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. 

On Needing to Identify Ourselves

Dear quarter lives, 

Everything, every interaction we have, almost always begins with us introducing ourselves. And so, it becomes engrained within us, that whenever we go out into the world, even just outside of ourselves within our own families, we must differentiate ourselves, we must be us and they them. I am me, and she is her. So we have boundaries and things that separate us from one another, like names, like appearance, voice, and many many other things amongst which are our beliefs, our religion, our lifestyle, our movement practices, our career choices, our views on money, politics, the economy, the environment, our views on love. And so it happens to be that in order to really be able to identify ourselves, we must be able to differentiate ourselves. And the better we can separate ourselves from the world, the better we can identify ourselves. But like all that exists in life, balance is key and even things like identification can go so far as to isolate us. Because to have community and to build connections, we must share some commonalities, be they our language, our history, religion, beliefs, shared tv shows, a shared sense of humour, all these are things that bring us closer to one another. And just as it is important to separate ourselves within even our own families, it is important too to find that which connects us and binds us to them. And so it is with our friends and our communities.

And so there appears to be a fine line we must carefully walk between our need for identification and our desire for connection because both tug at us in opposite directions; one requires of us to distance ourself from the world and the other requires us to lose ourself in it. Neither extreme is healthy. On one side too much identification can cause us to feel a deep sense of loneliness, as though we are alone in our existence, as though we are living our own reality far, very far away from everyone else. And this isolation, this loneliness, can come because we feel we are so different, so identified, so unlike everyone else, that there is no space for us in the world with “everyone else”. Because in our minds “everyone else” is the same and we are— different. 

Now let’t talk about what happens on the other end of the spectrum, on the end where one has forfeited completely their desire to separate and just meshed themselves completely with their surroundings. These individuals who let go of their own identity become part of a larger collective. And to belong to this collective, whether it is a family unit or a political faction or a football fan club, one must check themselves out as a separate individual with separate wants to enter into those spaces. And ironically for the collective to exist, it must identify and separate itself from other collectives. And so it becomes, that in a community setting too, we must still adopt an identity, but it’s not an individual identity that belongs to a single individual, it belongs to everyone who is part of the group. In the community, the individual identity must dissolve so that the group identity can emerge.

 Let us zoom out for a moment, and consider the whole world, the whole earth, as one unified large community. Let us consider ourselves for a moment gone. And let us then consider ourselves here as Gaia, as Mother Earth herself. Let us for a moment create this space within us for sharing. Sharing ourselves with our home. Sharing ourselves with our fellow living beings, and sharing ourselves too with all the beings that have ever lived and died, all the beings whose remains made our lives possible, let us share ourselves. Let us share ourselves some more. And now that you’ve shared and shared, even though for a “good cause”, it is for our collective “HOME” after all. But how do you feel? Do you feel depleted? Or do you feel energized? Do you feel like you need to speak and hear your own voice, just to make sure “YOU”, the separate You is still here. Or do you feel relieved that you no longer have to worry about your own worries and instead can carry the burdens of the whole. Do you feel sad for all the losses our Great Mother has endured? Or do you feel numb, unable to allow yourself to share in the pain, because you know you will get lost? Whatever your answers were, they will have said something about how comfortable you feel letting go of yourself and sharing or the opposite how hard it is to let go of yourself and instead find comfort in clinging tightly onto yourself. There is no right or wrong. But there is always a tendency we have. And we all spend our lives finding our balance, going through periods that literally pull any identifiable floor from underneath us, and so it is important to know which way you are inclined to move in a crisis so as to be mindful not to steer too much over into one extreme over the other. 

I, myself, know that I seek identification when in a crisis. I want to immediately know who I am, where I am relative to everyone else. In a crisis, I know if I’m not mindful, I will isolate myself. I will retreat. When I feel lost, the way I know how to find myself again is by separating myself and constantly identifying myself relative to the world. Others when lost will only know how to identify themselves through the crowd. They will reach out, they will connect and they find comfort in others. Again, there is no right. What I try to practice now away from right and wrong is more of a conscious balancing, and that means if I’m used to dealing with something a certain way, I’m open to trying to deal with it differently. I’m open to for example finding myself through community and connection instead of identification. I am open. And this opening can be for a moment, it can be for a whole day, or perhaps it can be my new way of being, who knows. Perhaps if I can reassure my mind that it is in no danger by merging with a collective for a bit, perhaps if my mind is quiet, I will find that this is what my body has been calling for this entire time. And it is true in a sense, our bodily desires all ask us to merge with the world. Our bodies hunger for food and sex, and thirst for water and love, so perhaps this identification-connection dynamic is one whose balance requires us to harmonise the relationship between our minds and bodies. Each must surrender leadership and vow to work together and lose themselves for the good of the whole human — for the good of YOU! 

May we all find ourselves, alone and together. May we all hear our own voices as we take part in the collective SONG. 

With love and always for peace, 

Shahinda Abdalla 

On Making Space for Grief

Dear quarter lives, 

Can you recall the first time you ever experienced loss? Can you recall the first time you expressed your grief? Was your grief met with open arms or were you told to put it away? What about your most recent experience of loss, can you recall it? How did you meet your grief then? Were your arms open? Were you even there in your body to meet it? They say we learn how to meet our own grief by seeing how our grief was first met by another.

I recently learnt that grief has many ways of making itself visible. It has more colours than a rainbow. It has more shades than blue. It sounds like everything between laughter and wailing. It feels like everything from a punch in the stomach that steals your breath away to feeling ecstatic like you’ve only just come alive. Despite the many guises grief wears, you can be certain that it is bound to show up on your doorstep at some point. And if you are unable to meet it, it will stay there and camp out on your yard until you do. And grief isn’t too bothered about time like we might be, it will stay and make itself at home sometimes for decades. But the danger when it stays for this long is that it really does begin to make itself at home, taking away from our own space that would’ve otherwise been dedicated to something else. It will use your energy until you barely have any left for anything other than grief. And that is usually when most of us finally give in and meet our grief. But why wait till then? Why put it off for so long? Yes, obviously it can be painful and uncomfortable, but what I’m asking is what makes it so? Why is it so hard for us to accept our grief, to acknowledge it, and recognise it? 

When I’ve contemplated my own resistance to grieving, I’ve found that I resist grieving when I’m not ready to accept the loss, when I’m not ready to accept the finality of it. And if I allow myself to grieve, to go through the process of accepting the loss, I would in fact be recognising that it’s okay for my life to go on without this thing, that it’s okay for me to be this way, that this new normal is okay. And that, I think is the hardest part for most of us because it does feel like if we allow ourselves to grieve, that somehow we would be agreeing with how things have turned out. We might mistake accepting for agreeing, thinking if we do one, we are doing the other, but I do believe they are different. Perhaps it is a very subtle difference. But isn’t the art of living after all about mastering the subtleties. This mixing up of agreement and acceptance often happens when we are dealing with others too. Many of us might resist accepting someone else’s view if it’s different than their own, thinking that in accepting another we are agreeing with them. But that isn’t the case at all. Acceptance is merely the act of seeing something for what it is, not what we’d like it to be, or what it ought to be. Acceptance is therefore not dependent on anyone’s moral, cultural or religious beliefs. Acceptance is dependent solely on our humanity and willingness to open our eyes to the truth. Yes, sometimes the truth can be painful. Sometimes the truth might not be to our liking. And sometimes the truth itself is temporary making it very difficult for us to capture it and box it up in a single space and time. 

Acceptance does not happen all at once, and neither does grief. We grieve and accept in layers. In layers of ourselves. In layers of time. Even in layers of people. Until we finally reach the core of what we need to grieve and accept — and that is Life herself. The Life that we were born into, the Life that separated us from our mother’s womb, the Life that is full of danger and disappointments, the Life that we had hoped Life to be but isn’t, and so we grieve and grieve until we can finally accept the Life that is, the Life that is actually here, actually happening. We grieve until we can open our eyes again and take in reality. We grieve until we are ready to take in the truth. And as long as we keep on living, we never stop grieving, because we never stop opening our eyes to new truths. 

And when we can finally accept our lifelong relationship with grief, we can then begin to turn our attention and energy into how we can make space for grief and embrace it, instead of pushing it away. How can we grieve in community without it being just about the darkness? Because grief only gets darker when it is  shunned, but when we make space for it, we offer grief a chance to take a lighter form. So how can we celebrate grief? How can we create rituals that mark its flow through us? How can we dance grief away? Can we sit in circles and share stories of grief and loss? Can we share food and drink, and music too? For the sake of our humanity, for the sake of all children now struggling to make sense of all the deaths happening around them, we need to make space for grief so we can make peace with it.

With love and always with the intention to bring a little more harmony into your lives, 

S.A. 

On the Power of Talking

Dear quarter lives,

It blows my mind how those very things we do everyday hold within them all the power we need to transform our lives. And it is not just about what we do, but how we do it that creates the lifestyle we end up living. And so with one of the most everyday things of all —talking — we hold within us, within our very own voices an immense amount of power. And that power in itself is neither good or bad, talking in itself is neither good or bad. It is the intention behind our speech that makes that power serve a beneficial function or a destructive one. Each and every one of us has their own unique voice, and voice isn’t just the actual sound we make when we speak, but it is how we speak, how we put our words together, the intonations we make, how we pause, how we laugh or giggle at the end. And so it becomes that our voice is an expression of us, of our soul. And that expression is sacred. It is holy. And the reason it is holy isn’t just because of its beauty, although I do believe the most sacred and divine sounds of all are in themselves an expression of beauty, like all the sounds nature makes, the trees rustling, the birds chirping, the humans laughing. These are all sacred. But they are sacred not only because they are beautiful, they are sacred because they remind us that we are connected. That we are never alone. That we are accompanied by other beings, by nature herself in this experience of life. For the primary function of making a sound is for it to be received by another. We make sounds to communicate. To send messages. What kind of messages we send, that is up to us. Many messages we send are indeed unconscious. We send cries of help through our voices. We send pleas for love. And sometimes, we send signals of fear too. Just like birds warning their own of danger, we too send warnings to other people when we perceive danger. That doesn’t necessarily always mean what is a threat to someone is a threat to everyone. And that is where our listening can really help us filter out and know what rings true for us and what doesn’t. And so you see, talking is a responsibility. It has the power to influence those around us because we are literally sending whatever is within us out into the world using our voices. 

And because we can hear our voices as we speak, we are also reinforcing whatever is within us using our speech. Unless we consciously choose to do otherwise. So when we decide, for example, we want to practise being less judgmental, we need to practise that using our voices, using the very thing we use every single day to make those judgements heard. If we decide we want to take on the habit of recognising the silver linings when things don’t go our way, then we must refrain from complaining when things don’t work out. If we want to be less hard on ourselves, we must refrain from expressing to our friends what we think we should’ve or could’ve done. If we want to be more forgiving of our impressions of men, we must refrain from making generalisations about them. So you see the point. Whatever it is in our life that we are intending to address, one of the best ways to address it is through our speech. Talking is one of the most powerful enforcers of our thoughts. We literally give a voice to certain thoughts over others through speaking. So speak wisely. Speak with awareness. Be conscious of how what you’re saying might impact another. 

This magnificent healing power of talking is not just bound to the everyday, for one of the most healing tools available to us today is talk therapy. Going to a professional of some sort to talk, in order to express and give voice to all that you were unable to give a voice to. This is one of the reasons talk therapy can be very powerful. But again, it is a very fine line between complaining and giving a voice to our grief and that is where our own awareness plus that of the therapist is key, because if all we do is go to therapists because we want to complain about our life, then here we are just using speech to reinforce what is already inside of us, rather than using speech to empty what is inside of us. And often when we find ourselves unable to stop complaining, it is usually because we feel we have no control so we try to voice our feeling of powerlessness. Complaining happens when we feel we can’t do anything except complain. It is when we feel all we can do is use our voice to say “Help me, please. I feel it is out of my hands.” Complaining stops when we realise it is in our hands again. Our instinct to complain is actually spot on in some ways, because when we feel we have lost all power in a situation, we remember we have our voices, so we use them to speak, but the part that needs a little tweaking is how we choose to use our voices in those situations where we feel powerless. And often in those moments we perceive ourselves powerless, it is better to stay silent. It is better to quiet our outside voices so we can hear our inside voices. And even though our instinct might be to scream instead of to stay silent, it is ironically this act of silence that reminds us again of the power we hold within our very own vocal cords. And then, we know how best to use our voices. Silence nurtures the talking part of us. Just like a muscle would need to rest after a workout, we need to give our voices some time to rest as well so that they can best serve us and not break in the process.

Though allowing oneself to fall silent can often prove to be a very difficult task. Our voice after all is a very powerful representation of our power, so how can we surrender our power without feeling powerless? I suppose that is the lesson we learn from mastering our silence. And somehow when we make peace with our powerlessness, we regain our power once more. For a very long time I thought that surrendering in any way, shape or form made me weak. Now, many years later, an older and wiser quarter lifer, I can confidently say that I was very very wrong. If anything, to surrender is an act of great great courage. But of course there is always the danger of mistaking one’s own passivity for surrender. The wisdom of course, as the infamous serenity prayer declares, is in knowing the difference. The serenity prayer, as originally written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, goes something like this:

‘Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.’

And that very insight is expressed in how we choose to use our voices in those moments we are confronted with change, whether it is the daunting task of changing a situation ourselves or that of accepting a situation that changes us. I, myself, know that much of my healing has been done using my voice. It has also been done for the sake of my voice. As a young child, I wasn’t talkative at all. I was told I was shy and that fixation on my shyness and quietness made me very conscious of using my voice. I became afraid to speak because when I did speak, all I heard were the flaws. All I noticed was that it wasn’t perfect and so I was terrified of other people noticing those imperfections too. I felt that there was something wrong with my voice. I felt let down by my own voice and grew extremely frustrated by my inability to speak well. My sentences often, and sometimes until this very day, will abruptly stop mid sentence, be discarded and replaced by a new one. But I realise now as I write this, that this is MY voice, my own particular way of speaking, and even if it is not perfect, it has nonetheless, helped me heal, it has carried my story up through me and out into the world. And for that, I am eternally grateful to my voice. I am thankful for my ability (and sometimes lack of ability) to express myself. Because I realise I do love to talk, but only when I’ve fed my voice the silence it so craves. You see, sometimes, we need to rest from speaking, not only to nurture our voices, but to be able to listen to what it is our inside would like to communicate to the world. So be generous with the rest you give your voices, and it will be sure to repay you back in spades. 

With love and always for peace, 

S.A.