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 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.