“Meta-Questions” on the Road to Self Discovery

Disclaimer: This post was written only so I could process my own situation and channel my inner turmoil into words. These are preliminary, unpolished thoughts. This post is also incomplete in nature and kind off drifts of towards the end. Discretion is advised.

I function through self-discovery: it is very important for me to be in sync with how my mind and body reflects events that happen to me and around me (which is why I need SO much alone-time to sift through my thoughts and feelings). My quest so far has been largely personal- thinking about who I am, how I am seen in the world, how I can make myself better, what are my spiritual non-beliefs and beliefs, how I process information and my environment, what kind of love do I need in my life etc.

But off late I am struggling with something I’d like to call “meta-questions”. I think a part of my training in grad school has been preparing me for this,of course. Over the course of the past year, I have realized how dissatisfied I was in the direction that the world was going in. Simultaneously, I was learning how to fit in, in a very different culture- although I did not initially recognize it. I did undergo my own sort of culture shock. And I was trying to define myself as someone who is seen as “Indian”, thought of herself as global, grew up on values and books that were distinctly “Western” and was living in a culture largely capitalistic in nature. I was thrust into an academic world of critique, without being prepared for how to counter the caustic and biting narrative of how “f***ed we all are”.  Needless to say, there has been more than enough to process and understand in trying to navigate these multiple boundaries and often conflicting roles. Despite all this, I was starting to find a rhythm- a niche of my own, if you will. I was getting comfortable in my skin, in my role as someone between worlds, in my role as someone trying to make the world a better place, whatever that is supposed to mean.And suddenly, everything has changed!!

This is where the “meta-questions” came in. I define “meta-questions” as larger picture questions that feed into who you are as a person but are deeply tied into larger socio-political and economic contexts. I am pretty sure there has been research examining this, if I only had the time or willingness to look it up right now. Since I don’t, this post is likely to be highly intellectually flawed. Feel free to think of it as the random scribblings of a still-evolving grad school student.

In my mind, I see meta-questions (chucking the quotations) as larger-than-life questions, too much for one person to handle individually but nonetheless thrust upon all of us as though we are equipped to take it. We are clearly not. The socio-political environment we function in is too vast, with too many variables for a single person to comprehend in its entirety. But like a butterfly effect, its consequences can crash into us headfirst, leaving us with a mild concussion in the very least (let’s not talk about the worst it can do). Some of us brush aside these meta-questions, choosing to spend our life focusing on some of the more manageable questions (like who do I want to spend the rest of my life with?) or on no questions at all! But others don’t have the choice to ignore these questions- you may stumble into them at some point in your life and wonder how you can function with these larger than life issues nagging in the back of your head.

I have been feeling a little bit of that lately. I find myself thrust into these meta-questions more deeply than I ever was before, simply because the world around me is growing so bat-shit-out-of-sync with the one inside my head. I know that I have to fight it- but it is hard to know how. And that is when it struck me- the first step on the journey of self-discovery is often acceptance. Acceptance of what is happening around you is often misunderstood as surrender to those circumstances- as capitulation, as waving a white flag because your defenses have run dry. But it is not. Acceptance does not mean surrendering your cause. It simply means…seeing it for what it is, even if what it is is unbelievably out of your reach.

In acceptance, you recognize that you are suffering, or that you are fighting without direction, or that you are merely looking for the way UP and out of the water filling your lungs, or that you are puzzled by the world around you in the very least. Accepting may be the underlying foundation on which you build your reconciliation with those dreaded meta-questions. I see this as important to my process- you can argue that there isn’t time to go through all of these steps, and perhaps not! Or perhaps you can plow through them faster than you need to. But in the very least it is important to recognize and accept what is happening before you can fight it.

Okay- I haven’t thought more about this than that. I have lots of questions for myself: what do you do once you accept what is happening? how do you fight it? how do you love and accept yourself in an environment of toxicity that is heading in a direction opposite to the one you would like to see it go? Do you stop caring? Do you numb your emotions, steel your heart and just march forward? Do you challenge the meta-beliefs that cemented your meta-questions? Do you mine into the wisdom of the past, and look for how others’ dealt with them?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

MLK and Agape- A Short Message of Love in Troubling Times

Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object… Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution. Source: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/01/martin-luther-king-jr-an-experiment-in-love/

I recently read about the Ancient Greek concept of Agape, which MLK adopted in his pillars of non-violent protest, and have remained rather struck by it. Love for the oppressor exists because the oppressor too is hurting. Violence hurts both sides- the perpetrator and the victim. This love does not mean that you must embrace and love him on a personal basis, but merely that you recognize him as a fellow human.

This philosophy echoes Mahatma Gandhi’s tenet of nonviolence:

Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all–children, young men and women or grown-up people, provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When nonviolence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts. Source: http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/phil1.htm

In troubling times, it is good to keep love in our heart- perhaps it is partly a coping mechanism and in that capacity, not everyone will be equally open to it. At any rate, agape does not seem an easy sort of love- compared to the romantic love, or the love for family or friends, or a mother’s love- agape is intensely difficult to achieve when you have been violated and when you think something is unfair.

But agape offers hope because it purifies the mind and body of toxic emotions. Perhaps agape is a cultivated strategy for overcoming grief, hurt, hopelessness, anger and replacing it with “disinterested love”. Perhaps agape is indifference and forgiveness.

I have been trying to practice something close to indifferent forgiveness for years in my life and agape seems like a faint glow of hope in that effort. I know very little about it- but I will strive to learn more. I think we all need agape because responding to hate with hate will not really lead us where we want to go as a ‘civilizing’ species.

The Art of Being Lost

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We are living in troubling times – or perhaps times have always been troubling but like the crests and troughs of a wave, they are sometimes hidden from us, and at other times visible. What we are seeing around us today in the spewing of hatred, in the putting up of walls, in the creation of remote viciousness from behind our digital havens is sign of cultures that have perhaps been stilled for too long. Hollowed out from within by the artificiality of our daily pursuits for quantity over quality, we are only shells seeking wisdom and love from steel bodies and white screens. A lot is being said today about this emptiness that wafts like the smell of death all around us, and the loneliness it brings. We hold our hearts close, giving it away and snatching it back in the blink of an internet minute because there is too much to want and too much to see and our mind is muddled, living in this thin air world of words on a screen while our bodies are disconnected from one another. It becomes hard to imagine, as we chase currency in a world that has been constructed to enslave us not in real chains but in ambition, temptation, envy and pride, what it would feel like to just be. To lie next to a warm body near a shore with sand between our toes and the sea tickling our skin without feeling the urge to pull away from the moment just so we can be a part of the lives of everyone around the globe through social media.

Enough is being said about this. But not enough is being heard. Deep inside our hearts, we all know that that gnawing sensation, that silent background humming that we ignore everyday is nothing but the dissatisfaction of a life where we fear disconnection, fear silence, fear solitude and peace and endless boredom. Our thumbs start tweaking and we pick our devices, charging and recharging their batteries and our own hearts on artificial fuel instead of emotions and thoughts. Our brains and hearts are starving but in all the motion, the colors and music we can hardly see ourselves dying.

We must remember to not glorify a past where we did not have the ability to know the world the way we do now. But we must remember that our advancements in science and technology are not created in a vacuum- they have very real and tangible consequences that often may not emerge for decades. The imprint of our limited lifestyles is seeping its way into our DNA every day. Sneakily but almost certainly, nature is conditioning us for a life of distance, emotionless distraction, endless discomfort. Perhaps we are taking her (nature) down with us, perhaps she will emerge victorious after a battle fought long and hard against a creation she may have come to regret. Or perhaps, lovingly, she will stamp upon our evolutionary path a code that would enable us to survive as a species. The question then remains- are we content to do just that? Survive?

Perhaps the picture I paint is too pessimistic. Maybe human creativity has the ability to claw its way out of anything- but perhaps that is all it has managed to do. Claw its way out, leaving a blazing trail of destruction behind it. But we need to stop and think- what is this a fight against? Is this merely about survival, is all we want to do is be zombies stomped about by a force that has no ears for our feeble, dying pleas? Do we want to clamber to the red planet on the backs of our brothers and sisters- whether human or non-human? Or is this about something more profound than just being able to breathe everyday, even if what we are breathing in just toxic, cancerous molecules? Is there some meaning- something to be found in protecting, loving, caring for and building up one another? Is there reason to think of ourselves as being just as vulnerable to the hand of fate (or God, or whoever you believe put us here) so as to be born inside our worst nightmare? And if so, isn’t there reason to seek justice- both for ourselves and for these others we so easily overlook every day?

The art of being lost is not an easy one- you feel real feelings and notice the tiny cracks beginning to appear all around you. These cracks become chasms and as the chasms open up, there is nothing but emptiness left to go into. I want us to go towards light, to feel full of emotion- happiness, sadness, pain! Something! Anything! Anything is better than this numb collective trance. Let’s all wake up together and embrace the art of being lost in a confounding universe where we are the only beacon of hope for one another!

New Year Post!

Happy 2017! The year is still in its infancy and even though I am a little late, I like to believe that all of January is open for wishing people (even though, and let me say it here: it doesn’t really matter!). I often believe that people who like to write love seeing patterns in the way life moves and shifts and folds. Of course, other kinds of people do too but let me stick to writing for my personal purposes.

And so, for me personally, 2016 was a big year. I traveled more than I have ever traveled before- I got to go to Morocco twice! I went deep into the rural heart of India and brushed against a very different way of life there. And I got to visit some new cities in the US. Traveling is an eye-opening experience and I learned a lot from the people I met and the places I visited. I also realized that traveling allows me to become someone I wouldn’t normally be. By displacing me from my comfort zone, it allows me to shed inhibitions and expectations that the structures of daily life impose upon us over time, and I can be a slightly different version of myself. And in the process of course, I do experience long-term change as well. But it isn’t all good- traveling was also harrowing for me. Adjusting and re-adjusting in different cultural environments confuses the brain and the heart and made me feel very vulnerable. I experienced both culture shock, and reverse culture shock. The latter was much stronger when I stepped on Indian soil after a year abroad.

2017 feels different. I feel more grown-up, although I’m still convinced I am faking it. There is more to do- I know more but as is always the case, that always opens my eyes to how little I actually know. I don’t want to take on resolutions but over the past year I have realized that it is possible to change old habits and attitudes- even ones that are ingrained into us, drilled into our very psyche. And so, in 2017 I plan to continue sharpening my critical thinking skills without turning bitter and lonely in this cold, dark world. I want to keep myself alive and open to constant learning and re-learning, even if it comes at the expense of having to shed notions and ideas that I might have grown really close to over the years, if it makes sense to shed them in the light of new information. I am aware that the nature of this goal involves hits and misses due to its vague shape and form, but if pursued long enough, perhaps I will get “better” at it.

If this weird diary-entry bored you, I apologize. I just thought it would be a good idea to spend a (really) short amount of time thinking back and thinking forward on this blog. I will be back again soon!



The Swimming

I am anxious, forever rolling
In the sea of endless possibilities
The moment I close my eyes, my head
On a pillow and the lilting music of sleep
Rocking me gently, I am pulled out
By the tide of ‘what ifs?’

What if I never wake up
Never see you again or hear your voice?
What if we become a nameless, faceless love story?
Or worse- the kind that people look back on
And tut-tut to one another and say,
“Isn’t it sad how life gives and takes away?”

I tell myself, so what?
I have survived storms before
The trick is to remember that even when your lungs
Are full of water and your life flashing like a movie
Before your eyes,that nobody outlives death
And to have lived and loved is enough

But even then I cannot help but think
Think about the asteroids waiting to hit us
And the Holocaust becomes a shark lurking toward me
Looking for limbs and dreams to chew upon

It is exhausting and yet- somehow I swim along
Only stopping to marvel at the way my arms and legs
Are cutting into the water, my head barely bobbing above it
I marvel at my ability to swim- adding to the pool of possibilities
The fear that I might just forget, my arms flailing as I fall-
I am after all, always a moment away from drowning.