Late last night my brother reached out to me to chat. Unsure of his way forward professionally, he mumbled that the endless advice from those concerned was only confusing him. “Why are you listening to them then?”, I asked comfortably from the sideline. “The thing is…I don’t really know what I want, and maybe they do.” He had all my attention hereon; in that moment I felt so much respect for him for being able to say it out aloud: I don’t know.
After hanging up the phone I lay awake for a long time, grateful for what our conversation had brought me.
His nervous voice took me back to my own story until a few years ago. Sharing the same set of parents who would give their life to fulfill our dreams, how was he to say that he didn’t know?
For a long time I found it far more comfortable to go along in some haphazard, occasionally-conforming, mostly-rebelling fashion with the fleeting and often contradicting suggestions of close-ones, hoping that by considering one option after another, something would fill the void. If nothing else, it gave some temporary relief from thought-loops oozing of guilt and pressure: to become financially independent, to look after my family the way they had looked after me, to show them I’m worth something. Feelings of incapacity were narrowing me down to the point of suffocation: how was it that the whole world was moving along so well while I wasn’t getting an inch closer to becoming some one?
Where in all of this did I allow any space to contemplate over what I really believed in? No, that was too selfish. With all the love and freedom they had allowed me, the least I could do was find a nice little piece for myself in an apparently secure bubble that they had built conscientiously through many years of blood and sweat, so that we didn’t have to see the rough side of life as they previously did.
Not so long ago I grew tired of playing this game; despite nothing being denied to me, nothing was truly making me happy. Having lost any clear sense of myself in the twisted little story I had built, filled with defenses, justifications, guilt, anger and resentment, I hit a dead-end: I was turning on my self and the only thing remaining to admit was that I really didn’t know what I wanted.
Who was to blame?
The good thing about finally getting fed-up with myself was that I desperately wanted to find something more; in a confusing world inside and outside, I was seeking something real for a change, to lead the way.
So I went searching for something unknown so far. As a logical progression, I had to let go of most things known. In my case, it was quite violent; it meant letting go of my entire life as I had known it, a process of untangling a self-destructive story I had grown so comfortable playing victim in. It meant admitting to myself that I had been dishonest and inauthentic to the deeper ideals I had often preached to others. It dawned upon me that until I didn’t take the pain to figure my mess out solo, no one on the outside would know how either. They could at best, reach out to me from their own binding stories.
The period that followed was painful. Breaking several hearts along the way, dreams and expectations shattered, all sense of security shattered, my loved ones were left pretty troubled.
Somewhere into our conversation, my brother said, “Thing is, something deep inside me knows what I need to do in each moment, but then all the other voices take over. I don’t know if I have it in me to be selfish and forget about everyone else and just follow that.”
Having spent many days in the stifling company of guilt, stemming essentially from a similar feeling of failing at being who I should be, I could smile at it last night as he spoke, and the accompanying calm whispered to me that I had grown. More than saying it out aloud to him, I felt I was summing up to myself the little I had learnt in this time:
“Selfish to me is you giving in to all those voices, giving in to this small little person you allow yourself to be, that the world takes you to be and your constant preoccupation to prove them right or wrong. All those who love us, their concern and advise comes almost always from a space of deep attachment- an attachment finding its roots in a commitment, rather a need to protect you, trying to steer you into whatever they feel is best for you, entirely unconscious perhaps of the contagion their stress and worry carries. Somewhere they’ve already decided what they want from you; be it the case of the narrow-minded parent dictating the career you must choose, without which you risk losing their approval and support, or the more liberal approach on the other end: “follow your dreams… just in a manner that will land you safe and secure”. And to somehow succeed in rolling you along, willingly or unwillingly to this eventual end, they direct all their life’s effort, expecting almost instinctually an appreciation at the very least, by some unsaid understanding that you will adhere to a similar philosophy. And you on the other end, despite having somewhere quite a deep sense that this may not necessarily hold true for you, feed once more into this attachment by giving your consent and being a part of this pre-decided and stagnating game: playing into it or then against it; it hardly matters. This to me is selfish, the easy way out. Perhaps you cannot change their stories for them or the way they view yours, but you can certainly change your own.”
If nothing else, my little experience has repeatedly affirmed that we didn’t come here to secure ourselves financially or drown in material comfort; that in fact there is no such thing, considering those with money only feel less and less secure as they build. We didn’t come here either, to prove that we are indeed selflessly growing into whomever our loved ones expected, in their genuinely caring but inevitably limited ways. We each dropped down here with a purpose far larger than this constant activity of duck and cover, and in that too, we’re often shielding ourselves with one hand while flapping the other saying, “hit me!” Regardless of how miserable it makes us, we choose again and again some mechanical comfort over any real attempt at arriving at something that may just prove more meaningful to us.
Constantly running zigzag among contradictions, we find it easy to point fingers and offer solutions to others confessing trouble- advising them to walk out for instance, of a messy relationship or an unsatisfying job, but to entertain the idea of rocking your own boat, to face the dirty mirror and challenge stubborn self-set notions- no, thank you; there come an endless list of reasons carved over time by our skillful minds as to why it can all wait.
It was in breaking out of this cycle, admitting that none of it felt true to my being- not the security, nor the guilt, not the race of getting somewhere – that I finally allowed the space for something more. And for that I had to create distance, psychologically at the very least; to zone out of what my world thought of me and what I thought of myself as a result, because until then my sense of self was entirely dependent on them.
A pain accompanied this self-destruction, a slow and steady breaking up of all that I had known, of all that I was so attached to. Even still, right from the first day of dropping my guard I felt I could finally breathe; I no longer felt responsible for everyone else, I no longer had to pretend like I had control. My story crumbled to pieces, and at last I found myself inhabiting a wider air, free of expectation.
Two years into stepping foot on this inward-journey, I feel I’ve finally gotten glimpses of freedom; freedom from self-tied chains, from trying so hard to squeeze into or out of the little box- the box being all important either way- that had my name labeled on it all this while.
In my appeal for something more, I was sincere and honest. And the good thing about being sincere and honest is that the universe answers you in proportion to it, and in your own customised little way. I have begun to find what I was seeking the whole time; for once I feel like I’m growing; there is movement in breaking away from my messy spirals. In letting go, I found guidance in something far beyond my limited capacity, asking me to simply allow myself to be led.
Perhaps those we share our lives with matter to us so deeply because they’re simply extensions of ourselves, additional voices laying out all the options we can choose from at any given time; my reactions to them reflected in the most warped ways, what was really going on within.
No matter how much they tried to help and support me, they couldn’t have possibly known what I was to do, because the answer lay inside me, some miles deeper on the other side of I don’t know. And the knowledge that my guidance lies within, as do all the tools to unravel it was far more enriching than any money or power-driven dream that I had previously envisioned.
Seeing me at peace on a journey that unfolds whilst joyously celebrating its own freedom, I learnt that it is only by practising my deeper ideals and giving them a concrete form that those around me will come to respect them too.
Every now and then I meet people who tell me that it is because I am amongst the privileged that I can afford to speak this way. Certainly this has truth to it; it is because my parents have worked so hard all these years, but more importantly- because they found it in themselves to suspend their own stories and lend me a support and faith that they had perhaps never imagined either, bearing their pain as I bore mine- that I could allow myself the time and space to find a deeper meaning to life rather than fearfully carrying forward the same old story. And for this I am truly grateful to them. But for them to accept the huge uncertainty of change, it was on me to muster some initial strength to insist on my truth, to slowly and steadily see it through by making it a living reality.
Finally it’s beginning to make sense to me, what god knows who said, that with true freedom comes great responsibility.