Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The empty spaces

In the last three or four odd months when I sat at home dwindling my thumbs after quitting a great job (great because of the people, the team, and the culture) on a mere whim (just because one fine day I thought I had to), I’ve become quite familiar with the empty space. I started with liking it in the first few days because it gave me time to just be, then slowly disliking it (because of the boredom that crept in), then outright resenting it (because it drained me of all the energy and motivation I thought I had had to create things), then opposing it (by looking for another job!) and then slowly, ever so slowly accepting it and finally just surrendering to it.

This cycle took me almost two months to pass and by the time November rolled in, I was ready to do nothing. I mean literally nothing in life. All the lofty ideas and thoughts I had just a few months back, of making a difference by joining a nonprofit, of becoming an entrepreneur, of freelancing full time, just vanished into thin air. However much I tried to force myself to think, to think back to those highly motivated times, I came back to the empty space. I just didn’t have the enthusiasm anymore….for anything. One could call it depression but I beg to differ. I am not capable of being depressed. I was not unhappy at all the last two months. Quite the opposite. I was in this sublime state of existence that is neither sadness nor joy. I let each day pass and did all the things routine life demanded of me. I ignored the computer and the Internet. I ignored the phone when friends and family rang at times. I sat staring into nothing for minutes together and sometimes hours. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to craft, I didn’t want to read. I ignored it all. I just ceased to care.

Then I got into thinking.

Just because I went into non-existence in the constant chatter that is this universe, it doesn’t mean life won’t go on, right? I mean other than the few mails, tweets, and messages here and there, people went on with their lives and so did I. Least importance be to the brand of me that I had built up. Let it crumble. I don’t have an ego to care.

And I wondered. Why all the busyness then? Why all the pretext of a purpose then? Is purpose all that important as I used to think? Why the stress, why the hurry, why the rush, and why the timetable? Why oh why the to-do lists? If you drop them all one day, perhaps the effect will haunt you for a week but post that? The universe is going to realign and put something else, somebody else in your place to continue the game. So why play the game?

Why can’t I just let the empty space consume me?

For the sake of the lofty thoughts, dreams, and wishes I had once cultivated, maybe I will be born again. But this lifetime? No, this is just for being me. No self-expectation, no goals, no wanting to go places. And the best thing of all? I didn’t feel bad at all thinking all this. When I examined my armor, there was not a single dent or scratch that is my self-esteem. I was as confident as ever. As confident as ever of being me. I didn’t need to be ‘some one’ to feel good about myself.

On an aside, for each of us who are doing something – whether you are employed with a great company, whether you are working for something or somebody’s welfare, or whether you are just proud being self-employed to satisfy whatever motivates you – take that role away for a minute. Take away the title, take away the role, take away that identity. Meet a stranger in your head and see how you will introduce yourself. Remember you are no more that employee, employer or do-gooder. You are…..just you with no prefix or suffix or taglines. Describe then what you do to that stranger. See how you feel.

Now coming back where we left off before the aside…

I’m not saying I became enlightened. I am saying I decided that enlightenment is not as great as I thought it to be. And I realized the one thing, the one single reason that I think I am here in this life. It is to discover myself. It is to be in this empty space, devoid of definitions and still being happy enough not to affect other’s happiness around you. It is being in a state of nothingness yet carrying on as usual as if there’s nothing going on inside you (which is true!) so that the others around you are free to slip in and out of their own empty space without having to worry about you.

Perhaps I sound confused. Perhaps I am self-contradicting. Perhaps it’s all a temporary phase of madness (considering that I got back to that ‘busy life’ that gives you the purpose of catching a cab every morning lest you miss it and all the troubles that follows assails you).


But the one thing I do want to leave you with – “Take the time to step back from life once in a while, the empty space can do you a great deal of good.” :)

And of course this post by Ollin which inspired me to write about the empty space I befriended in my own life.

"Surrender” by Ollin, Courage to create

You know what empty space I’m talking about, right? The empty space that comes between the end of one phase, and the beginning of another? That empty space...

If we are not busy talking to someone, we’re texting. If we’re not texting, we’re twittering. If we’re not twittering, we’re facebooking. If we’re not facebooking we’re watching TV, or listening to music, or surfing the web, or watching YouTube, or working, or exercising, or reading and if we’re not doing any of those, we try to frantically search for the next thing to do that will fill in the empty space in between one thing and the next.

We are desperate to fill in every silence, every piece of stillness, with something–something we deem more desirable, more worthy than that stillness. Something we think is more important and urgent than that damning quiet underneath everything–that damning quiet that always exists. That quiet that starts to drives us crazy when we first notice it, in those brief moments when we accidentally drop our guard, and all the clamor we worked so hard to create dies down
. ....”
Just be!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh, those giant stars!

When your daughter hums jingle bells everyday for over a week, you know Christmas and the holiday cheer is here. Her school is celebrating Christmas today and she is totally excited about the Jingle (The tree as she calls it!) and the small gift boxes they have placed underneath it. Seeing her so worked up over this festival that invariably seems to bring a smile to everyone’s face (either because they believe in it or they are just plain happy with the holidays), I can’t help but feel all happy myself. Thinking about it in the fuzzy state between sleep and wakefulness this morning, I suddenly remembered a time when I used to be equally if not more excited over Christmas.

It must be almost two decades back. I was this quiet kid who always observed the things outside and then lived them inside her head. And my sanctuary was the beautiful, if a little unkempt, garden full of Gooseberry, Lemon and Badam trees behind my house. It used to be my very own ‘secret garden’ though I didn’t read that until much later. I also loved visiting my granny’s place that was really far away (meaning you have to take a bus!) because she used to always listen to all our demands. We all liked her a lot because she never hesitated to sacrifice half of her one litre milk to make sweets for us kids. And of course, I associate the holiday season with this subconscious memory of happy times because that’s when we used to visit her more often.

Amongst all these nice memories are ones of Asha aunty. She was my granny’s exotic Anglo Indian neighbor who wore gowns and made cakes at home. And she used to put up these giant Stars outside her door and light them up every evening. Oh, did they look utterly pretty to my eyes or what? When I became a little older, I decided to drudge my courage and ask my mom for my very own giant star to hang outside our house when I learnt “that’s for Christmas” (and unsaid in that “which is not for us”). I was greatly disappointed. How can anyone not celebrate this beautiful festival where you get to hang stars in your house? And those yummy cakes that Asha aunty used to spare us kids sometimes….how can my mom not know how to make them? I was crestfallen!

So when I became a wee bit older and the next Christmas season came along (when people started hanging stars), I knew what I had to do. Just because my parents don’t celebrate the star festival doesn’t mean I can’t. And just because they can’t buy me those stars, it’s no reason to not make one (or many) of my own, right?

So off I went to my garden one day with my homework notebook to make quick use of its till then useless papers. I cut out over 10 small stars and hung them on the low branches of the Badam tree with my thatha’s binding thread. I then ran back to my mom and begged her to buy me some cake from the nearby bakery. After a few hours, armed with a delicious smelling plum cake and accompanied by a small hoard of friends I had invited to ‘celebrate’ with me, I went to the garden looking for my mini giant stars. Ha! there they were ….so pretty even if I say so myself. I puzzled over the fact that I won’t be able to light them up but quickly forgot the worry when one of the other kids nudged and pointed towards the cake.

So what next? I had the cake and I had the stars. But how does one celebrate Christmas? Growing up in an orthodox Hindu family, the only common way I knew to ‘celebrate’ festivals is to make sweets (in this case buy), and then by way of a pooja offer it to the gods after which the prasad (the offerings) is distributed to all the family gathered around. So I took my cake, cut it into little bitable pieces, took some water in a tumbler and after closing my eyes for a few moments to mutter some ‘mantras’, I ‘offered’ it to my stars! (Water is usually sprinkled over the Prasad before offering to God to ‘cleanse’ them symbolically in Hindu households) And within a few moments of that, the cake vanished into the hungry mouths of all the kids sitting under the watchful eyes of the stars. My Christmas wish was complete. I didn’t need a santa!

Thinking back now, I marvel at the industriousness of that quiet kid who made her own Christmas stars and shared her plum cake. Grow up to today! If there’s no one around, there won’t be a crumble of the plum cake left for anyone! The giant lighted stars don’t look so great anymore too but am happy I thought of them so once.

Ha! This is indeed a special time of the year, isn’t it?