It’s raining, and I am sitting in my front yard with lots of plants. There is a smell of burning wood in the air. The smell I always associate with mountains and hills. The smell makes me nostalgic about travel. Thus, turning my attention to it.
It’s a normal working day. Working from home gives me the liberty to work according to my own schedule.
I am a market researcher so analysis and reporting and understanding human beings is what I actually do for a living.
Yes, I like my job, it does wake me up in the morning. Some days are stressful, and some are not. I guess its true for you all.
But, it still isn’t what I want to do.
I miss the outdoors. I want to be out there, amongst the trees and the leaves, the unknown cities and the unknown treasures. The narrow road with an end to civilization, people nobody has heard of, places people have long forgotten, lanes still virgin from tourist traps.
I am sitting, I should rather move.
Right now I am free, with nothing to do in terms of work. But I still don’t know how to find the opportunity that my soul craves. I feel restless and unsatisfied. When the weekend comes I crave working days while during workdays I want to throw back my legs and lie down and wish for weekends.
I have it all, yet I feel I have none.
I have stopped telling people about it. About my dreams, my cravings. They make fun, and they feel it’s not practical. But do I care?
Well, sometimes I do. I feel it’s a fantasy I have grown accustomed to while reading and watching movies, the two things I do so feverishly.
At other times I feel motivated to work towards the goal in my free time.
But now I am free, straining my mind to involve myself in exploring what I want.
But what are my next steps? Should I resume my office work? Should I continue reading Paulo Coehlo? Or should I read the e-book about past civilizations that I had been reading?
Many of my articles have begun as a result of a good movie or a good book. Yes, that is the kind of connection sometimes you build with a book or a movie or should I say vice versa?
Today I am in the midst of my favourite writer Paulo Coelho’s autobiographical novel by Juan Arias entitled- “Paulo Coelho: Confessions of a pilgrim”.
I don’t remember the first time I met Paulo- I mean the year or the date. it seems like an eternity. It seems I have known him all along.
Though I do remember it was with The Alchemist.
I had always been a spiritual, introspective person. Thinking and rethinking my life. I could say I am the biggest critic and analytic in my life. Maybe that is why Paulo’s works impressed me so much. Though, I won’t lie when I say I love only a few of his books like The Alchemist, Hippy, The Pilgrimage and now his autobiography (which of course is a series of his words captured by another writer).
Anyways, I should stop digressing here and come to the point!
So, the autobiography of Paulo had me look into his life stages and reflect on mine.
One would say we have one life-one soul- one body right?
We die many times and are reborn many times in the course of our lives. Our childhood often dies when we are transitioning into youth, our youth dies when we act like adults and we often kill our adult side in the end just to have a glimpse of that childhood back in us. More so, we transition from innocence to practicality, to a rigid set of ideas, to loose and rigid morality and so on.
Lately, I began wondering whether a new wave in my life, a new turn of events is changing the way I am living my life.
My life has been driven solely by others. My father has been a dominating figure throughout my life. He took decisions for me and told me what to wear, and where to go. And I as a strong rebel kept on fidgeting with his ideas, fighting but in the end, the parent is always one. I won’t say I didn’t try at least!
Lately, as I began to get older, I depended on him completely. I had and no longer have confidence in the way I am because I am afraid of errors. And you know what? I do that. (Oh yes, it’s called self-sabotage, I read it somewhere). I am not confident. And slowly, just gave in. Now other people decide what I wear, where I go or do. I am left with little, what you call ‘authority’ in my life.
Though I chose the man with whom I had decided to spend my life but with him too I lacked authority. You know what? He is exactly like my father. Yes, yes, I read this too- women often fall in love with their father figures.
Back to the point. So now, he takes decisions, I influence yes- but I am not confident you see. I rely on him for APPROVAL. And what I am doing that way? Living a life according to him? So where’s my rebel spirit? Alas, dead!
That was up until now.
Now a new wave entered my life. A person. A series of events made me fall in love with myself. Some people as they say are mirrors in your life. They act as your reflectors so that you could realise what exactly you are and want to be.
I want and have always wanted a life of my own choice. I will make mistakes, I will fall and get up and get hurt but the journey would be mine. I am not afraid of adventures! I love life itself! I am curious. I am spiritual. I read signs, I know things, and I am intuitive.
No, I don’t like parties. No, I hate getting drunk and sleeping. I like good movies. I like romance. I like honest and pure souls who I can read to their very last drop of blood. I deserve to be loved- truly, madly, deeply. Enough of serving others for life.
I am a slow lover. I don’t like fast-paced life. I am inquisitive. I don’t want to settle. I don’t want to lead a sedentary, drudgery life. I am alive every moment. My head is full of ideas. My heart is full of love. I am young. No, I am not practical. I am a dreamer. I am a creator. I am not a materialistic. I am words, I am stories, I am rhythms and seasons and blossoms and rains.
It is my time, to rise again.
It’s the turning point of my life again.
It’s me vs me, it’s me alone, on my path- to what they say, what Paulo will say- a journey- a pilgrimage of self-reflection.
Everywhere around you, it seems the celebrations have begun. Messages of happy new year pouring in, people putting up status on Instagram and WhatsApp for hoping for a fruitful and happy new year.
Inside, well my house I mean, another party is being planned. A barbecue it is supposed to be. Families and friends are invited for a cozy dinner in the front-yard. What is to be cooked is already noted and extra stuff has been brought from the market. The house has been swiped clean and the crockery is shinier than ever.
But inside my little self, I am already feeling so tired. This tiresome event where everybody seems to be shouting, calling, amusing, partying and creating a hell lot of noise. I feel angry at all this. This isn’t how I imagine my new year to start.
And then, nostalgia kicks in and I am reminded of the best new years I have had, my kinda new years. So, I sit back and travel in time.
It’s 6’o clock in the last day of the cold December evening of 2012. Mommy is all set for the night. She has been telling us to wind up our work because we are to go to a gurudwara for the new year celebration. There would be a lot of food, a lot of people and a lot of religious music to help us enter the new year with blessings.
(Yes, we are a devotional family. My father is utterly devotional. We have both a religion and a guru to follow. )
So anyways, she comes to my room and my mind is already powered up, gathering reasons I will put forth, for not going.
When I start blurting the same, my brother stands across me, besides my mother and gives me that ‘weird’ ‘disgusting’ look that asks me why the hell are you choosing to stay alone Vs going out?
He doesn’t understand I don’t like all that noisy stuff. He believes I am a spoil sport. So, there’s a lot of crying, a lot of shouting and I ran amuck to the only person who can save me now, that is my grandma!
She is almost 75 now, cooks great food and has always been my shield. She lives just beneath us. Her old age has taught her all about peace which to my luck I already know at this age!
So, I ran upto her, convince her to take my side and she is all set for it. After that it becomes easy to give my mother a stronger version of ‘I am not going’. Now only my father is left to be faced. He is still not home so I have plenty of time to prepare.
So after a while, I head back to my refuge- that is my grandma’s house. The kitchen smells of lentils being cooked. I move upto her sit on the kitchen slab while she makes chapati. I could never understand how delicately she makes every ball of that dough as if she adds a bit of her love in it. I couldn’t resist so had to taste her love.
After having a sumptuous dinner, we decide to grab the cozy blankets and just cocoon ourselves in the bed. It’s almost 8pm now and my family is ready to leave.
My grandma feels cold and needs a bit more warmth so we warm our blanket with a heater too. I lay by her side while she tells me stories of her childhood, my childhood, my father’s childhood, stories about partition and so on. As I lay my head on her shoulder I realise she is so warm and has that woody warm smell that I have always loved. My eyes are closed and I find myself in the space and time she is describing.
Suddenly my father arrives and asks me to get up and be ready since they are too late already. Filled with dread, almost shivering, I say no, I don’t want to. And he starts shouting. While I prepare to remove myself from the blanket, and to leave my grandma’s side, she steps in the conversation. After all she is the mother, my father couldn’t stand a chance.
And so I spending the night lying on her shoulders while the window bears noises of firecrackers being lit. People are dancing to freaking loud tunes on their roofs, some in their balconies while some are looking at others dancing away on their TV’s. The air itself feels so crowded. Thankfully, the window was easy to shut.
And there we lay, content and happy and peaceful and warm. A slow start to a new beginning inside my comfort zone doing what I love.
And the bell rings, I guess the guests have arrived. The new year party is peaceful no more.
The clock struck 11 am. It was a cool morning, where the clouds were dancing to the tunes of thunder and the trees were enjoying a bath. And I, was numbed by the whole view. Alas, it was the best time to pick up a pen or rather open a word doc.
That is the last thing I remember.
The clock had traveled past 3 pm. I suddenly realized I was hungry and thirsty. However, a sort of calming happiness dwelled upon me. Somewhat like you feel after a successful attempt at meditation. And I simply loved it.
But, I was confused.
What just happened? Was it normal? Where was I?
I got an answer to this puzzle when I read about the concept called ‘flow’.
I never thought of going deeper unless I read the book flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Being an Indian I was accustomed to the idea of nirvana or salvation but isn’t that what the highly abled hermits achieve? Maintaining your consciousness to a level where it remains in harmony with the surroundings, such that you don’t feel negative emotions due to external factors?
Well, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory taught me, that you could try to reach there without giving up on a comfortable life. Neither become a hermit nor a slave of the distracting world, but lie somewhere in between, having a perfect balance.
Mihaly defines flow as-
It is where you lose yourself in whatever task you do and feel one with the universe.
Well, that much is understandable, but what amazed me was the idea that this experience of flow defines the level of happiness in our life. It is much more than having flow at work!
To explain further, let me tell you the 10 lessons that I found revealing:
Consciousness is like a chameleon
Here, Mihaly debunked something that I truly believed in- the gut or the inner instinct isn’t necessarily your soul, it can be an output of social and biological needs. Your task remains to differentiate between whatever you actually feel/want and what sociological/biological factors influence.
If you let your consciousness run amok, you might be led astray.
So, you need to get hold of your consciousness, by paying attention. To focus on what matters and not what your body or society calls for. That is when you listen to the ego and not ID (biological factors) and superego (sociological factors).
Attention is the key
Once you are in control of your consciousness you know where to divert your energy and attention.
While we use our tiny brain to process dinosaurs of data every single moment, it is impossible to process and retain much of it. However, what we do retain that data where we focused and held our attention to. Thereby letting meaningless distractions go to the bin. Hence, we need to learn to differentiate between what comes in and what goes in the bin, that alone can determine how peaceful our life is.
If the bin comes in, victory goes out
Remember the time when you were worried about your promotion and burned the dish you usually prepare in a breeze?That is a fine example of how negative feelings-worries, fear, distract you and disable you to achieve the task at hand. That is when the psychic entropy(inner disorder) sets in and you are left crumbled with the weight of your emotions since you gave those negative thoughts maximum attention.
Complexity leads to growth
You must have been familiar with the fact that challenges lead to the growth of an individual. No, it’s not a plain motivational idea but has scientific reasons behind it. Our mind is designed in a way that it needs a constant dose of challenges, problems, hurdles. When you overcome those hurdles, it releases happy hormones like dopamine and you feel blessed. Often you must have seen people you often call ‘boring’; because they play safe; are more often than not disgruntled with life. That is because they lack complexity and stink in a stagnant personality.
Achieving flow is not a cakewalk
Overcoming a challenge like breaking your record at the gym or finishing a complex book often gives you a feeling of being a winner. Whenever you focus on a challenge with full attention, your mind indulges in it so well that you experience a flow state of mind where you stay until you have accomplished the task. After which you feel fulfilled. But for that to happen you need a task that aligns to your goals and skills (such that no negative energy disrupts it) and give it your full attention.
You don’t need coffee, but a constant dose of flow
Recreating every day to align yourself to a challenge and accomplishing it with efforts and attention, makes your self-confidence soar. You crave dopamine and indulge more in challenges that make you feel happy upon overcoming them. A happy state of mind, a self that stays boosted with accomplishment leads to a harmonious life altogether.
Pleasure and enjoyment have different souls
That might be the first time you read that. But it’s true. To attain pleasure your biological and sociological needs must be met. For example: while watching tv or eating a favorite food. But for enjoyment to happen, you need to go a step further and ‘invest yourself’ in the activity. For example: playing a game or taking part in fruitful discussions. In these activities, you invest your skills, often overcoming a challenge or finding something new to add to your psyche. You might lose your sense of self and thereby experience flow while enjoying but not while experiencing pleasure.
But sometimes we don’t enjoy an activity that we otherwise do. That is because enjoyment occurs at the perfect intersection of one’s skills and the challenge at hand.
If the challenge is too hard, you feel anxious and don’t enjoy it, while if the challenge is too light, you feel bored. So aligning the level of your abilities is necessary.
Leisure is a ghost of happiness
We all could agree on one thing, Friday being the most impatient working day. That is because we are waiting for our beloved ‘weekend’ where we are free to experience pleasure through leisure. Ironically, Mihaly’s study found that when people are involved in pleasure activities, they actually ‘feel’ bored, often sad (Okay, that might not be the 100% true, but a significant portion of the data pointed towards this fact).
On the other hand, when people are working, they feel happy now and then. They are always involved in completing a task, overcoming challenges and thus experiencing growth. But while taking pleasure; for instance in watching tv; we behave as passive receivers and hence don’t play an active role in our life. Most of the time happiness stems from circumstances under our control, where we are the main player!
More often, we waste our precious time while being involved in passive leisure. The author recommends using this time to perform your favorite activity. You might want to give your plants a visit, or pick that canvas up again! That is when your mind sends happy signals again.
Shed your human garment and enter the universe
We might assume that we are one amongst the many on this planet. We have to fend for ourselves and blah blah. It is this constant concentration on our self, the “consciousness of the self” that makes it impossible for us to excel. We forget that we are connected to the universe.
It is with the loss of this ‘sense of self’ during flow activities that make us accomplish the task so perfectly.
Our self is somewhat suspended, we merely become an agent in this huge setting, where we contribute to a task/work/skill/activity while merging ourselves with the cosmos. It is the feeling we often refer to as transcendence.
Be as light as air
The word autotelic comes from the Greek word auto (Self) and telos (goal). It means that whenever we do a task for the reward inherent in doing it and not for an outward benefit, we achieve a greater result. For instance, whenever you are conscious that you should win the game, playing becomes anxiety-ridden and you often lose. That is because you focus more on the goal, more on your image, and less on the task. Remember our previous discussion on attention?
It also matters how you pick small bites in everyday life, give it your full attention and make the best of the circumstances. That is somewhat living with the world, and away from your conscious self. That is working for a greater good, for the joy in doing it, and not for some external output. This might mean, having a hearty talk with an individual while you stand in a long queue.
In short, finding hidden meaningful goals that make everyday life worth living. This is when you achieve an autotelic personality. You become someone who doesn’t need external factors to drive your consciousness because you are the sole driver.
This all might seem hard to understand, but it’s not.
So what is the crux?
Just keep your mind and heart in the right place, invest your skills in everyday challenges, learn to nourish an undistracted mind by limiting your attention to important tasks, immerse yourself in whatever task you choose, have a rendezvous with the worldly muse, come out victorious and bear the effects of happy hormones and a life of harmony.
If you think this book is worthy of your attention, you can find it on Amazon
While the time was eager to run, my heart was still. I was sad, kind of hopeless. I was away from my parents who were sharing their lives through the threshold of their doors.
Here, I lived amongst my new family the same way. So, there was little to cheer about. After all, birthdays are meant to be celebrated together with family and friends. But this time everything was ‘distanced’.
So, I thought maybe tomorrow would be an equally boring day. Nothing special.
And my mind answered back-” Well, why not. In Fact let me celebrate my birthday the introverted way”.
My list went like this-
sleep late (not rush for your birthday party)
Put on new but comforting clothes (not trendy chic, mostly uncomfortable types)
Spend time with your plants (not get stuck in the traffic)
Have a hearty talk with every caller who wished (not small talk as in, thank you, ciao)
Watch your favorite travel movies (rather than sit in a crowded café)
Have your favorite cuisines in a mouthful (not worry about others having had enough)
And the list went on….
The day began late, while I woke up with a lovely glow since I had snoozed a bit more in my cozy comforter. The day felt all mine.
It was different too!
I pulled out the cake from the fridge, placed the candles, blew them, while my sweetheart stood at 6 feet watching me through the process. Not only that, I made sure I tasted every bite that I offered my family through a video call. I saw their eyes, I saw the endless love, the wishes, and the longing.
Back to the day of my birthday.
So, I took a break from the kitchen. My sweetheart pampered me throughout the meals with different cuisines. For breakfast, I had garlic breadsticks, mocha brownies, and a cup of hazelnut latte. Need I say more? I was blessed man!
It was time for my plants. Little by little I went up to each one of them, talking, asking about their health, and checking whether they needed something. I smelled them, brushed by and took a leaf or two of my favorite herbs, and savored my mouth. And reveled in their lingering fragrances-basil, rosemary, lemongrass, mint.
All this, while my well-wishers were lined up through calls. My phone surely had a busy day. But I poured my heart with everybody out there. From friends to relatives, to family, all of who were sad about the current state of affairs.
I gave them a laugh, had one too, they filled me with hope and I did too. Our hearts met, through voices alone.
Almost all my day passed in conversations- the deep ones I might add.
It was time for a movie. That too in complete solitude. Browsing through the genre of travel, I realized I had almost exhausted this category. All through Netflix and Amazon Prime, I struggle to find one movie based in Europe that I hadn’t seen.
And bam! I got one-In love with an Angel.
An Italian movie, based in my dream destination-Rome.
From the sweet and swaying Italian to the cobbled streets, the green-eyed Raoul Bova and the monument of Hadrian as a backdrop flew me all the way to Rome. (Who would want to choose an alley with countless heads and weary faces?)
Well, after my rendezvous with Italian charm, I had some chill in Rio de Janeiro too. Yup, in the comfort of my comforter again! While outside, the wind blew harder and the temperatures were low.
My love made sure to turn my room into a cozy green cafe, with soft yellow lights and my green children from the front yard.
Together with a tray full of my favorite Chinese cuisine with that rolls. I savored all, with sips of red, while dancing to the tunes of Samba.
It was almost 12 and yes my special day had ended. But did I miss anything? Anyone?
Yes, it was different this time and some may say it’s hard. But hard times drive you closer, at least that’s what I learned.