A Musing On Endings

Dear quarter lives,

There are few certainties in life, perhaps the most certain of them all is that we will die. More so than that is that all those who we love will die. Everything dies, be it a living being or our youth or a marriage or job — everything ends. Even the world as we know it, at least from our point of view, ends when we die. Endings therefore shape our lives and in turn how we relate, not only to ourselves, but to the whole world around us. And as many people as there are right now, there are just as many ways of relating to endings. Endings offer some people clarity, a clean finish without which they cannot grieve and move forward; whilst for others, endings bring them anxiety reminding them that with each breath, they themselves are ending. But on the back of every ending is a new beginning. On the back of death, life is born and so how can we truly love living without loving dying first. For me personally, learning to see the beauty in death has helped me see the beauty in life. I went through a period of intense death anxiety in my mid-twenties, and one of the things that helped me overcome this fear of death was taking photographs of dead things that would cross my path, be it a bird or an insect or a flower. Slowly, I began to see beauty, I began to notice the body, its fragility, its vulnerability, yet its power to shape the kind of life we experience. It is my unique body that allows me to experience life from my eyes. It is my body too that dies when my life in it ends. But what happens to my spirit, my soul, where does it go? In all those pictures I have taken, it was clear that these were just bodies, albeit beautiful bodies, but bodies without a soul, they were left behind for the earth to consume them because to whom does a body belong but to the mother body that holds us all. 

I remember my last term at university, I was so afraid all the time, not because I had exams coming up, but because I was graduating, my time in London was coming to an end, and I didn’t know what the future held for me. I was sad to leave friends behind. I was sad to leave a way of living I had gotten accustomed to behind. I was sad to say goodbye to a version of me that was dying. I would never again be an undergraduate. I would never again be 20. I would never again be so impressionable. No more blank canvases. I was all scribbled over now. I would never be new, not like seventeen year-old me. I would only grow older and older. The future —all of it — just seemed dreadful. Not that the past wasn’t difficult, but the future just seemed daunting instead of possible. I share this because I am sharing with you how endings made me feel, and still make me feel, although I must admit I am much more hopeful now than I ever was when I was eighteen. So maybe in losing youth, one gains hope or rather faith that it all works out in the end; even if we don’t arrive, we will survive. I can see clearly now how I navigate transitions — with loads and loads of fear. What I suppose is different now is that when I was younger, I used to believe the fear. Now, I just hear it out, nod a little to acknowledge it, but I certainly do not believe anything it has to tell me because I know most of the time, there is extreme exaggeration happening. So tens years on from my London goodbye, I am at the verge of another goodbye and so I wish now to meet this ending differently. I wish to be grateful to all the people, events, places — good and bad — that have held me over the past years. I would like to say thank you and offer a big smile right from the heart. I would like to say to the future that awaits me — to the beginning dawning on me — I am very excited to meet you. I would like to hope, instead of despair. I would like to let the possible pull me forward, instead of letting the impossible hold me back. I would like to move forward knowing that when I do look back, I will feel full with contentedness and gratitude — not because things were perfect but because they were a stop on my journey. When I wake up in fifty years time, and I hope I do, I want to wake up eager for another day and grateful for eighty years worth of days that I have said goodbye to. When my body dies in fifty eight years time, I hope that I can say goodbye to it and let go of my long small life. 

With love and always for peace,

S.A.

On being extra ordinary

Dear quarter lives,

Do you remember being asked as a child what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember the answer you gave? Did it change as you grew up and realised the handyman that you wanted to be as a five year-old was not good enough for the world so at fifteen you decided a doctor was more suitable and then at eighteen you decided no a doctor isn’t enough, you need to be even more important than that. You didn’t want to be tucked away in a hospital saving lives quietly, you wanted to be seen for your accomplishments, recognised by the whole world for something great not because you were egotistical but because you needed greatness to give your life value. Not meaning. Value. It wasn’t about your life meaning anything, but it being worth something. And greatness is value. Greatness means you are worth it, it means all the mistakes you’ve done were worth it, it means your birth was worth it, the trouble you put your mother through to be born was worth it, the tremendous investment your parents poured into you was worth it. It means that the life you have lived was worth it. It means that when you come to die, you will feel like you were well spent.

But then your eighteen year-old self became a twenty-something old self, and you came to realise that greatness was not at all what you thought it was. Greatness wasn’t something the outside could give you. Greatness wasn’t accomplishing great things. Greatness wasn’t an object you could accumulate or collect. And as your twenty-something self approached your thirty year-old self, it dawned on you that greatness was in fact the complete opposite of anything your fifteen year-old self could’ve imagined. It dawns on you that greatness was never going to be found in the large things, but the very small ones. It dawns on you that greatness could never be achieved, earned, or accomplished but that it was a sort of being; a state one can access only from within. It dawns on you that you had completely misinterpreted what it meant to be extraordinary. It was right there in front of you but you just couldn’t see it. Extra ordinary. The most ordinary possible. And you realise how foolish you had been. How can something so obvious be hiding so well in such plain sight. Language indeed can be very crafty, but in its craftiness will manage to always keep it simple. And so it dawned on me that I could only become great through the ordinary. Through the everyday being, the everyday talking , the everyday loving as well as the everyday worrying, the everyday frustrations and the everyday resting at the end of it all. Being great is being really good at being ordinary. So this whole time, the only thing stopping me from being extra ordinary was my own resistance to ordinariness.

To pursue extraordinariness, I thought I needed to make a monster out of ordinariness. And I did. For so long, I had been so afraid of being ordinary. I was afraid of being swallowed, of being invisible, of not standing out, of getting lost in the crowd. And so as a result, I have exhausted my self pursuing a ghost. Now, I can finally rest, I can finally stop running, I can finally stop feeling so hungry for attention, for validation that I matter, that I am important, that I am worthy. Finally, I can see what I had been so blind to — the sheer freedom that ordinariness offered. All this time, I had attributed such confinement to ordinariness that I couldn’t see that it was in fact a liberation — a gift of being just so. I cannot say yet that I know ordinariness; I have yet to get acquainted and allow it to pulse through me. All these years of resisting must now become all these years of allowing, of giving permission to all that is ordinary within me to just be. And in doing so, I hope I can eventually get to a place where I am comfortable swimming in the greatness of my very extra ordinariness.

I recognise now that truly great people know they cannot accumulate any real power, because there is no power to be accumulated. Great people do not delude themselves they are powerful when they are in fact powerless in the face of time, nature and death. Great people are those who are aware of their nothingness and yet do not try to fill it up or mask it because they know nothing ever can. Greatness is knowing our power is not ours alone but all of Ours. Greatness is knowing that our personal strength comes from knowing we are a link, a chain, a connector, a communicator between all that is living and all that is dying. There is no person or being alive who was not born of someone. Our story never begins with us and neither will it end with us. So to recognise that even within our own story we might not be the main character but just a character — that, I believe, is greatness.

With love and always for peace,

Shahinda

Knowing nothing about the people we love is what allows us to really love them

Dear quarter lives,

Have you ever known someone for so long and felt like you knew nothing about them? And the more time passes, you realise how little of them you really know. Take our parents for example, we don’t really know them at all and yet they are probably the people we’ve spent the most cumulative time with. We know nothing about the people we love and that’s precisely why we can love them so deeply. Can you imagine if we really knew the people in our lives, could we bring ourselves to love them, to really love them without conditions or biases. It is because we are safe from each other’s thoughts that we can bring ourselves to love one another. Have you any idea what your mother went through at the age of 5, or how your grandfather felt like as a little boy? Do you really know if they almost died or killed another? Do you know if they lied, stole or used their bodies for power to negotiate with another or with god? Do you know how ugly or beautiful they really feel, or how sick or healthy their minds really are? We don’t really know anyone for certain, even our own selves. And what great news that is, to not know, to be free of a certainty that brings judgment along with it. If we knew for certain we were good people, we would judge others based on that certainty of goodness, and condemn those who fell outside of that box of goodness we carved so precisely around ourselves. What a relief it is that we do not know what goodness exactly is, and what a relief it is to be free to ascribe it to everyone. What a relief it is not to know another and to be unable to judge them accordingly. But yet we go around judging all the time. And it is because we seek to know ourselves and in turn others so precisely. We go on seeking to know who we really are, prescribing identities onto ourselves and onto others. But you see, the certainty that knowledge illudes, the security it might make you feel to know another, the price of safety in knowing is judgment. And judgement is a hefty price to pay. It is taxing not only on us but on others. It is unfair and limits our experience of everything within us and around us.

I invite you to take a moment and try to feel yourself without judgement. It is very difficult. Now, take another moment, and remember all the people you came into contact with today, and try to feel them without judgement. It is very difficult. Let me clarify here that judgement does not only include negative statements but it could be positive or even neutral ones. For example, the clerk at a shop you bought something from recently, your interaction with them was based on the fact that they were a shop clerk, so your feelings of them were tainted by that identity you gave them. It is a very difficult exercise to feel another without any preconceived notions, to really listen to someone when they speak without projecting our own prejudices onto them. How long can you hold your gaze with another, eye to eye, pupil to pupil, soul to soul? There is a reason it is uncomfortable, and it’s not just because we’re afraid of what they’ll see but we are afraid of what we will see. To see without judgement does not mean we’ll see rainbows in each other’s eyes. We all have shadows, we all have secrets, some darker than others, but all complex, all because of things that happened to us, and all our own fault too. So you see, feeling one another, gazing into another’s eyes aren’t easy tasks. They are an exchange of information between two parties, whether they are aware of it or not, and so these moments of human connection can be very uncomfortable at first but only because we are judging what we see, and we think that whatever we might see will stick to us like some contagious disease, but it is true only if you choose to hold on to whatever you see. The thing is the world is filled with both joy and pain, most of us find it much easier to receive joy and really hard to let go of it. Pain, on the other hand, is very difficult to receive and much easier to pass on. But it all passes anyway, from one human to another, one interaction to the next, we pass it all around and around. A smile can travel the same route, though with smiles, we embrace them thinking that it is our embrace that brought the smile our way but it would’ve passed through us anyway whether we greet it or not. The same goes for anger, fear, doubt and hope. Around and around they all go until we have no idea where it all began, where it ends, if ever. This circle of information growing and multiplying, circles within circles, with no beginning and never ending. A dizziness falls upon us as we dance within and around these circles, round and round we go, a little here and a little there, but never any where in particular. March, they drum. Dance, they drum louder. Can you hear the echoes of the voices that once were, these voices of the quiet, that were never heard, never received, because they could never be loved by another. They wailed and flailed from the pain of never being loved. They screamed, and I screamed louder, until one day I stopped screaming, and they spoke to me. All this time, they had been speaking to me and I thought they were talking about another. Love me, love us, love you. That’s all I heard. For some reason I didn’t hear the I. They were screaming not for help. They were screaming to help me. I love me. I love us, I love you. I had all the love in the world inside of me. I had all this love but I had to unknow what I thought I knew for certain about myself, it is when I realised I know nothing for certain, nothing about me, nothing about life, that I was able to love myself completely. Without any conditions or biases or expectations. It was love for the sake of nothing, and that’s what I mean when I say we can only really say we love other people when we love them without any prejudices, even our family and friends we are biased with our love towards them because they are family but when we let go of the weight of that relationship and allow these biases to fade we find we are able to love them more completely, regardless of who they are, and regardless of their relationship to us, we love them just because they are here, because they are who they are even when they don’t know who they are and precisely because we don’t know who they are. Sometimes we think Knowledge gives us the power to make better decisions, but knowledge often satisfies a need to be reassured that said decision, said action, said information is the correct one, but knowledge often taints how we really feel. Knowledge suppresses emotions, our rational side often at war with the irrational side. There is purpose to knowledge but not in matters of love. Love itself cannot be accurately described in the language through which we communicate knowledge. Love falls outside of all known things. It resides in an uncertain place between feelings and sensations, a crevice so small, so deep it can hold only something as fluid and as dynamic as love. So love yourself regardless of what you know about yourself. For there is much else you don’t know about it. This lack of knowledge is an invitation to love each other more freely. Embrace the fluidity of love and hold it for a moment until it leaks through you and seeps onto another, but trust there is more to come your way, if you would only let it flow without knowing why. And the next time, you get upset because someone you love doesn’t really know you, celebrate their lack of knowledge of you, for it is an opportunity to be loved unconditionally. And what greater way is there to be loved than unconditionally based on nothing at all. It is love based on no information that is most reliable, most stable. Isn’t it ironic that the thing we thought protects our hearts from love is the thing that breaks it in the first place?

With love for absolutely no reason at all,

S.A.

Wrapping up

Dear quarter lives,

I turned the big 3 0 a couple of months ago, and since then I must say life feels different in some very big ways and much the same in many everyday ways. That feeling of same but different is something I’ve commonly heard from people crossing that border. Perhaps because time feels different. Perhaps because to have revolved around the sun living on this giant piece of watery rock thirty times is no small feat. For it certainly puts things into perspective. Big picture vision is one new skill the thirties gift you with. Another is a less apologetic way of being — a kind of simultaneous I love you but f*** off to the world — which I have to say is f***ing amazing. But now that I feel I am starting to firmly root myself in a new decade’s way of being, I am too being asked to unroot myself from a previous decade and that is a little scary, and in doing so, I will be going through a period of packing up what I still need to carry forward with me from the quarter life period and leave behind everything else. I suppose the reason it’s so scary for me is that I find it hard to leave things behind. I hold on till the very last moment, until I’m almost forced to let go. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a hoarder of “things” but maybe a hoarder of ideas and dreams. And I am usually good at decluttering things too, but when it comes to people or thoughts, I get a bit stuck.

All relationships whether with family, friends, emotions, time periods, always will require of us a review and assess period. Of course any review and assess period will naturally be a little more fragile because much is moving, much is unknown, and yet what is known is that whatever the change will be, it is for the better. And sometimes the better is an ending. Sometimes the better is separation. Sometimes leaving things behind is exactly what is good for those things and for you. And as much as it can pain one to leave precious memories, people or unexpressed potential behind, it can also be extremely healing; in very much the same way a full stop at the end of a sentence gives us the space to breathe to start a new one, so can an ending give us the room and distance we need to accept and make peace with how things turned out and start a new chapter with ample breathing room to try again to make a well structured or perhaps just a funny sentence. Endings give us closure, and we all deserve to feel a sense of resolution as we transition from one period of growth onto another.

I am one of those people who deals better with separation from the people she loves by not communicating with them, because that constant exchange only reminds me more of the distance that separates us. I am one of those people that deals better with loss when it is clear and the doors shut completely, and when no sliver of light can creep through and hope of renewal is nowhere to be found. I deal best when the door is clearly shut because only then can I truly let go, and if I can’t let go I won’t be able to grieve, and if I don’t grieve, I won’t be able to transform that loss into anything really and if there’s nothing to transform, I won’t grow and will remain stunted instead. So I know that for me personally, many doors that were slightly ajar in my twenties, as soon as I began approaching my thirties, many of them began to shut completely, some are still in the process of closing what little space they kept open, some are saying their final goodbyes or maybe they are giving me a chance to say my final goodbye, but as I can see all those doors closing and sealing shut, something inside of me is finally beginning to rest. I am finally wrapping up three decades worth of doors and unresolved endings that were left open in my heart. I am finally letting go. I am finally grieving. I am finally growing.

May our hearts find the peace they desire and just the right amount of conflict and tension to get them there.

With love and always for peace,

S.A.

It’s not your fault.

Dear quarter lives, 

Do you remember those moments when you were a toddler and you would crawl under the table and forget that you were under one and stand up and hit your head? Do you remember what happened after? Did you cry or fall quiet? Did someone console you and assure you it’s all okay, that you’re going to be okay? Or did your mother hit the table ‘bad table, bad table‘ in your defense helping you identify who to blame in this situation? Or did your father shout at you and ask you — a mere two year old still learning how to navigate gravity and corners — the ridiculous question of what were you doing under the table anyway? 

The reason I am asking you to recall this moment or moments similar to it is because there are many moments like the one I just described that happen in adulthood,  not literally but metaphorically, where our curiosity perhaps led us to crawl into a cave or under a table and when we decided we needed to get up, we hit our heads and forgot the space we had gotten into had a low ceiling. The reason it is so important to recall how others reacted to our hitting our heads when we were children is because it can be very useful in helping us understand how we learnt to react to our own accidents and mistakes. It will help you understand why it might be easy or hard for you to forgive yourself. It will help you understand your ease or dis-ease at releasing yourself from the guilt and shame of making a mistake. It might show you where and when you might’ve acquired the habit of blaming others and constantly pinning them down with an it’s all your fault-a-day.  

But having said that, it’s also not as simple as that. We might’ve picked up something like this in childhood but got it enforced and reinforced a million times by teachers, fellow classmates, society, culture, and one hundred and one other factors. So it is important to remember that when we look back, we are not looking back in order to find the one culprit or reason for why we are the way we are, but rather in order to know ourselves a little better and to understand how complex the making of us was, how there was no one person, or one time period, or one school, or country we lived in, or style of parenting to hold responsible for our entire being. We look back to understand that our being is complex, that it cannot be separated from the world that was there as we were being formed, and that we are still being formed, not in a vacuum but in the world. And so, as much as we can hold ourselves accountable and responsible for ourselves, we cannot hold the weight of our entire lives on our shoulders, for we will almost certainly collapse underneath it all and so will anyone who we attempt to put that weight on, including and especially our parents. Why I say especially parents? Because when we look back, parents are almost always the usual suspects. It is very easy to latch on to any one of the many mistakes parents make. In fact, I would say that the latching on to blaming the parents might be one of the necessary steps we go through as we learn to view our lives as part of the bigger picture of all of life. And so I must warn you of the threat of getting stuck in this cycle of blame. It is certainly tempting to shift all that responsibility onto someone else, and it’s not only responsibility that gets shifted but anger too. It is much easier to be angry at someone outside of us than to have all this anger directed inwards towards us. But if we do that, we must know that we have not put to rest the habit of blaming, we have merely shifted the object of that blame. One of the main learnings of this inner work with ourselves (and there are many) is to learn how to refrain from saying ‘it’s all your fault’ to anyone and everyone. Firstly, because it gets us nowhere to point fingers. Secondly, it’s untrue. Our predicament, who we are, why we do what we do, is no one’s fault. Thirdly, we always have a part to play, and it is this part and only this part that must be recognised by us and taken responsibility for. And in this way, we take our power back by taking ownership of that part we do play. In doing so, we must be careful not to inflate the size of that part and attribute too much responsibility to ourselves when much less is due. At the same time, be careful of giving anyone too much power over your life that it is all their fault. And it is not just people we blame, sometimes it’s places, sometimes even emotions. Fear, for example, is a big one people tend to blame their failures on. But it is of course more complicated than that. So the moral of the story is stay away from blame and instead take just enough responsibility for yourself, and don’t take responsibility for anyone else. In doing all of this, you give yourself back the power of choosing again, the power to alter the course of your life, and the power to make decisions boldly. This doesn’t mean you will be to blame if you hit your head again on the ceiling of a table; all it means is that you have accepted the fact that you are human and that all you can be responsible for is acting to the best of your ability at any given moment. We cannot see what we cannot see. And so it was with our parents, and their parents, and their parents. 

May we all learn to forgive ourselves, our parents, our teachers, our friends, our partners, our communities, our cultures, our histories, our gods, and the whole world we find ourselves in today. May we all remember that we are active participants in the creation of this world. You, as much as I, as much as the largest corporation, we are all working together and separately to make this very world we share.

With love and always for peace, 

Shahinda  

On the Process of Re-Loving Ourself

Dear quarter lives, 

For some, there is no doubt in the world they are lovable. For some, their worth is clear to them. They are full of it, in the best possible way. Yet for many, what love itself is, is unclear. And so for those many, like myself, that are unsure of how lovable they are, I dedicate my words to you. To those fellow humans that are not quite sure of what it feels like to receive love, I am familiar with your doubts. I recently turned thirty and I am a little embarrassed to say that I am still unsure of the very thing on which all life is built — Love. That is not to say I wasn’t shown love, it is just to say my doubt in myself and my worth was always greater than any love I was shown, so I was never really open to receive this love that was being poured my way.

Doubt is an interesting creature; one that plants its seeds inside of us when we are very young, so long as it can find any little crack inside of us from which to root itself. To grow, this doubt feeds on the love we receive from others, which is why we are never nourished by those around us. But doubt doesn’t just grow without some help from us. It might be difficult for us to admit, but we can often be the ones supplying doubt with all the power it has, and that means we sometimes do things that harm ourselves. Though we would like to think that we are always acting in our own best interest, the uncomfortable truth is that often we are not. We are often more keen to validate our core beliefs (about us and the world) than to act in our own best interest. And so, we too, play a big role in starving ourselves of love. This helps reinforce and prove our core belief that we are not that lovable, that other people are more lovable, that they have better bodies, better families, better stories, that they are simply better and we, well we are just us — bad, broken, and unlovable. As dramatic and ridiculous as all this may sound, as true as it, unfortunately, is. It is true because that is what we believe. It is what we have told ourselves, therefore it is true, for us. 

For me, the first step to getting back on my own side was admitting to myself that, unfortunately, this is what I believed about myself. But the goal here isn’t to inflict any blame on self, but rather, to give voice to the belief. The thing is we can’t really fully inhabit our bodies and live as us without giving voice to all the silly, ridiculous and even dramatic parts of us. It is okay to wallow sometimes in our own misery, so long as wallowing isn’t our predominant state. And after admitting the uncomfortable truth we believed about ourselves, it is important to take responsibility for it and that means acknowledging that it was our choice to take on this belief and it was us who, whether consciously or unconsciously, kept reinforcing it to ourselves. And in taking this responsibility, we are ultimately acknowledging our role in this conflict against ourselves. We are saying that yes if I  can cause myself pain, I too, can soothe and heal my wounds. Claiming responsibility is one of the most empowering things we can do for ourselves. When you claim your actions, then and only then, can you change them. 

In order for us to not repeat the same pattern of self-punishment, blame and condemnation, it is important to constantly remind ourselves, during this process of re-loving ourselves, that the way we acted towards us was the best way we could act. It was the best we could do based on the knowledge and level of awareness we had at the time. And now that we know better, we can act differently. But back then, we didn’t know better, and so we must learn to forgive ourselves. It is the compassion we show ourselves that later allows us to forgive others, but as it is with everything on this journey, we must always begin with ourselves. And I actually think forgiving ourselves might be the hardest, because to forgive ourselves fully we need to accept all our mistakes and all our failures up to this point. And it might be slightly easier to accept a failure towards oneself, but when we fail someone we love, it is much harder to let ourself off the hook for someone else’s pain, for pain we inflicted on someone very dear to us. And yes it might’ve been because we were in pain, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the pain we caused another doesn’t count or that it counts less or that we don’t need to take responsibility for it. We must always try to the best of our ability to own up to any pain our actions might have caused another, even if it wasn’t intentional, we must apologise.

Finally, the last and hardest of all the steps is this one— grieving ourself. And that means grieving all the versions of us that never had a chance, grieving living all this time thinking we are not worthy of love. It is very sad. And it is okay for it to be sad. In fact, that is all the sadness wants from you, to be okay with it. Now, all you need to do is be with the sadness, and when you are with it, you will begin to love it, to appreciate what it has shown you, and you will at last stop trying to force it to be happiness. And so we need to allow our hearts to soften as we offer sadness a way through us and out of us. Otherwise, sadness sinks deeper and deeper within and gets stuck and then we get stuck. And so unless we make space in our lives consciously to meet our grief, the repressed grief will manifest itself in our lives in other ways; other ways that are much less desirable and that threaten to inflict further pain on ourselves and others. And so whether sooner or later, we must meet our sadness. Our sadness about ourselves, about how we expected our lives to turn out, about how they turned out much differently, about how we turned out much differently than we thought we would, about how we thought we would be all-together by now, that our lives would somewhat make sense, that we could make sense of our place in this life. And so you see, we must grieve our thoughts, our beliefs, our expectations. For there is no other way to settle into ourselves and our lives without doing so. It is the way to accept. And acceptance is the path to love. It is the path to a love that is free of conditions of time or change. To love no matter what. To love just because we can. It is not an easy journey. But you see, it’s not about it being easy, I don’t know what it is about. I know though it is about something different for everyone. I know too that all the journeys, all the paths, all the roads, do lead to Rome. And Rome, the City of Love, will open her arms wide to greet us when we finally arrive. And you will hear the whole sky cheer for you, you will hear yourself cheer for you, and finally, wholeheartedly, you will scream all by yourself and all to yourself — I LOVE YOU! 

May we all find our Rome. Later or sooner, it doesn’t matter, so long as we do. 

With love and always for peace, 

S.A. 

On being a hanger

Dear quarter lives,

I would like to share with you some of my recent musings on the relationship between our body and our soul. And for this I would like to use the analogy of the relationship between a hanger and the clothes it holds on its shoulders.

A hanger is an entity on its own. Independent, it can be beautiful. But independent, it alone cannot serve the purpose it was created for. Yet when combined with garments, the hanger has purpose. You see I think our soul is not very different from a hanger. Our soul too is an entity on its own. Independent, it can be beautiful. Yet when combined with a body, it is able to fulfill a potential it otherwise cannot do alone. It has a different function, one that does not just serve itself but serves the body it wears, as well as all that interacts with that body. I find it fascinating that the only way for a soul to experience dependence is through being a body.

For a limited time only, soul has the special honour of experiencing a merging, a blending, a union with another. And not only does soul experience that union with the body it wears, but it is that very union with the body it has committed to for a lifetime that allows it to unite and merge with other bodies and souls too. And this ability to combine itself with another is at its most magical when a baby is created from all these unions. A baby that is not just a stand-alone entity but one made from the parts of each of those bodies and each of those souls, who too, were created from a union prior. And all of this would not have been possible without soul experiencing itself as a body, without soul experiencing itself as limited, without soul experiencing time as limited, all of which add to soul’s depth of experience.

And so to go back to the analogy of the hanger. As much as clothes need hangers, hangers too need clothes. Clothes give hangers meaning. And so it is with our bodies and souls, our embodied experiences are a gift to our souls. Our experience of the body, of time as limited, of life as temporary, that all adds meaning to the story of our soul. I don’t know if our souls would have the depth of meaning they do if they never got to live in a body. I guess that is something for all of us to contemplate. I always thought that my body needs my soul to survive but my soul can survive just fine without my body, and now I just don’t know if that’s true. I feel our souls crave being embodied for a reason. Perhaps instead of asking ourselves who am I, we can ask ourselves who am I as this body. And as the body ages and changes, so does our soul’s experience as body. So perhaps there is no one answer to this question, and perhaps we will never be able to grasp the full meaning of what we are asking, but nonetheless I believe it is always valuable to ask. Often more interesting than the answers we get in this life are the questions we ask. So let your curiosity and questions guide a new sort of relationship between your soul and body. One where neither control the other, but rather cooperate together to create a beautiful life worth living.

And so as we come to the end of this contemplation, I would like to take a moment to express my deep gratitude for this body that gives me the opportunity to live and experience life from a very unique point of view. My body is not perfect. And neither should it be. Perhaps now that I understand that even though I have the privilege to be alive, that aliveness does not entitle me to a perfect body, whatever that means, neither does it entitle me to a healthy body or a strong one. All that it really entitles me to is the opportunity to breathe. And with this gift of the breath, I may do with it what I choose. So, what I aspire to now is to be the best possible soul I can be for my body. Instead of only just thinking of all the ways in which my body can serve my soul, I realise now that it might be useful too to consider all the ways in which my soul might be of service to my body. Because in this embodied experience of living, it is the body’s wellbeing or lack thereof that can either extend or cut off soul’s time here on Earth. So when body is well, soul can continue to inhabit body. But when body falls sick, it will start to push soul out of it. May we all learn to love and nurture these bodies that carry us our entire lives.

With love and always for peace,

S.A.

On accepting our Fate

Dear quarter lives,

Do you think there’s a path already laid out for us? Or do we actually carve out our own lives? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Perhaps we have a fate and we choose it too. Perhaps we choose the kind of tool we use to carve, but what we carve might be predetermined.

But how does one choose what is certain? How can one possibly fulfill what is meant to be? To choose, to fulfill, perhaps what they both are are acts of acceptance. The doing that which makes the path more agreeable. For undoubtedly, there is suffering on every path, but perhaps all suffering stems from some lack of acceptance. The saying — flow with the tide not against it — encapsulates the power acceptance can have over our experience of living, just as swimming with the tide can alter one’s perception dramatically of the ease or difficulty of swimming in the sea. Perhaps we each have our own tides that, no matter what, are already taking us somewhere, and all we have to do is swim along with them. Although this might all sound simple, it is not so easy to do in practice. Many of us find it very challenging to just let ourselves flow with the tide. Many of us feel the need to control the tide. Many of us can’t seem to just accept and let the tide take us where it will. And that is what I would like to sit with today. I am not interested in arguing whether or not acceptance facilitates one’s life, but rather why does one resist acceptance if we can clearly see the benefit of doing so. Why do we resist that which will make us suffer less? What is that all about? Are we creatures more inclined to suffering than to ease?

I think for me it comes down to confusion. I struggle to recognise and see clearly which direction the tide is heading. And so if I can’t see which way is forward, I don’t know when I am resisting and when I’m trying to go with the flow. I don’t think we are inherently masochistic creatures that take pleasure in making ourselves suffer. I just think most of us can’t tell the direction of the tide. And the only way to tell the difference is to stop all movement for a moment, and see which way the tide carries us. The only way to know is to surrender to the ocean of life and trust that when we stop moving all our limbs, we won’t sink to the bottom and die, or get left behind. And that very act of faith, of trusting that which we cannot see, is what carries us forward and through all the fear. And when we do let go, the ocean will undoubtedly carry us. But I guess that certainty isn’t so easy to believe. Understandably, we are afraid to stop swimming for this one moment. We are afraid because we don’t know how to trust that which we cannot see. The thing is when you are in the ocean, you can’t see it, the water is there all around you but you can’t see it. Unless you pop your head out of the ocean, you won’t be able to see it. But we must remind ourselves that we can feel it. We must remind ourselves that we don’t just see with our eyes. We see with all our senses. We see with our skin. With our hearts. With our ears. We see with our toes and fingers. We see with our breath. We see through our interactions with each other.

I find in the very brief moments where I do choose to let go of my grip on control and go with the flow, it does feel much less exhausting. But a few moments later, I think I’ve figured out where the tide is taking me and I don’t like what I see so I start swimming in the opposite direction. I forget all about how much harder it was before and I start doubting whether I am in fact heading towards ease. And once I am engulfed by this whirlpool of doubt, I am back again to swimming against the current and in this state of confusion where I can’t seem to remember which way is forward, and I start all over again this process of negotiating with myself that it is safe for me to let go again, that I can trust I will be okay, that I will be held. And I rinse and repeat, and on and on goes this cycle of remembering and forgetting that I am essentially not a fish in the ocean, but I am the ocean itself so there is nowhere for me to sink, and nowhere for me to go, but here. Just as fate intended. Perhaps that is the only fate there is — to remember one is the whole ocean and not just a fish.

I recently learned that the roots of the word confusion come from the Latin word — confundo — meaning to fuse with, to mix, to blend. Perhaps that is what it is all about — to mix and blend with it all until we become One.

With love and always with the intention of cultivating peace,

S.A.

On letting go of the scaffolding structures we once used to rebuild ourselves

Dear quarter lives,

Sometimes we build relationships, habits, beliefs in our lives that serve only as ladders and stepping stones that help us build and heal ourselves in places and in ways that would’ve been otherwise impossible to do without. Very much in the same way scaffolding allows builders to work buildings and edges of buildings, there are structures in our own lives that we’ve built that serve a temporary purpose and after which they must be removed. The difficult part is knowing which is the scaffolding and which is the main structure, especially when you’ve been working your inner building for years. It might be hard to tell the difference between what is temporary and needs to go and what is permanent and needs to stay.

Currently, I feel that at least on one side of my inner building the time has come for me to remove some of these impermanent bonds that I have created. Some of these are with people and places, others are with the less tangible world of beliefs. Today, I’ll only speak of one of them, and that is hope. Hope if you hadn’t already noticed flourishes in times of crises. It helps lift us and move us forward one small step at a time. But hope I am now understanding can only take us so far and for so long, after which its expiry date arrives and it must be carefully laid down and put aside. The scaffolding of hope if used even when it has gone rusty will poison the blood of its user and fill their hearts with delusions until instead of moving them forward, now hope is keeping them put in the same place and only deceiving their minds that they are still moving forward. Hope is tricky. It is slippery. It is a sword that possesses as most things do edges on both sides. Hope can help you see the light when your eyes cannot, but hope cannot bring back anyone from the dead, including ourselves. We cannot hope ourselves to remain as we once were.

And so the time has now come for me to say goodbye to my scaffolding of hope. Thank you for carrying me forward. I have come far. I have leaned on your walls and cried over your steps. I have grown lean climbing up and down your bars. I have grown ever more present as I’ve learnt to avoid your holes. I believe this is the end of our relationship, at least for now. You have allowed me to imagine many lives for myself. You have taught me much about the art of dreaming. Thank you. Now I must do the rest on my own. I must walk now using my own two feet. I am afraid, but I know in my heart that if you stay with me, I will be robbing myself and my future of something very precious and that is my own will.

You see, the next stage to develop and strengthen our inner buildings is to put them to the test — are they capable of standing alone and tall without the help of any scaffolding? And so when we put down hope, we are not falling instead into despair; what we are doing is that we are no longer using something to lift us up because we no longer need it — we are already up. We are done. The building is complete, or at least all the foundational floors and walls are. And it is our Will that Hope has allowed us to rebuild. It is our will now that must stand on its own. It is our will now that will carry us forward. But we must never forget how hope has helped prop us up when our will was down. And that is always when hope arrives — when our will is down. But to continue to use hope when our will is already up, is to tell our will we don’t trust it. Be mindful of the pace your will is able to charge forward on its own. We are all built differently after all. Some of us run before we even walk. Some of us crawl. Others do some combination of all three. It doesn’t matter what your pace is, so long as you do it and learn to lean on your own will.

May we all have the courage to remove the scaffoldings we no longer need. May our walls be filled with will, and our hearts filled with trust to lean on them.

With love and always for peace,

Shahinda

On the nature of dwelling 

Dear quarter lives,

There might not be a single reason that causes one to dwell, but we can all agree that when we dwell a feeling of wanting to go back takes over and drives us to a fictitious new future. And so I would say that ultimately we dwell when we realise in our present we have reached a definite end of sorts, that from this point onwards from our present there is no way to get what we are deeply desiring. Unless of course, we go back in time. And so dwelling takes us back in time, but not for the purpose of staying there but to allow us to act differently and reroute to a new future, a future that is different from our present in especially one way — that it has what we want. And so the only way to get to what we want is to go to this alternate future and the only way to get to this alternate future is to go to the exact point in the past where the paths to this alternate future and our current present forked off, to go back to the point where things could’ve still turned out differently. So it is the unchangeability and definiteness of our present that usually drives us back in time. But what happens when we go back in time and we realise that what we are trying to capture keeps on slipping through our fingers? What happens when we realise we really can’t change the present even if we time travel? What happens when we find ourselves knocking on a door that’s not there? Well we must do as all people do when they get lost — we cry. And then we cry some more. In part because we are afraid, and in part because we finally have reached a point where we can grieve what could’ve been. Not because we are suddenly wise. No not at all. But it is because we have only just now exhausted all the fuel in our capacity to dwell, to wish things were different and to even try to get things to be different. And it is only at this point of emotional exhaustion, after our minds have done millions of years of time travel, only now are we ready to say goodbye to that point in time when things could’ve been different and finally surrender to our present and say yes this is it — I accept you. And when we finally do, something magical happens. The door that was seemingly locked is locked no more. And we realise that perhaps we have not reached a dead end after all, that there is still somewhere for us to go, that all that was needed to unlock this door was our own grief. And so in saying goodbye to what could’ve been, we open the doors to what can be. So long as there is a future, we cannot stop ourselves from dreaming. Perhaps even, it is the very act of dreaming that brings our futures to life.

So instead of trying to wish your dreams of a new future away, accept them, make peace with them, let them drive you forward. Let them motivate you to create even if it is not them you end up creating. Fantasy, dreams, dwelling — they are all made of the same fabric — hope. Hope can sometimes deceive us, but it can also be what carries us when our own two feet cannot. And so with that in mind, let us not condemn ourselves for dreaming, let us not punish our thoughts for taking us on a ride, let us instead hold ourselves in this space of fantasy and first ask ourselves why we have come here. Why have we chosen to reside today in a place of fantasy rather than reality. Is it because our reality scares us? Or perhaps is it because in our dreams we are in control of what happens, something we crave to feel in our reality. Whatever your particular reason is for dwelling, it is valid.

With love and always for peace,

S.A.