S1E01: “What Have You Been Doing Now That You Can’t Do Anything?” – 2/2

Folks, looks like this is going to be the one and only episode from Season 1 of this narrative. But I wanted to close it out with the long-promised second part to this very long-running season/episode.

I’m coming up on a year of detaching myself from society. After much reflection – the short answer to my friend’s question? Nothing. What have I been doing? No. Thing.

Please bear with the cliché: I have been trying to get comfortable with less of doing and more of being.

Stay with me: All our lives, we are trained to do – more and more, to add to our list of achievements. It starts with learning to walk, to hold a pen, to scrawl the alphabet, to recite numbers or tables of seven, to rattle off the periodic table, to get top grades, win those medals and show them off, learn to sing, learn to dance, get into the best university, get a top-paying job…..when does it ever end? No, all of this is just the beginning. And so, we head on to a life of continuing the do-ing. Of achieving. Of using productivity as a measure of success. Even for fun, we like to do as much as possible on vacation so that we can proudly say we’ve done it all.

This past year hasn’t been a great one. World over, that’s true. But the closure of the outside world gave me the space, time and stillness to bring my attention inwards. Since Facebook first asked me, I have described myself as “Spiritual, not religious” but if I’m honest, I would not then have been able to articulate what exactly that meant. This year, I took the time to explore that spiritual side and form a point of view. Reading ‘A New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle back in June 2020 was eye-opening. My awareness has not been the same since.

I have no intention of listing every motivational self-help book I’ve read over here, as that is not the point of this post. Like many people, I have inwardly tussled with defining my sense of self throughout life – where does it come from? What defines it? At some point in my late twenties, I faced and accepted the uncomfortable but beady-eyed truth: I had been looking to external markers for defining me and my worth. As a school-going child, I unconsciously believed that I was the sum of my grades, my conduct, my appearance, my manners and behaviour. Things that people could see and judge on the outside. Unconsciously, I looked to others to judge what was within. As I got older, this only morphed form. From grades to job profiles. Titles and pay hikes. Career growth in comparison with peers. Interests in comparison with what others were up to. Before I realised it, my self-talk had become painfully negative. My self-worth was so closely tied with my output and how I presented myself, that every mistake turned into a spiral. No one berated me like I did. I took every mistake and unknowingly held it up as a measure of my own worth. “I did something wrong because I am not capable of any better” — eugh, makes me squirm writing it out.

(Because, I couldn’t be further from the truth. But we’re not there yet.)

Ofcourse, I spoke to no one about any of this. I don’t even think I was conscious of the extent of it. It was just a truth I believed in the safest chamber of my heart. An ugly truth that I had fabricated from my life experience. One that coloured everything I did and didn’t do – even if no one else knew.

So now, after leaving a job that had me questioning my motivations, abilities, gifts and worth – I had cut off some of these supposed external markers of self-worth. I knew I had to leave the country I was living in too, so I was no longer tied to a place. Snip, snip – that fell away too. I had to rid myself of most of my belongings to move countries and live out of a suitcase. Snip, snip, snip – can’t define myself with what I own even. So who was I, when I could not be defined by —

  • my role in society (didn’t quite have one defined)
  • my paycheck (didn’t have one)
  • my title (nada)
  • what I owned (they were down to bare necessities)
  • my interests (they were forming and fluid)
  • where I lived (this was changing and would keep changing)

I was still myself, so ofcourse self-hood could not be defined by any of these. So what was left when all of this fell away? What defines us when the external markers are not true indicators after all? This was the raw question, unwritten, unsaid – that guided me through this time. Little happening on the outside, so I went inwards and felt around to learn. I was guided by enlightening books, meditation and uplifting podcasts. And what a painful, wonderful, messy, insightful journey it has been.

I learnt more about the human ego, this idea of a spiritual self vs. the ego self. I learnt to recognise this true Self within me. I learnt how to be with me, how to identify the gifts of mind as well as its naughty tricks. Most of all, I learnt to cultivate an increasing sense of compassion – towards myself as to others. I learnt to be kind, to myself as to others. The biggest challenge of all – I learnt to face myself. Stripped of the excuse of busyness and distractions, I learnt to be able to look at myself for all I was – talents, motivations, values, fears, coping mechanisms..all of it. The truths I knew, the ones I made up and the lies I had told myself over and over.

So yes, I did nothing. Some days my ego wins, and puts up an inward fight at this summary. It usually starts with “But that’s not true, I did do…” before I check it. What can I say, still very human. But most days, for at least a moment, my gentler, fuller Self reigns..I recognise her, and then I feel that all is exactly the way it should be.

Cheers, and so much love. ~M xx

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