“There are quiet places also in the mind,” he said, meditatively. “But we build bandstand and factories on them. Deliberately—to put a stop to the quietness. We don’t like the quietness. All the thoughts, all the preoccupation in my head—round and round continually.” He made a circular motion with his hands. “And the jazz bands, the music hall songs, the boys shouting the news. What’s it all for? To put an end to the quiet, to break it up and disperse it, to pretend at any cost it isn’t there. Ah, but it is, it is there, in spite of everything, at the back of everything. Lying awake at night, sometimes—not restlessly, but serenely, waiting for sleep—the quiet re-establishes itself, piece by piece; all the broken bits, all the fragments of it we’ve been so busily dispersing all day long. It re-establishes itself, an inward quiet, like this outward quiet of grass and trees. It fills one, it grows –a crystal quiet, a growing expanding crystal. It grows, it becomes more perfect; it is beautiful and terrifying, yes, terrifying, as well as beautiful. For one’s alone in the crystal and there’s no support from outside, there’s nothing external and important, nothing external and trivial to pull oneself up by or to stand up, superiorly, contemptuously, so that one can look down. There’s nothing to laugh at or feel enthusiastic about. But the quiet grows and grows. Beautifully and unbearably. And at last you are conscious of something approaching; it is almost a faint sound of footsteps. Something inexpressibly lovely and wonderful advances through the crystal, nearer, nearer. And oh, inexpressibly terrifying. For if it were to touch you, if it were to seize and engulf you, you’d die; all the regular habitual, daily part of you would die. There would be and end of bandstands and whizzing factories, and one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously n some strange unheard-of manner. Nearer, nearer come the steps; but one can’t face the advancing thing. One daren’t. It’s too terrifying; it’s too painful to die. Quickly, before it is too late, start the factory wheels, bang the drum, blow up the saxophone. Think of the women you’d like to sleep with, the schemes for making money, the gossip about your friends, the last outrage of the politicians. Anything for a diversion. Break the silence, smash the crystal to pieces. There, it lies in bits; it is easily broken, hard to build up and easy to break. And the steps? Ah, those have taken themselves off, double quick. Double quick, they were gone at the flawing of the crystal. And by this time the lovely and terrifying thing is three infinities away, at least. And you lie tranquilly on your bed, thinking of what you’d do if you had ten thousand pounds and of all the fornications you’ll never commit.” – Aldous Huxley
Meditation is hard. It is not about sitting down as a way of de stressing. It does things, it changes your life. It makes you take actions that mark the death of the regular habitual part of you. For instance, you begin to notice the noise that you surround yourself with- your phone, your laptop, your social media, specially Facebook; you notice the effort attention seeking demands- constantly being under pressure of having to look good, having to impress, having to better yourself and being under the radar at all times. Attention seeking doesn’t signify a bloated ego nor does it denote a crime committed solely by movie stars and the media. It is human and it is what each of us do, on a daily basis- going through multiple romantic partners as we seek validation from one to the next, taking up multiple projects to decorate our resumes, constantly pleasing others to fit into their model of perfection, and always needing to be perfect, right, attractive and successful. While all of this sounds familiar and not necessarily bad, the effects that attention seeking has on our psyche are downright violent and toxic.
Attention seeking becomes like a pleasure inducing drug we all chase, going after the next big dose when the small dose ceases to please us. We are all drunk on the idea that attention and only attention can heal us. Only that final seal of approval from the girl/boy will make us complete, only having that PhD will make us good human beings. I talk about meditation often these days because of the ways it is gradually but noticeably starting to impact my life. It makes me realize the need to support the growing quiet in myself. I recently had to let go of an amazing service project I was appointed leader of to spend more time with myself. I had to cut down on the number of classes I wanted to take to focus only the ones I really wanted to study. I had to say no to myself over and over again when the desire to talk to an ex arose only to save myself from the additional pain and toxicity the interaction would bring. I had to stand up for myself during a heated interaction with my roommate. I had to acknowledge how mentally violent I was being with myself while I kept running from one thing on my to do list to another. I had to stop talking to a friend only when I needed attention. While all of this sounds impressive, it was no mean task. It took a lot of reflection, tears and letting go. It took a lot of painful nights. Starting to let go of the need for attention and validation has certainly not made others happy in my life, but has given me more peace. It has allowed me to make mistakes; it has given me the liberty to be imperfect. It has made me feel more comfortable in my shoes and above all, it has given me space to breathe.
It’s self-full to put yourself first, to be as good as possible, to take care of you, to keep you whole and healthy. You want your cup to be full. ‘My cup runneth over.’ What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine.- Iyanla Vanzant
I want to emphasize on the violence involved in the warrior approach that most survivor tales take on, after the death of a loved one, loss, or a break up. There is often implied aggression in the survivor tales we see being portrayed time and again in the movies, songs and other popular media. In a sort of Bildungsroman, the protagonist must go through the break up/loss to come out with a cleaner character, he/she needs to take on an approach of that of a warrior where he/she is taking charge and control of his/her life. It is because our society discourages failure. The helplessness we so often seek to combat catches up with us in the end. The aggression or the hatred stemming from the break up is often channelized into a hardened personality, one that of a “tough” individual who goes about life in an almost superhero way. The portrayal of these characters, specially females, overly aggressive “radical” feminists shows the assertion of anger at a very core level; an escapist attitude from the ultimate helplessness that we all want to avoid. We don’t like being helpless, we want to be bigger than our problems, we want to tackle life, and we want to be in charge. All this war terminology creates an armor that not only hardens, but also defeats the individual. At a core level, our soul is being crushed.
The true essence of the soul is not that of enmity, struggle or combat, but that of a relaxed surrender to the realization that we are all powerless in this grand orchestra of life. It is due to my continued practice of meditation that disallows any hardening; I have come to realize that struggle is not the way to achieve personal growth and change. That we do not own the powers to overcome every situation, that things happen in their own time, that love does not disappear easily despite a bad break up, and that we will make mistakes repeatedly. The marginalization of failure, of reality is one problem that must not be undermined. You are very likely to wake up with an aching heart or worse still, a sleepless night tomorrow. You will probably be quicker in doling out “I love yous” to your lovers than to your parents. You might skip a day in your exercise regime. Life is not always rosy and successful. We are creatures of comfort and ease and are highly unlikely to go through a character arc overnight. Sitting with failure is hard, when all you want to do is to rip out someone’s head or maybe even yours. It is harder to admit that you are powerless. But it is only through surrender to this failure that we learn to recognize the true strength in ourselves and emerge as the compassionate, loving, softhearted beings that we really are.
The perfect recipe for a Saturday night, I thought as I walked back to my dorm. A certain heaviness weighed me down, a certain something I couldn’t pinpoint. My back tingled, announcing the presence of a building ache.
I walked on, absorbed in my beauty and silence- crisp, beautiful and palpable.
I felt Nature cradling me; the space around my body felt supported.
I was supported.
My bed felt comfortable.
I was safe.
I was with silence, in silence.
There were signs; they were subtle, but visible. Walking home one night under the stars I realized I had fallen in love.
He was just like any other person I had met. I thought he had more to him – maybe his silences held some deep secrets, maybe his stoic countenance held some repressed emotions. The more I tried to dig, the more disappointed I got. It was then I realized that his silences held no hidden meaning, and his expressions were simple portrayals of his true nature. It was his nothingness, his ordinariness that made him extraordinary. His unwillingness to stand out made him special.
Sometimes in the evening, his friends immersed themselves in various sports, forgetting themselves and the world for a few hours. And in those few hours, he sat in the stands, taking it all in with a smile.
He rose in the early hours of dawn, saw the sunlight shining through the leaves and breathed in the fresh morning air. I could picture him sitting in meditation, basking in the glory of the ‘superiority’ he felt at rising before the world. As humanity made its first stirrings of the day, he sat watching his thoughts in silent harmony with nature.
He was like the characters in a R.K. Narayan novel – simple, with a pleasant disposition and a few wants. Often times, I try to picture him. What must he be like in person? And often times, the playground of life comes to my mind. I see people running about, going to office, attending college, doing their chores and buying big buildings. And in the background I see him, a silent spectator, viewing the world passing by.