On the Beauty of Conflict 

Dear quarter lives, 

Recently I found myself telling a friend that I don’t really understand how someone could enjoy watching other people fight. Even though my friend agreed, something inside of me wasn’t satisfied with that response. I felt that maybe my friend and I weren’t really paying attention, maybe we weren’t seeing something important that was so clearly there, that everyone else could see. A few days later, as the thought simmered and cooked itself in my mind, an answer arrived slowly, trickling through my resistance to accept something so “aggressive”. After all, I was all about peace, so how could I let myself see that there was beauty in conflict, in war, in fighting, let alone fighting as a sport. But I couldn’t not see it. It was there showing itself so beautifully and so transparently.

I had been the kind of person that tried to avoid conflict with others. I wasn’t so confrontational, and always afraid to cause upset or to cause myself upset through another’s upset. I was hiding behind peace hoping conflict wouldn’t find me. Ironically, I was already in it but just couldn’t see it. I was refusing to see the truth that I was bathing in conflict, some of it was for fun and some was more serious forcing me to grow and move forward through life. I love stories, and conflicts are at the heart of every one of them. It’s what makes a hero out of the human in every story. It is what captivates us because we understand that conflict is how we all grow, how we mature, how we get closer to those around us, how we get closer to ourselves. It is there at the centre of it all, like a sort of gravity that pulls our lives together, connects the dots between the different lines and threads. So you see, people go to see boxing matches not because they like to see others in pain or bleed but because it is a celebration of the “fight”, the fight that we are engaged in from the moment we begin to make our way through our mother’s birth canal. It is a celebration of the force that is “opposite”; it is a celebration that duality moves us forward, that the strength of our spine comes from having to resist and grow against gravity. Watching people fight reminds us that fighting is normal. It reminds us that it is sacred, that there is pleasure to be found in the pain. 

Characters facing great obstacles and conflicts are an integral part of any captivating story. This is the stuff that makes for good TV. This is the stuff that we are willing to give our time and attention to. Why? Because it reminds us that conflict is beautiful, that what starts out one way will end somewhere else, that every conflict is a journey in and of itself, that it has an end just as it does a beginning. It reminds us that the fight is survivable, that we can do it, that we are all warriors in our own way. I understand now what I couldn’t see before because I was refusing to see the opportunities conflict was presenting in my own life. I had told myself the story that it was all harmful, that all conflict was painful, that it was all personal. Now, I can see a much bigger picture. I can appreciate the closeness I feel with someone who I am able to work through a fight with. Making space for conflict in our lives is not only important but it’s what makes it interesting. It’s what pushes us to evolve and change.

Watching a fight reminds us that there are always winners and losers, and that both are important for the growth of the other, and that being a part of the fight is what’s more important than winning or losing because one day you might be a winner and another a loser. It teaches us that there is meaning and joy to be made and had in the process, so we better not get attached to winning or losing but that it is best to learn to be both. Watching a fight reminds us that engaging in conflict is a creative act and that there is a big element of uncertainty that teaches us how to listen and be more sensitive. One of the perhaps more useful elements of watching or observing conflict is that even though it might look like chaos, but there are always rules; even wars have rules and when these rules are violated, people need to be held responsible. And different conflicts have different rules, and rules like your opponents are to be respected if you want to play the game and fight the fight. Of course, it could be argued that we see too much conflict in our world and perhaps we need to see more peace. But the thing is peace, resolution and unions all begin with conflict, they are the creative products of conflict. So perhaps the fact that there is so much conflict around us might be a sign that we are not following through till the end, that maybe we are leaving too many conflicts open-ended, unresolved and without an end which leads to long-term dysfunctional conflicts. And so like anything, conflict can be productive as well as destructive. You can choose how to manage your conflicts, you can choose to be brutal or compassionate. You can choose to prioritise immediate gains of winning the fight or long term gains of winning the relationship. You can take ownership of your mistakes or blame everyone else. Conflict is a great teacher, a beautiful one and a brutal one at times. But life is not just a walk in the park; it certainly can be sometimes but it is also the sand storms and hurricanes that turn and transform people’s lives. So today perhaps take a moment to recognise all the goodness conflict has brought to your life, recognise the muscles you have acquired through conflict, and the confidence with which you have learnt to protect your boundaries. 

May you always have it in you to fight the good fight.

With love and always for peace, 

S.A. 

On the Power of Pain

Dear quarter lives, 

One of the most precious dreams you can gift yourself during a period of hardship is the possibility of a different future to the one you see now. Life at this point may have not turned out how you expected, but it is still happening, it is still moving, still becoming, and so are you. I personally cannot lie to you and say it is easy to grieve what may have been, what could’ve become, but I do know that it is much easier to hope differently than to keep on hoping for some old dream that will never be, even if that dream were us. What is us after all but what we are and we are not our imagined selves, we are who we are now. And to move anywhere forwards or even backwards, we must recognise first who are today. We get stuck when we refuse precisely to do that — to see the truth of who we are now. It is only in recognising our present that our past makes sense and our future becomes clear. We cannot walk if we cannot see the terrain on which we stand — is it rocky, is it sandy, is it a mountain top, or a river bend? It is painful, I know, to open your eyes to the truth. But when you feel the pain, only then can it subside. Only then can it be transformed into something else. So you must choose what to do with your pain. Only you can decide what to make of it. Perhaps you had no hand in the pain you find yourself in, but you do have all the power to make something of it and that something can be of your choosing, but only if you are willing to take the pain on, to stretch your arm out to it and say ‘Yes, I accept you. Yes, I feel you. Yes, I am willing to learn your lesson.’ Only then will the pain be willing to be transformed by you too.

Those who seek to accumulate power are often condemned as greedy but equally we must not forget that those who relinquish their power are refusing a precious gift given to them by the Universe. We are blessed with power but sometimes we forget how to hold this power and use it. We try to own it, to possess it and accumulate it, but we must remember that it is merely a current, a sort of electricity passing through us seeking to light us up not dissimilar to the way an electric current illuminates a light bulb. First though, we must recognise we are a light bulb. We are not the creators or owners of this power, we cannot collect it or send it away. If we try to hoard it or prevent it from coming in, we simply burn out and go dark. In either case, whether out of too much light or too little light, we die prematurely without the continuous flow of power. It is precisely this flow of power that helps us heat up, burn, and transform our pain. Just like fire burns wood into ashes that then nourish the Earth; it is our power that burns and transforms our pain into something nourishing that feeds us and all the other humans who are connected to our circuit. Without power, we do not have the energy to overcome. Without power, we cannot become who we are. We become who we are by recognising our ability to transform our suffering into something else. So suffering comes sometimes to remind us of a power we have forgotten to use — the power to transform. It comes to remind us of our heritage, our ancestral right to the beautiful art of alchemy, of making something out of nothing, of giving life to something that is dying, of transformation and resurrection. 

When there is no pain, there is no pressure. A diamond is formed through pressure. It is all earth, but with enough pressure and heat, a diamond is formed. So remind yourself, where there is no pain, there is no pressure to transform. In our current culture though, there is this fallacy that we constantly need to improve ourselves and I must admit that I too fell and still fall under the misconception sometimes that I must change to improve, that somehow my current self is not good enough and so must become better. But the truth is that there is no good enough. There is just enough. And there is change. Change is merely a movement, like walking, like swimming, like painting, it is just a new arrangement of the raw materials already present. Like baking a cake, the eggs alone are good enough to make an omelette, and the flour good enough to make bread, and both are delicious, but together they can make a cake, also delicious but just different. So perhaps the trick is not to take change so personally, that it does not signify we are second best, but that we cannot be eggs forever or flour forever, that we must connect and merge with all that is around us, that is the purpose of change, as it is with alchemy, to combine! To combine to a point of no separation where something entirely new is birthed. Isn’t that beautiful? To be with something else, to be a part of something new, to become something entirely different together. It is the process of merging, of melting into life. Pain, change, power help us melt into life so that we can become life and finally recognise ourselves as not others roaming in life but that we are life itself. Life is us happening through us, speaking and changing via us, and merging onto and with itself so that it can be as inclusive, as containing, as whole as it possibly can.

With love and always for peace, 

S.A. 

(P.s. I’ve missed you and apologies for the recent long breaks.)

On Feeling Alive 

Dear quarter lives, 

When we speak of feelings, we often refer to the obvious sadness or anger or fear, but there is an important feeling from which all other feelings are born — the feeling of aliveness. And when we speak of the feeling of aliveness, a beautiful distinction is born, one that does not assume our humanity by just being here, but more importantly, by feeling we are here. We are not simply human because we exist, but because we feel we exist. It is the feeling of our here-ness, of our alive-ness, that anchors us to this life and allows us to experience it. I love the idea that our existence is not just mere fact, but rather mere experience. So what does it mean then to exist through our feelings, through our experience, instead of some fact that we are here because we were born. There are many who are born, who are indeed alive because their hearts beat, but who do not feel alive. So what is it then that makes us feel alive if it is not our being alive, and how can we access this feeling of aliveness, that is the foundation of all experience, of all feelings? 

As it is with all other feelings, it is unique to us. Yes, we may call ourselves human, group ourselves into communities, into families, into relationships through which we define ourselves, but when it comes to feelings, one can never really know if any feeling they experience is the same as the next person’s experience of that feeling. And even as best as we use language or visual imagery or music, or whatever it is we use to communicate feelings to one another, the experience of a feeling is always our own. And so, it’s no different with aliveness. So what makes you feel alive is different than what makes me feel alive. And despite that difference, we can all agree that we need to feel alive. Feeling alive, I believe, is all that we need as humans to function, to endure hardship, to experience joy and then be able to let it go. It is the experience of aliveness that I believe has been confused with happiness. Often times, people not just of our time, but of many times past, have been obsessed with the road to happiness. And I must humbly say that this might’ve been an error in either translation or judgement, because it is not happiness that we need but aliveness that we hunger for. Anyone who has been numb to their feelings can tell you that they just crave to feel anything at all, even if it is anger or fear or the more uncomfortable anxiety, but they just want to feel. Feeling, being able to feel, is what really makes us feel like we exist, it is what makes us feel human, it is what makes us feel like we are participating in life, like we are truly embodying our bodies, these beautiful structures that come to life and have meaning because we feel them and when we stop feeling through them, we are severed and separated from the experiential aspect of life, and that is in my own very humble opinion, the only aspect that confirms that we are indeed living. 

So finding our aliveness is vital. It is just as essential as food and water. It is indeed ironic that our aliveness is often brought into question when we are confronted with illness or the death of a loved one. It is when we come into contact with death that it becomes clear that we have not been living. And people try to find their aliveness in many different ways, some have more sex, others get married, some have kids, some quit their jobs, some get divorced, some decide to sell everything they own and travel the world, and others just stay put in their regular environment trying to find life within themselves. There is no formula to feeling alive, there is no one way to feel alive but there certainly is the desire among us all for life and usually when that desire for life fades, that’s when people begin to question why they are even here, what their life means, if they should continue to be alive. It is when we lose our desire to feel alive that we are truly in danger of death. It is the feeling of aliveness that keeps us alive. Again, it is not about the doing of aliveness or things that you think alive people do, but about getting into the feeling of aliveness, it is about becoming it, embodying it. Are you really feeling life? Are you really taking it in? From the smallest everyday things like your cup of coffee or the frustration you feel in traffic to the breeze caressing your skin to the larger joys of graduating or falling in love or to the heart-wrenching grief you feel when a loved one dies. All of this is feeling. And if we stop ourselves from feeling all that we can feel, this is how we disconnect from feeling alive. We often think aliveness is something we have to travel to, to find in sports or exciting things, but aliveness is much simpler, it is with us and within us, it is in the very core of us, always trying to express itself through us, but unfortunately for us, there is much that we confront in life sometimes that causes us to shut the door on our feelings, on the very thing that allows us to experience life. It is unfortunate but it is understandable. I, myself, have been there. In some ways, I still am trying to find my way back to aliveness. It is no easy task to journey back to that which one has forgotten. How do we remind ourselves of that which we do not remember? And re-membering is not an act that solely brings us back together with our pasts. I believe remembering is an act that too brings us forward to our futures and reunites not only our present to the future but our past to the future. And so one’s ability to remember is vital to this process of re-unification with self and with time. Remembering is what brings the flow back into our lives. And feelings need us to be in flow for them to flow through us. So how can one harness then their ability to remember in order to harness their ability to feel?

I think one of the most powerful ways to remember that which has passed or that which is still to come in the future is to imagine it. Our memories of our past are largely imagined, and so are our visions of the future. And so if our ability to imagine informs our ability to remember, then it seems that our ability to imagine is deeply connected with our ability to experience our lives. So if our ability to imagine is behind our ability to experience then could our imagination be in fact all we need to experience our lives and thus feel them? Our ability to imagine gives birth to our ability to hope, to believe, to re-ignite our passions and create the life we would like to experience. Our ability to imagine a different life is what allows us to break down and disassemble the life we want to move away from experiencing. Not only does imagining help us move through life, but the freedom to imagine is itself at the cornerstone of feeling alive. And it has nothing at all to do with your perception of yourself as a creative person or not. It simply is your birthright as is feeling alive. We all need to imagine just like we all need to breathe. Our ability to envision, to see what is not yet physically here, allows us to feel like we are participating in life. And what is feeling alive if not feeling like you are participating in the creation of life. I would like to emphasise that imagination is not a mind activity, it is a whole body activity. It is the bringing on of a feeling but through other means like thinking or envisioning narratives or listening to music, and what these narratives do is help us call in our feelings. And it is these feelings that we have called in through the act of imagining that themselves help anchor that which we have imagined into our lives. So if you can imagine something, that is if you can feel something, you begin to recognise not only that it exists but that it is possible, and you can begin to gage your comfort with that feeling and thus how open you are to that feeling. And not all imagination is pleasant; sometimes we have to imagine that which we fear most so that we can begin to overcome that which we find uncomfortable. Some ancient practices that help us process and get comfortable with the idea of dying involve imagining dying. Buddhism, for one, has many meditations that involve you imagining your own death or the death of your loved ones. So imagining isn’t just to make your dreams happen but imagining helps open us up to feeling the more uncomfortable experiences of living. Being able to imagine what we are moving towards, whether it is pleasant or not, helps protect our access to feeling. It keeps us from shutting out feeling and helps anchor us more deeply to feeling. Furthermore, being able to imagine protects us from falling into the trap of the confused perception that feeling hurts us. It is not feeling that hurts us; it is our rejection of feeling that does. Therefore, our imagination helps us ease into those feelings that we might reject. It helps us feel them but in the intensity we can handle. It helps us work up to experiencing the scary things in life in controlled doses so that we can ourselves gage and stretch and work up to that which we can handle without breaking, just like you would with weights at the gym. So I believe that imagination, in whatever form it takes, helps us to feel our feelings more fully, and thus our lives more deeply. It is through imagining and engaging in this creative act of envisioning that I believe we access our feeling of aliveness. It is through our imagination that we come to realise our power, our co-creative role in this life. For what is aliveness but to feel that the being who is inhaling is you. It is you that is expanding your lungs. It is you that is opening yourself up to life. It is you that is receiving it. It is you too who must let it go when the time comes. So feel it and don’t miss out on this wonderous experience. Feel the inhale, so you can too, feel the exhale.

As always with love and for peace, 

S.A.

On creating your own inner compass

Dear quarter lives, 

An important part of the process of growing is learning to listen to your own inner guidance. I believe it is one of our main responsibilities towards ourselves to discover what our voice sounds like. The ironic thing is that the first phase of our lives is about the complete opposite thing. We are first born and come into the world ready to be moulded and shaped by the voices of others. We arrive ready to be parented. First, we are like sponges that absorb all that is around us — language, culture, norms, values. We become a condensed version of everything that we have been exposed to. Then… Then comes adolescence when we start to feel the weight of everything we have absorbed. Some of us react by emptying the sponge of everything that it’s absorbed, rebelling against it. Some hold on tighter to the water in the sponge, thinking they are this water, they are these values they have absorbed, but the more they fill, the more water leaks out. Somewhere along the line, whether it’s through a quarter life crisis or any other one, we are all forced to expunge the water from the sponge. We find ourselves some place where gravity no longer exists and all of a sudden any drop of water that was inside the sponge separates and exits the sponge and starts to float all around us, not in one piece, but in its individual droplets. And all of a sudden, perhaps for the first time ever, we can see each individual value or belief that has interacted with us. We see what we thought we were made of and realise that these things are not us. There is an us separate from all of these beliefs. There is an us that can choose which beliefs to hold within it, which values to embody. But how does one decide which values to give shelter to? How does one decide anything really? Deciding, how we decide, our own decision making process — that too after all is a value. 

In a world that places greater value on rational thought than intuition, this becomes an important and pivotal value that arguably will shape all other values we choose. I would like to pause here for a moment on the word choose. Choose is not so different from decide, they are close cousins, synonyms. They both imply a will. They both imply a linear process from the subject making the choice to the object being chosen. What if, just what if, the relationship between chooser and what is chosen is not so linear, what if what is chosen chooses its chooser. It is possible. But it is only possible when we can acknowledge the limited way in which we perceive. Not dissimilar to our experience of time, it appears linear to us, it appears to be one-directional but it is not. And so it is with deciding and with choosing. Perhaps then the extra emphasis and value placed on rational thought comes from the assumption that we are always willing, that the flow of choice begins with us and our individual minds. But now that we have established that what is chosen can choose us as well, then perhaps we could start placing value on our listening abilities. How can we receive that signal from what is choosing us, how can we know that this thing has called for us? Is it through developing our intuitive abilities, valuing them, not belittling our natural signaling systems, giving all our systems a balanced distribution of power and importance? I really do believe we are collapsing under the weight of our minds for a reason, there is too much pressure on them. There is too much pressure on them to know, to decide, to choose. We have disconnected our minds from the wider systems of our bodies (both the physical and energetic bodies). And right now I am not calling for the opposite either, but I am calling to reintegrate our minds again back with our bodies, not only to relieve them of pressure but also so that we can receive better, so that we can flow better with life. So that we “choose” what is choosing us. 

Balance is not just an important feature of outcomes, but of processes too. Balance in how we choose, how we will, how we receive, balance in our perception of our control, our power and knowing that it is always both fate and will. We need to open our minds and our hearts to the truth that listening is a form of choosing. To extend your antennae, to reintegrate your body’s type of rationality with your mind’s, to know that they are just different types of rationality — that is balance. To have values, but to know at the same time that all values can help grow us or destroy us; to know that today one value can be “good” whilst simultaneously being “bad” for another in some other place or at some other time in history — that is balance. So that means when we choose, we need to consult with our whole self – mind, body and soul. Whether you call it an inner compass or a higher self, there is a part of us that knows, senses and feels what is right for us. I must also pause here to take a moment or two to speak about rightness.  Sadly, I think we are very confused about the ideas of right and wrong. We’ve been limiting them to these really rigid things. Right and wrong do exist. Right and wrong are necessary. But right and wrong, I believe, fall outside of morality. Rightness, I believe, is what is appropriate for our specific unique individual soul’s life experience. That means that to know what is right for us, we must learn through our own mistakes. And sometimes what is a mistake might be you choosing what other people would call “the morally correct way” and not doing the other thing that people would call “morally wrong”. We all have specific life lessons, life experiences and life journeys to go through and it isn’t just about us, it is about how each one of our life experiences enriches both the collective and individual experiences of all other living beings. What I mean is that sometimes poor people are not poor because they did something wrong or they chose it but poverty might’ve chosen them and Poverty with a capital P serves us all; it must exist because in its absence Life loses its balance. Without Poverty, Richness cannot exist. Without seeing poorer people than us, we eventually forget to be grateful. And it is not just poverty in resources I am speaking of here; there is poverty in joy, there is poverty in movement and poverty in sight. Without the blind, we forget how valuable our sight is to us. It is in seeing the other end of us, the opposites to us, that we can be who we choose and are chosen to be. And your life does not only serve You, it serves Us all. And not through how you think, but through every way you can be. So learn to listen deeply so you can recognise your own voice in the beautiful messed up crowd that is the entire world. Learn to receive what is for you and let go of what no longer speaks to you. Listen, so you can choose your chosen path and finally be who your whole system of being is yearning for you to be.

With love and always for peace, 

S.A.

p.s. I missed you. It’s been a while.

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.