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.   

On Self-denial 

Dear quarter lives, 

Before we start talking about self-denial, let us first define what we mean by it. Self-denial is the act of foregoing oneself for the sake of another. It is the act of sacrificing one’s interests, one’s desires, and one’s pleasures to satisfy another. Self-denial isn’t always out of love. Sometimes self-denial arises out of a need to feel safe, to feel like we belong. Some people cannot bear to disappoint others. For some people, they cannot bear the guilt or shame of that disappointment. For some people, it is more bearable (at least in the short run) to deny themselves completely than to be rejected by society (people they don’t necessarily know but people they live amongst).

Self-denial is perhaps one of the worst actions we can take against ourselves, because we are suppressing our very essence. It might not seem like a huge thing if every time you go out with your family or friends, someone else gets to pick where to eat. And you just go along with it. Trying to avoid conflict. Telling yourself, it’s perfectly okay because you don’t really have a particular preference, but the truth is that if you just take a moment to check in with yourself, you will immediately see that you always have a preference. But you decided a long time ago that your preferences were not that important. That was part of your easy going vibe, always just going with the flow, pleasing everyone around you, being approved by everyone around you. But what about your approval of yourself? Is that not as important?

Perhaps when you were a child, your voice was lower than those around you. Perhaps you didn’t try to scream to be heard. Perhaps you just learned that those people around you louder than you were more fussy and demanding, so they had to get their way. You learnt that it was safer to just let others dominate sometimes. Perhaps perhaps perhaps. Let us not dwell too much on why we’ve denied ourselves, let us instead just acknowledge the fact, not that others have denied us, but that we have denied ourselves. WE must take responsibility for this action against ourselves, despite what motivated this habit, it is after all of our own doing. And this admission of responsibility need not be accompanied by guilt or regret. On the contrary, it is in fact crucial for us to have the deepest compassion for ourselves. For most acts of self-denial stem out as a survival strategy. And so the only way for us to be able to be is to feel it is safe for us to be. And the first person our self confronts when it is being, is ourselves. We must open the door to ourselves, we must welcome them in, we must see them for who they are and not what we had expected or hoped them to be. We must see all of us. All the goodness in the badness and all the badness in the goodness. All the annoyances and all the favourite things. We must allow ourselves to be. We must speak up. We need not laugh at jokes we find offensive. We need not meet up with someone if we would like to do something else with our time. We need not put our faith in things simply because everyone else does. We must allow our own values to come to the light. But be very careful, because it  is all a matter of balance. Beware not to make someone else feel unsafe because you feel the need to constantly take a stand.  A person who feels truly safe in themselves does not need to continuously justify themselves to another. Be kind to unfamiliar versions of familiar people. Make space for others to show their true selves to you. Make space for the truth in your life. And when you do, you will realise that all the hiding was far more exhausting. That freedom, relief, and peace with one’s self are absolutely worth the risk of some people not approving of you. That in fact when you’ve tasted your own liking of yourself, nothing else matters. 

May these moments of loving ourselves stretch out to a whole lifetime or two. 

Always with love and for peace, 

S.A. 

On why we need to make Mistakes

Dear quarter lives,

I think most of us really hate making mistakes, but I must admit, there is definitely something to them.

You see, mistakes come in two levels depending on one’s level of self-awareness. The first level is when you make the mistake and don’t realise making it and can go on living like nothing happened, unless someone else brings it to your attention. The second level is when you make a mistake and know it in your bones. I don’t know about you but I find it so hard to sit with myself after realising I made a mistake, mainly because I find myself overwhelmed with regret and guilt that I can’t escape because I know that I know that whatever I did was wrong, and then I get stuck in a backward loop in time trying to reconctrust endless scenarios of all the other actions I could’ve taken instead of the one I actually took. It is only when I’ve exhausted myself of scenarios and find myself on mental repeat, that I finally decide to accept that I did in fact make a mistake and take responsibility for my mistake. It is only when I reach this state of full acceptance of my mistake and in turn myself that all the discomfort settles and I can finally see why I needed to make the mistake.

Any child can tell you that the reason we make mistakes is so we can learn from them. But what no child can tell you is what it is exactly we’re supposed to be learning from making mistakes. The child might offer an answer like “so I don’t do this again” or “so that I know how to do this the correct way next time”. But these aren’t really why we make mistakes, they’re just context. The real reason we get things wrong is so that we can learn how to love ourselves as the imperfect and flawed human beings we truly are. Mistakes are an opportunity for us to grow our muscle of love. It’s not only ourselves we learn to have compassion for by making mistakes, but others too. It’s what brings us closer to each other in our times of despair. It’s the fact that you’ve made a similar mistake that allows you to say to another “I feel you.” , when they’re confiding in you. You see we need to make mistakes to grow more in love with ourselves and others. We need to make mistakes to see where we still need to learn to love and give kindness. Mistakes show us where our judgements are still hard and resisting the softening power of love.

Mistakes help reveal us to ourselves, and in that process of revelation, we meet our boundaries — the things that feel wrong to us but perhaps not to another, so we learn to communicate those things that don’t sit right with us and in turn we learn to speak up for ourselves. And there is no greater act of self-love than speaking up for yourself! We need to make mistakes to realise what feels good to us and what feels bad. It is not about abiding by an overarching social or religious morality but rather about learning to respect our own values and sometimes we need to make mistakes to know exactly how we feel about certain things. Mistakes are like our little life exams that continue to hand us over from one level of love to the next.

For the longest time, I used to think that I needed to punish myself so that I don’t repeat any mistake twice. I thought punishment was the tool to use to exercise self-discipline. I didn’t know that punishment is a tool for self-hate. When we make mistakes, all we really need is a time-out to reflect. We just need time to sit in silence with ourselves, first to forgive ourselves for not being perfect, then to forgive ourselves for expecting ourselves to be perfect and finally to love that part of ourselves we realised we’ve been hating by making the mistake. And in that way, we learn to carry ourselves over from the darkness of shame into the light of learning and love.

We are all human. We make mistakes. We love. We get angry. We get scared. We act out of fear. We forget we are worthy. We fall down. We stand up again. We remember we are loved. We love again.

Embrace all of you! It is the imperfect parts of us that teach us most about our humanity. It is those parts that make our hearts grow and have the capacity to love all the parts of another.

So make mistakes. The important thing is not to deny them because when we deny our mistakes we can never claim responsibility for them. And if we can’t claim responsibility for them, we won’t be able to learn from them. We won’t grow. We will remain stuck in a loop of self-denial and self-hate.

Mistakes are a pathway for us to free ourselves from the shame of error. It is time we normalised error and celebrated its capacity to teach us. There is beauty in error. You just need to open your heart to embrace what error has to tell you.

With love and always for peace,

S.A.

On the Fear of Pleasure

Dear quarter lives,

Have you ever observed your relationship to pleasure? Are you one of those people who believes in your right to enjoy life and all it has to offer or are you one of those that views pleasure as temptation, something that seduces us into “sin”? Do you enjoy your food or are you afraid that it will make you fat if you let yourself enjoy it? Do you enjoy your body, do you touch it, do you let others touch it; or do you feel guilty and refrain from engaging with your body? Do you go out and see the people you love as much as you want or do you refrain from the pleasures of connection afraid it might distract you from your life/career goals?

I think for most of us, we allow ourselves to seek pleasure in some areas and then in other areas we feel the need to exercise control because we feel desire might overtake us. This has been a topic that’s occupied my mind for quite some time now. In part because I wanted to understand my own relationship to pleasure. I found that my relationship to pleasure was not only defined by me, but by the society I lived in and the current culture surrounding pleasure. It was a little crazy for me to realise that societies all around the globe at different points in time (some even until now) felt that they had a right to govern individual pleasures, be it alcohol intake or the kind of sexual activities people wanted to engage in. It’s a strange feeling to feel in your body- that it’s not only yours, that other people have a right to it and can legally prosecute you if you break those rules that said society has decided for you. How can a society exercise such a right on an individual body? How can someone have rights over my body that I don’t even have? In what world does that make any sense? In what world is it okay that I oppress a body like that? For me, such intrusions on an individual body cross a boundary that shouldn’t be crossed by anyone. It feels like a form of psychosocial rape – a trespassing on the collective individual body that’s just not okay.

The next step after realising society’s role in your relationship to pleasure is to take responsibility for your own blocks to pleasure. These will largely have been formed in childhood, by observing your parents relationship to pleasure. Healing our relationship to pleasure isn’t easy but it is absolutely necessary if we are to have a relationship with our bodies that’s not abusive. It certainly takes a lot of time and patience, but the most important thing always is your willingness to heal. We all have our different paces that we embrace change with, for some change can happen over a few months and for others it might take years. The length of time here doesn’t matter at all, we all have different belief patterns to work with, different childhood experiences and different sensitivities. Change can be more overwhelming for some than others so always remember to be kind to yourself during the process. Don’t force yourself to enjoy something because you’re working on pleasure. No. Not at all. It’s all about slowly working up to a point where things feel good without you trying. The thing with pleasure is that for many of us it’s tied in to our self-worth. Do we think we deserve pleasure, in the same way, that many of us self-sabotage when things are going too well in our lives because we doubt for a second that we deserve them.

We deserve pleasure. We deserve to enjoy how the air feels against our bodies and wear shorts if we feel like it without having to cater for someone else’s mind. We deserve to decide for ourselves how we’d like to enjoy our bodies. We deserve to feel good!

I believe any real long lasting cultural change starts with the individual. Exercise your right to pleasure. Yes you do it for you first, but it is for the generations after us that we need to leave the world a better place than we found it. Revolutions of the social kind always begin at home. So make your own changes and don’t worry about how many other people need to change their minds for change to happen. It’s all about the bottom-up change. Be responsible for your own change. Change for you first, and let the universe take care of the rest.

With so much love and always for peace,

S.A.