will be similar to shutting down a part of me. Instead, a better way would be to become aware of this voice, give it a personality, hear it and see how this voice affects other parts of me, thank it for its feedback, and talk to the other parts of me that feel demotivated and de-energized by the judgments passed on by a part of me.

So, I took a moment to focus on this voice and allowed it to pass judgments while trying to identify the sources of this voice – there were many. These were judgments passed on by my relatives, family, friends, acquaintances, media, passers-by, etc. Next, I gave this voice a name – Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy. I, then, attributed a few characteristics to this couple – they’re a couple who have always hidden in the shadows, have experienced several setbacks in life and have been hurt numerous times by their loved ones, and have never had anyone give them unconditional love. So, now, Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy, find solace in finding judgments in other people so that they can force others to feel the same pain that they’re experiencing. The other parts of me are parts of me who are trying to enjoy their lives and have no ill intention toward anyone else. They want to take a stab at life and want to create the life of their dreams. When Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy take out their frustration on these parts, they feel demotivated and hurt. My role as an observer of this relationship is to provide compassion to these parts of me and provide them the courage that they need to experience life. For Mr. and Mrs. Grumpy, it’s my role to hear them and recognize the hurt that has been caused over years to this couple, provide them the love that they have been deprived of and thank them for protecting me at times when I could have faced some humiliation from the outside world.

Self-judgement comes in various shapes and forms. It’s tough to love others and provide a space for others to be themselves if we can’t even provide a space for ourselves to be free. Love for community starts with the love for ourselves.

Mother Terresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”. I say, “If you judge yourself, you have no time to love anyone.”

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, learning more about them, and offering them my time, energy, and support 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/beliefs 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 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 recognize if that 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, go for that kiss, tell someone you love them, and indulge in that activity that your heart desires but you’re too scared to do. 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 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 we encounter the power of unconditional love, it has the power to change our worlds.

Forgiveness

“All major religions carry basically the same message; that is love, compassion, and forgiveness the important thing that should be a part of their lives.” – Dalai Lama

I was talking to a friend about how forgiveness and compassion are the keys to mending a relationship, letting go of past hurt, and moving on. We were both trying to understand how we could heal from our individual pasts where we were hurt by people we felt very close to – family, close friends, and even past romantic connections. While we both agreed that forgiveness is about setting ourselves free from our past, she asked me a question that made me think – “Are we truly ready to move on when we still find it hard to let go of an individual, and still want the two of us to find a way back to each other in some form?” The question made me take a pause and made me wonder if we are, in fact, ready to let go if we want things to work out with an individual or were we fooling ourselves into thinking that we were healed and were fine with not having these people in our lives anymore. Turns out, I hadn’t really understood what it means to forgive.

Our conversation forced me to look at forgiveness beyond the realm of psychology or human society. It forced me to look at it from the lens of spirituality and the interpretation that I got made more sense to me than anything else ever had regarding this topic and this individual. When I thought about forgiveness, I often related it to be putting aside my pain and hurt, trying to empathize with the other individual, and letting things go. In other situations where I am hurt by the actions/inactions of an individual, I ask myself how my expectations would change from that individual going forward – “Do I want them to be a part of my life?”, “Do I want us to break contacts completely?”, “Do I want them to apologize and prove to me that they won’t make the same mistake again?”, or “Do I not care about this relationship anymore?”. These questions have helped me in the past to deal with certain relationships. At times, I have chosen to close the doors. At times, I have chosen to move forward and told myself the famous saying – “Let bygones be bygones”. At other times, I have given myself time to process the hurt and let time decide how the relationship progressed. But, when it comes to some individuals, none of that works.

So, what do you do when you are hurt but want to forgive someone from all your heart because you can’t imagine them hurting? What do you do when you can’t be angry with someone but know that it would be so much easier to move on if you were angry? What do you do when logic, psychology, and science fly out of the window? What do you do when your brain and heart are in a continuous struggle? What do you do when you don’t even know if they care? I asked myself if I can’t do something, then, is there something that they can do to mend it? Can they do anything or say anything that will help me let it go? The screaming answer from all of my being was – “No”. They can’t because, at the end of the day, it was never about them. It was always about me.

From the lens of Spirituality, we’re all souls having a human experience. Our conscious mind determines how we interpret a situation, what actions we take, what we think, and how to react. Our subconscious mind is a different game. It is here where we have all of our emotional patterns stored. It is here where we process emotions. It is this part that determines what triggers us, how we see ourselves, and how we see others. These two parts magically come together to define our entire personality – the one the world sees and the one we hide. But, there is another part, the part that can’t be measured and does not have a scientific term. The part of us that’s defining the experiences that we choose to have in this lifetime. The part that goes beyond any logic and cannot be detected by any known technology – our soul.

We all come to this world to follow our purpose that’s hidden somewhere beneath the layers of our conscious and subconscious minds. We come to this world to work on the baggage that we’ve carried for so many lives. We come to this world to learn lessons that our souls have decided for us to learn. We come to this world to free ourselves from this world.

If our soul decided all our encounters, if our soul is the one deciding what experiences we have and our human selves are the ones who have to learn from these experiences, then, that would mean that every single interaction in our lifetime is an opportunity for us to heal ourselves. It’s an opportunity for us to get more in alignment with our authentic selves and it’s an opportunity for us to release all that is not us.

So, if that’s the case, how can I be angry with someone for doing what my soul needed them to do? How can I keep hurting myself by reminding myself of what happened and how I wished things were different? How can I blame the other for doing what they needed to do to help me heal? How can I blame them for not recognizing that at the of the day, I too did what their soul wanted me to do? How can I continue to feel hurt or guilt for what is essentially the actions of two souls in a human body, both trying to free themselves and each other from the illusion of this reality? How can I blame someone for hurting me when they can’t see what their souls are asking them to see when I, myself, can’t let it go despite hearing and seeing what my soul is telling me?

No, it does not make any logical sense. It does not even make any psychological sense but it makes perfect spiritual sense. I can’t be angry with someone because my heart does not allow me to be angry with them. I can’t continue to remind myself of the past, of their actions, and feel hurt because that’s what they had to do to bring me where I am today and push me to where I am meant to be. I can’t continue to hold onto this guilt of hurting them because, unfortunately, I too couldn’t listen to what my soul was trying to tell me. I can’t continue to hold onto that guilt because I was also had to act a certain way to hopefully push them to where they needed to be. I can’t hold onto a specific scenario or timeline, and I can’t even hold on to certain expectations because it’s as out of my control as it is theirs.

I can only choose how I respond in the now. I can choose to let bygones be bygones, I can choose to hold onto that hurt, I can choose to claim that I know how to forgive them or myself, I can choose to be angry, I can choose to hold a facade to show I have moved on and I can choose to not care. The truth, however, is I can’t choose to be fake. I can’t. I don’t understand how any of this works but maybe I don’t have to. I still hope and still believe. I still have faith and that’s all I have. I don’t know how to navigate this but maybe I am not supposed to. Maybe this is the lesson that I had to learn all along. Maybe sometimes it’s not about forgiveness. Maybe sometimes it’s choosing to align with what’s not of this world and letting it be.

Doesn’t that, somehow, make forgiveness easy? When you can see a person’s action as an act of their human form but know that there is something that’s “asking” them to take that action will you still blame them? When you can tell yourself that a person’s actions are not about the physical you or the physical them but is a way to help heal both of you in ways that you can’t comprehend (yet)? Isn’t it easy to forgive when you can choose to respond or react when something hurts you because you know that whatever a person says or does is helping both or one of you align with your higher self? Isn’t it poetic to see that we’re all working towards the common goal of healing ourselves and each other without realizing how? Isn’t it beautiful to experience the human experience of our souls without judging people or experiences and just knowing that there is a lesson at every step? Doesn’t acknowledging that people’s actions do not always indicate who they are but are a result of a misalignment between who they are and what they think of themselves to be, make it easy to surrender and let things be?

Throughout my journey, I have asked a question – Why was I meant to experience it when the others don’t? Why was I punished and left alone? Today, I got the answer. It was not a punishment but a blessing. A blessing that helps me see through a situation and determine for myself if something is about me because if it is about me, then, I can heal myself – a win for me and a win for us. If it’s not about me, I can let it be and pray that it heals whatever needs to be healed in the other person – a win for them and us. Isn’t that a marvelous gift? I can free myself of karma that’s not mine and I can free myself of karma that I have been carrying around for decades and centuries? Isn’t it beautiful to know that I can always see the “good” in others because I can always choose to see who they are vs what they portray to be? Isn’t it beautiful to not have anger and hatred and have a love for everyone and everything around me?

My friend is right. Sometimes, we are not ready to move on because there is nothing to move on from. There was never anything to forgive. Forgiveness came as soon as the hurt came. It was just our conscious selves trying to provide us some justice that our soul never needed. Some connections are just that, spiritual. All we can do is see ourselves in these individuals, see their souls, and believe that we will always help each other because forgiveness, compassion, and love are always the key. I guess that means that we just continue to wait and see.

I Am Worth It

“Most people give up finding their soul mate, and settle down to just having a flesh mate.”
― Anthony Liccione

Data-driven decision-making is one of the most sought-after skills these days. As a professional with a background in data, I love to get as many facts as I can get before making a call. I also love to take inputs from the relevant audience before making a critical decision. This approach helps me at my work and is appreciated by my colleagues as they know I would have done my homework before going with a specific decision. It helps me guide my colleagues too when they’re struggling to make decisions. Data tells us a story that oftentimes is not obvious. It brings into awareness the reality while ensuring that people’s emotions don’t get in the way of making a decision.

Then, what makes it challenging to apply the same framework to make a decision when it impacts me personally? A few months back, I had to decide which city I wanted to move to. People say, at times of confusion, follow your heart. The problem was my heart and mind were equally torn. On one hand, I had an opportunity to move to a city I had wanted to live in for years. On the other hand, the city I was living in was providing me with opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined. After countless discussions with friends and family, hours of research, and introspection, I decided to move to the city of my dreams. However, a week after signing my lease with my new apartment, I started to dread my decision. All of a sudden, the city I was in started to look better, the opportunities that it offered seemed unparalleled and the city of my dreams stopped to look as appealing. A week before I was about to move and just when I had convinced myself that there was nothing that I could do but move, I got a call from my apartment manager telling me that there was a problem with my application and my signed lease had not reached them. It took me a second to tell them that I wanted to withdraw my application and was not interested in moving there anymore. Now, you would expect that I would have stayed back in the original city. Not really, I still chose to move to the city of my dreams but to an apartment complex that I had an emotional connection with – an apartment more expensive than the one I was planning to move to but an apartment that I couldn’t get out of my head. So, what changed? I was still moving to the new city albeit at a better apartment. The original city still offered more opportunities than the new one. While I didn’t realize it when I made this decision, I realize it today – I was not fine with settling for an apartment that didn’t meet my expectations. It was a more reasonable and logical choice but it didn’t satisfy my desires. My discomfort with moving to that apartment had me question whether I even wanted to move to the city of my dreams. My heart wanted to make the move but wanted to do it in a way that met my expectations. It did not want me to settle for something less than what I deserved.

This is not the first time in the past year that I have come across a situation where I have found myself struggling to follow the same decision-making process that I have followed throughout my life. In the past, where I would have made a decision solely based on “what’s the most logical choice to make at this moment”, I seem to be struggling to settle down with something that doesn’t meet my expectations and wants even if it means making a tougher choice. Recently, a similar situation played out in my professional life where I got an opportunity that a few years back, I would have been extremely enthusiastic about. Yet, I have spent the last two months, struggling to find the same excitement. The day I got this opportunity, I called a friend and gave her the good news. Her immediate response was “Why are you sounding sad? This is such great news!”. I said, “I am not sure. I should be happy, right? It’s such a good opportunity. But, it’s not inducing any excitement or even happiness in me. I mean, I am not sad but I am not thrilled either.” It took me two months of doing an in-depth pro cons analysis, discussions, retrospection and everything in between to realize – “I am not sure if this is what I want. It’s not good and it’s not bad. I am just not sure if this is the best that I can get. I am not sure if this is worth it. I am not sure if this is worth me.”

Not settling for whatever is available to you is a new concept for me. Before writing this blog, I didn’t even know that this was the reason behind my feeling unfulfilled. That’s not to say that I am not ready for a change. But, that means that I am ready for something worth my time and effort, and that better aligns with what I want and what I am worth. I have grown so accustomed to settling down for whatever I can get that sometimes I don’t expect or ask for more. It does not mean that I’ll happily sabotage myself for others but just that I never believed in my value or self-worth enough. I didn’t believe in my capabilities enough and didn’t give myself enough credit to go after what I truly want.

A person becomes an accomplice in their dissatisfaction when they constantly settle for less than what they want. Settling isn’t the same as accepting something/someone as is. It isn’t a noble martyrdom. It’s a way to trap ourselves in something that makes us unhappy, but doing it anyway out of insecurity, fear, or a reluctance to go against the opinions of other people. It’s the opposite of self-love. It’s letting your fears and other people dictate the direction of your life.

Settling for whatever I am given has been a behavioral pattern throughout my life and today when I write this blog I can see how this pattern has affected all the areas of my life. In professional life, I have settled again and again with whatever I could get rather than asking for what I deserve. I would do my best in projects, go above and beyond for my team and colleagues, but when the time came to reap the benefits of my work, I wouldn’t appreciate myself enough. I can’t recall the last time I celebrated success at work. When my peers were off celebrating our graduation ceremony, I was telling myself that it was not a big deal. When I was applauded for my contributions to a project, I told myself that anyone could have done it. When I was told I will be recognized for my work, I told myself that I didn’t care. When accolades were handed to me, I told myself I didn’t deserve it. I have often given the credit for my achievements to everyone around me except myself. I would recognize and remember every small contribution that anyone has ever done for me but would never sit back and congratulate myself for a job well done. I can still recall every tiny gesture that my mentors and managers have made that has contributed toward my progress, but I can’t recall any time I have thanked myself for my contributions or told myself that I deserved to be valued as a colleague/employee.

I follow the same pattern in my relationships. I have settled for relationships where I was not respected for who I was – both platonic and romantic. I have settled for connections where my contributions were overlooked and where I was not appreciated or valued. I have settled for connections where I kept giving without stopping to see if I was being given the same level of love or support or even the respect that I deserved. A few days back, I told a friend that I am a giver in romantic relationships. I always thought that this meant that I loved to keep my partners happy and that their happiness made me happy. What I overlooked was that I have never been comfortable with receiving the same love. If I valued someone, they could do the basic minimum for me and I would continue to give them the same level of energy, time, and love. For me, that’s what love and friendship were all about – being unconditionally available for those you love. However, if someone openly showed me their love, I would feel incredibly uncomfortable and run for the door. My best friend came up with this psychological technique a few years back – She never openly declared her love to me, would not hug me, or even tell me how important I was to her. She would patiently wait for me to show her that love, and only when I did, would she open up. She told me that she had learned this about me only a few weeks after knowing me – I was not comfortable with receiving love, and the only time when I wouldn’t run away was when I was in the “showing” mode. Give it to her for recognizing this in me even before I did! I always thought that that’s just who I was. But, I am starting to see that it wasn’t about feeling uncomfortable with love. It was about my believing that I didn’t deserve it because I was not worth it. I didn’t realize that there are always two people in a connection and that they both deserve an equal give and take. I didn’t realize that unconditional love always starts with self.

Today, I realized that the reason behind me settling down for less had nothing to do with the opportunities presented to me or with people around me. It had to do with a simple truth about myself – I just couldn’t see or realize my value. I never have. Ever since my childhood, I have had this innate need to prove my worth. Everything had to be perfect because if it wasn’t then that would mean that I failed and people around me would be disappointed. But, the truth is, I was not afraid of disappointing others. I didn’t want to disappoint myself because I was already my worst critic. When it came to any form of love or recognition that was directed towards me, I’ve always preferred to settle for something rather than ask for what I truly deserve. In my mind, a good enough opportunity was all I deserved. A good enough relationship that checked a few of the boxes was all that I could get. A good enough friendship that served a little of my needs was all I needed. Because something was better than nothing and that something was all that I was worth in my eyes.

But, I am worth much more. I am worth receiving the love and recognition that I deserve. I don’t have to give more to something or someone when my wants and needs are not met. I don’t have to keep giving to people, connections, relationships, jobs, careers, or anything where I am not valued the same way. I don’t have to give more to something/someone when I am not getting the same in return. I don’t have to pretend to be someone else to meet someone else’s image of who they think I am or what they need me to be. I don’t have to pretend to be happy in a situation when I am not happy. I don’t owe my time and energy to anyone but myself. I don’t owe my love and appreciation to anyone but myself. I don’t have to be a giver all the time and I deserve to be given what I want/need, and if I don’t, then, I don’t have to settle. My worth cannot be determined by something or someone else. It comes from me and I am worthy of whatever I want or need.

Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for, to take up space” [Source: How to cultivate a sense of unconditional self-worth/]. Unconditional self-worth is taking a step for yourself and believing in your worth even when no one else does. Unconditional self-worth is choosing yourself when no one else does. It’s choosing to forgive yourself every step of the way, it’s choosing to believe in yourself when things get tough. It’s choosing to become your supporter and taking your side when it feels like the world is against you. It’s telling yourself that you will be there for yourself no matter what. It’s choosing yourself even if that means letting go of something or someone precious who doesn’t value you enough. It’s letting go of statements like –

“I will feel worthy when…”,

“My dreams and feelings are not more important than….”,

“My aspirations are not worth fighting for”,

“This relationship/job/connection is more important than myself”,

“This is all I deserve because this is all I am worth” (settling),

“At least it’s better than…”

“No one is completely satisfied”

Dear Reader,

What is it in your life that you’re settling for? What is it that you see in others that you wish you had? What is that dream that you’ve always wanted to go for but stop yourself from going after because you believe you cannot do it or are not worth it? What is that life that you’ve always wanted to live but are actively choosing not to so that you can meet someone’s expectation of who and what your life should look like? Finally, what are the “shoulds” in your life that you apply to yourself but won’t want the person you love unconditionally to apply to them?

While my therapist tells me to avoid questions like “What If” to avoid thinking traps, I believe there are certain situations where it can be successfully used to our advantage. When making a critical decision, try and ask yourself – “What if there is something better? If there is, what will it look like? How does this <decision> compare with what better looks like to me?”. When deciding to not take an action towards your desire out of fear, ask yourself, “What if it works out?”. When deciding to settle with someone/something, ask yourself, “What if I am letting go of something I deserve for something that does not align with me completely? What if that something was here, how will it differ from what I am settling for? What if my best friend was in the same situation?”.

Today, choose yourself. Choose to be you and choose to love yourself unconditionally. Believe in yourself and believe that the one person who deserves your utmost attention, love, time, and energy is you. You are worth everything you set your heart and mind to. You are worth everything your desire. You are worth that promotion, you are worth that recognition, you are worth that undivided attention, you are worth being cherished for who you are, you are worth being your whole self. You are worth that unconditional love. You are worth it all!