On being extra ordinary

Dear quarter lives,

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

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

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

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

With love and always for peace,

Shahinda

We can’t prove we exist but we can accept we do

proof.

defined by the Oxford dictionary as 

n. evidence that something is true or exists. 

Dear quarter lives, 

We chase proof for our existence in the same way a child chases its shadow or a dog its tail. They are teased by the misconception that it is chasing them. A child will run as fast as it can, in circles and straight lines, trying so hard to outrun its shadow until they realise they can’t. But they’ll keep on trying again and again because maybe next time they can. This hope that next time will be different than a past experience is what keeps us running until we tire ourselves enough to forget about our shadow for a moment or two, only to rest and start all over again.

And not all children are created the same; some will be so fascinated by their shadow that they will run towards it so fast trying their hardest to catch it, and some who started off running away from their shadow will see their friend running towards it and will feel safe and reassured that it won’t hurt them because it’s not hurting their friend so they begin to chase after it as well. While another child who was chasing their shadow might see a friend running away and question their own assumption that the shadow is safe and begin to copy their friend and run away from their shadow too. But in all scenarios, we are always running. Always chasing or being chased. And until a parent points out that the shadow is actually us, and we stop for a moment to observe the ground and see that mother too has a shadow, and that her shadow is different, bigger just like her. It’s then that we finally relax and accept that the shadow is a part of us. But what about the shadows of our inner world?

During childhood, we overcome both our fear and curiosity of our external shadow and embrace it as forever part of us. But when we begin to exit childhood, during adolescence as we approach adulthood, all these internal shadows begin to pop up left, right and centre. We feel trapped because we can’t get away from all of it. We feel overwhelmed, angry and scared. Again, not all adolescents are made the same. Some of us are overtaken with curiosity and chase after our shadows, while others are overwhelmed with fear and repress their shadows. Some are influenced by their friends into changing their approach. Peer pressure goes both ways; some are shamed out of their sexuality while others are pressured into exploring it. In the end, what we learn from this is that like in our childhood, we find ourselves running either way, chasing or being chased. But the difference is that unlike in our childhood, our parents aren’t telling us, ‘It’s okay. This is a part of you. Just accept who you are.’ because they too are running from their shadows like their parents before them and their parents before them. This culture and history of repression has exhausted our psyches and unleashed our monsters onto each other. Some of us are lucky and get stopped by someone or something and asked to take a moment and sit still and look around until we finally realise that this is just like when we were children, that everyone has shadows, that shadows are completely natural, that they are perfectly normal and a significant part of who we are. A key part of our journey into adulthood is accepting our shadows and integrating them into our being. And that is very different from catching them. We can never catch them, we can never escape them, they will always be with us wherever we go. 

So in the same way that we can never catch our shadow, we can never have proof we exist. Proof for our being is perhaps the most difficult and biggest of all our shadows to overcome because it seeps into absolutely everything we do and who we perceive ourselves to be. All of us, all of the work we do, all the children we have, the books we write, the buildings we build, the forests we destroy and oceans we pollute, they are all different ways we try our hardest to leave a footprint. To leave something behind that says we were here. But why and for whom? Why do we need to prove so badly that we exist? Because the possibility of the alternative haunts us. The thought of not existing terrifies us. But isn’t that what death is? Not existing, at least from here, from where we stand now in life. So is all this seeking of proof just a way of running away from the biggest shadow of our lives: death? Can all of this running stem from a fear of death? Can we ever fully rest until we accept death first as a part of us, until we accept that a state of nonexistence, a state of being nothing, a state of non-being is too a part of us? Death is of us in the same way our shadow is. And to find any sliver of peace in this life, one must learn to accept all of life, and that includes death. Because you see there can never be any proof of life except our experience of it. And to be able to relax, let go and fully experience life, we must accept life for what it really is — an experience of dying, of approaching death. 

“If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons — becomes inorganic once again — then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’.” — Sigmund Freud1

Till next time,

S.A. 

1 Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Fix your Gaze

Dear quarter lives,

Fix your gaze — a meditation practice. They tell you to fix your gaze on something and sit still and observe. But what does it really mean to fix your gaze? Is it simply a practice in focus or is there much more to it than meets the eye? Let us take the phrase and break it down. To fix means to correct. And to correct your gaze, to correct where you were looking implies you were looking wrong. But is it looking in the wrong place or the wrong way? Or is it that you were looking in the first place? Is it transforming our unconscious looking into a conscious act that transforms it from mere looking into deliberate sight. Seeing is choosing to look. And by choosing to look you make a deliberate choice to direct your attention to a specific object of your sight. It is that which we must correct when they say fix your gaze. The practice indeed requires focus, but it is because you are “focusing” i.e. directing your attention to a specific point. It is training you to consciously choose to look, i.e. to see.

Many of us walk through life without seeing much. Our eyes collect information constantly, but how much of it do we choose to see, how much of it do we choose to experience? It is only when we use our senses consciously that we fully experience them. Otherwise, they just exist. And by extension, we just exist. But when you choose to see, to hear, to feel, that is when your senses come to life. And by extension, you become alive.

In his essay The Soul of Man under Socialism, Oscar Wilde wrote, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” These two short sentences stuck with me ever since I first read them over a decade ago. Though their meaning for me has changed over the years as I have changed and grown. It might seem like a self-explanatory statement. But the more I contemplated it, the more obscure it grew. It had so many layers, and the more layers I peeled, the more I found. Is it simply that a few of us choose to live, and others let life happen to them? But what is the nature of that choice? I mean no one wants to go through life sleepwalking. Most of us want to live, but why don’t we? If it is a choice, why aren’t people choosing what they want? Or can they not find the choice, is it hidden somewhere — a puzzle, only a few can solve? And if so, what is the best hiding place for choice? What is the best hiding place for anything? In plain sight!

It is that obvious that we miss it. The best place to hide anything is in plain sight. It is in our sight, literally. We just need to fix it. The choice is in our sight. It is in how we see the world, that is how we come to life. The choice to live, the ability to live rather than exist, comes from the choice to see rather than to look. We must choose our eyes. Which eye am I going to see the world with today? What kind of eyes am I willing to use? Am I going to use my looking eyes or seeing eyes? That is the choice we must make to live or exist. Practices like meditation are also like the statement I shared above, they might seem simple, but once you contemplate them, and sit with them, they reveal their layers to you, and the more you peel, the more you will find. It is not just about breathing, or focus, or observation, it is about much more. The thing is about these layers is that they are person specific, they reveal themselves to you in the order you need to learn them, in the order that you are ready to become aware of them. What I have shared here is only one of my insights, but it might not sit with you or stick like it has with me, not because it is incorrect or correct, but because it is not time for you yet. There is always a time for each one of us to receive insights from the universe that will guide us along our path. And because my path is unique to me, and your path is unique to you, the lampposts for all of us are unique, our crossroads are unique, so I am sharing my specific learning with you not to tell you that this is what you should do now, I am sharing it with you because I want to illustrate to you the great potential there is for discovery in contemplation. It is only a possibility that I share with you, and I hope that you take it as a token of my appreciation for your life, and find your own.

All that I hope to do with this work is to start an open conversation into our potential. We are at the beginning of our lives, dear and fellow quarter lives, and I believe we have so much potential for life, and so much possibility lies ahead of us but it is only if we believe in the impossible that all becomes possible. And perhaps I have shared here much of my contemplations into the absurd, but I have chosen the absurd to contemplate, because I believe that the absurd is a great teacher in humility and grace. It does not mean that if our human minds have not explained it, then it cannot be. If the history of scientific discovery has illustrated anything, is that it all already existed before we made theories of it. So the absurd is a magnificent teacher in that it allows you to approach everything with a sense of “I know nothing, but I am ready to learn”. And what a great place to be as a student of life, than a place of “I don’t know everything”. It is that specific place that creates space in your mind, in your senses, in your soul for more. For if you already claim you are full, if you already claim that you know all, then there will be no room in you to know more. So I have chosen the absurd, because I have chosen a path of learning. But this is my teacher, at least for now. Find your own. It is a wondrous experience to be shown the way. When visiting a historic site or monument, do you not seek a tour guide to show you the way, to tell you about the magnificent wonders of the site. Life is no different. There are many guides, who speak many languages. Find your language. Find your guide. Choose to see, and you will discover a whole new world. Just fix your gaze, and you will find grace along the way. 

Always with love,

S.A.