Coping, Bracing, Figuring

I’m feeling the call to write, and I’m not even clear on what the topic is or should be. All I know is that I have an urge to express, faster than my fingers can write on paper. That’s why I’m here today.

Lately, I’ve been..feeling a lot of feelings. And I now realise, there’s also a lot of feelings that I am not letting myself feel. Even right now, as I clicked in through to Google Docs to write this draft out on a fresh document, I felt a wave of anxiety rising, and my heartbeat quickening. Why? I’m not sure. I think what triggered it is seeing the parent folder titled ‘Transition 2020’, indicating that I expected to be done with this limbo phase last year. And now, it’s been more than a year. And the pandemic rages on. And I still am not clear as to when I’ll have more certainty in life. There, a slight twinge of pain in the chest at that thought. These are the kinds of feelings I’m not letting myself feel in my body. And so they circle and circle, like trapped birds, in the boundaried-off corner of my brain where they are forced to live. Maybe if I just let them loose, they’d find their way out. But it’s too painful. I’m not sure I can handle it.

That’s just it. I feel like I’m running out of that resilience. Do trampolines ever weaken? Can they be strengthened back if they do? I don’t know. I feel like a weak trampoline now. But I did not last year. Last year I was able to take so much in my stride. Now I feel like it’s been a lot and it’s been enough and I’m weary. From what I’ve learnt and read, this is normal for our brains. But somehow it is still difficult to digest because I cannot share this with others for fear of judgement or contempt. After all, as my inner guilt tells me, I have all the resources. I have the time. Where is my motivation? Why can’t I get myself to do the right things?

Because I attach meaning and stories to all of these tasks and behaviours. If I work out, I’m driven and focused and productive. If I miss the planned workout, I’m lazy and useless and will-never-get-up-to-anything. When in reality, it’s just a missed workout. Or it’s just one evening of exercise. Everything is going to happen tomorrow, it feels like. And once tomorrow becomes today, then the goal is still tomorrow. Something’s going to break open soon. I can feel it. That little ball of swirling bluish white light is picking up speed inside my chest – still trapped, still zooming in circles, but getting faster, more urgent. It’s going to break open soon enough. I can feel my shoulders braced for it. 

I think I should continue to honour my wish to speak to almost no one. I still want to be connected to my close people – the ones I consider close. The others – it’s ok to disconnect. I don’t need to add to the turmoil. Until my cup is fuller. (What if my cup is always going to be running low like this?) I also need to approach my scared self from a place of love and compassion. (What if I’m not capable of true compassion?) If I believe that all people deserve love and compassion, and we all need to be ok with each other’s imperfections, then I should be able to forgive myself for my own flaws. And chill the fuck out. But the “critical voice” is the loudest, and my inner voice is taking a nap for a bit. 

The big difference last year was that – I was able to start building these habits of self-compassion that allowed me to shut out the “Other” voices and find my own balance. Find my own ways to bring meaning to my days. And build a practice of presence within myself. It allowed me to build some distance between stimuli and my responses to them. And that made all the difference. I also responded to situations with a balanced mind, not out of emotional reactivity. I was gentle with myself, and so with others.

I guess I will get some respite from bringing back that self of mine. Rather, hugging her back to awakeness after sleep. I am not the sum of my moods and personality traits. I am so much more than that. I am the vastness of the ocean, not the waves that dance and storm its surface. And it will benefit me well to remember this. My potential, our potential as humans, is only capped by our fears and beliefs. May I find the courage to breathe in/breathe out to the depth of my infinite capacity to love, and endless potential to give. 

Sharing for anyone who may recognise themselves in this. Whenever afraid, and shrinking from the next step – I hope I am able to remember, I am one breath away from growth. I am, and so are you.


~M xx

#SouvenirStorytime 3/28: Breeze Away to Carmel-by-the-Sea

Flashback to memories made in Monterey, California, USA (April / July 2016)

Textured porcelain magnet highlighting sights of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey

This has to be one of my favourite magnets from the collection. Smooth, but pleasantly textured. Imperfect art that paints a compelling picture. The sky is a whimsical dusty-pink despite the sun being high up; it’s my kind of remembrance for this place of joy. (Ofcourse, I wrote that and immediately remembered that Big Little Lies was also set in Monterey, and it was not exactly a place of joy in the series. Oh well.)

Once upon a time, I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was an incredible bubble, one where you always believed you needed (to be) more although just by virtue of living there, you should have known you had more than many, many, many others. The experience shaped me, and brought a lot of lessons my way – lessons that eventually helped me decide to leave. However, my time in California also allowed me easy access to small, beautiful seaside towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea. While I did not visit often enough, I did spend more than one pleasant weekend in the quiet little town.

As I gaze at the magnet art above, my mind is a montage of happy little clips. Memories flashing of cherished company on different days. Even when I try, I cannot remember the drive down from Mountain View. I know it’s a good one, but I have no memory of it. Odd. At the same time, I have crystal-clear memory of sitting in the front seat of a rental car with some of my closest friends, post-dinner at a nice restaurant. 4th of July weekend, 2016. It was dark already. I recollect my loveable, ridiculous bestie and I spontaneously deciding (with no words) to act out the rest of our animated conversation in slow motion, to some confusion from the others in the backseat. I remember feeling so overjoyed to share that mutual weirdness with someone. And I remember holding a grateful heart for these friendships, as we drove back up to my home that night.

Another memory of walking down the quiet, sloping Ocean Avenue, overlooked by rustling tree-tops and lined with independent boutiques and warmly-lit restaurants. My mum two steps behind me, distracted by every second boutique. To date, she remembers and speaks of the light wrap she picked up at one of the stores, though I have forgotten already. We were walking down to the viewpoint overlooking the beach. She was wearing sneakers, and did not want to get sand in her shoes. She was happy just to stand by the boardwalk, feel the mild sea breeze, marvel at how clean the white sand looked (how do they keep it so clean!?), and get some pictures taken. My mum and I don’t share the same interests at all, but how I love to see her happy in these little moments.

Flash forward to enjoying fresh fish and chips with her at a no-frills, pier-side café. Was I mixing up memories? Was that even in Monterey? I’m not sure, but it sure is jumbled into this memory montage. I don’t mind – as I know it was from the one and only road trip that Ma and I took together, driving down at a leisurely pace from Mountain View to San Diego. My mum, who usually crinkles up her nose at fried food, enjoying the crumb-fried fresh catch, cajun-chips-and-ketchup and warm sunlight on the water.. with pleasure. Again, a favourite memory from her visit that year. When will we get to do this again?

Finally, the memory reel replays the same feeling – of standing with my toes digging into the fine bone-white sands of Carmel beach. Cool sea-breeze in my hair, making me hug my jacket (work-branded sweatshirt, heh) even closer. My closest friends from across the continent next to me. Silicon Valley could not work its magic on me, as I could not want anything more.

Now your turn…lose yourself in a pleasant memory. And share below in comments, if you’d like? I am curious to know what you cherish.


~M. xx

Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?

#SouvenirStorytime 2/28: New York City Love

An ode to the City of Dreams – New York City, USA (Dates unknown / Multiple)

Love, New York – fridge magnet

I cannot remember exactly when I bought this. I have made several visits to this bustling mad city. I’ve never not been taken by it. In fact, the first time I visited at nineteen – I was the wide-eyed girl from India who was excited to see Greenwich Village, home to her fictional idol Mia Thermopolis, and see how it compared against the world that Mia had painted for her in her mind’s eye. I loved the brownstones, the subway, the crowds, the traffic. All of it. I took several hundred pictures of buildings. And fire escapes, which were another made-for-TV concept to me. I loved the energy everyone seemed to have, just like in the movies. What a rush to be part of it. People walked so briskly with purpose. No one seemed to be loitering. So they must all have found purpose, no? I wanted to taste some of that magic NYC juice that gave everyone destinations, and put fire in their feet. I left with the dream to live there someday.

As I got older, and found myself living in the US, I continued to enjoy visiting. But I realised I no longer harboured that dream of living there. It was all a bit too much for me. Too much movement. Where was everyone off to, anyway!? It had dawned on me that purpose doesn’t come from having somewhere to go. And that maybe being lost in a sea of people, still feels like being lost after all. The energy that I had once found infectious and energising, I recognised to be infectious and draining instead. Too much. I didn’t want to lose my wonder though. Never want to lose my wonder. I made peace with loving the city, but from a distance. Enough to want to visit, again and again and again. Finding something new to discover on each visit. And each time, leaving with the feeling of content that this frenzy of a city showed me a little more than she had before. Be it getting across the city for the best, chewiest, densest bagels I’ve ever relished from Absolute Bagels. Or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, and being surprised by a woman getting her wedding photoshoot in the middle of the bridge, foot-traffic be damned. Or dissolving into Lady M‘s matcha mille-crêpe cakes. Or elbowing through crowds to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, only to realise the stress of it all allowed little Christmas spirit. Or getting lost and realising I was (finally) walking through Greenwich Village for real, which was serene and very different from the Village in my imagination. Or getting lost in Central Park, and witnessing a large group of people lost in dancing to drums…wondering in awe if I would ever be able to let go and surrender like that (I would, I just couldn’t imagine it yet).

Getting lost in general, I think. Feeling very small in a big, big city. With friends though, with my people – also lost with me. Mmm happy times.

I want to say I bought this little souvenir on one of my last visits, when I knew I would be leaving the US shortly. I didn’t expect to see the brilliance of New York City again. I vaguely remembering buying this from a street artist selling his wares on the walkway of a bridge (which bridge?). It jumped out at me because it sort of took away the seriousness of the city (and reminded me of Seinfeld, for some reason?). On further thought, I realise it captured the nostalgia, the movement and the sentiment that every movie and book and TV series set in New York had silently promised me: that it is the city to find and lose and find again.. love, usually with someone else who is also lost and misunderstood in the same crowd. Movies set in the city, especially in winter (Christmas) are still my absolute feel-good favourites. I re-watch them every December. The rational part of my brain is fully aware that New York City is one of the loneliest, most isolating cities in the world (sidenote: lose yourself in reading Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ for a rich picture of this, what a beauty). But, the tiny part of my brain that is an eternal romantic, that chooses to dream fluffy, that wishes to be Mia Thermopolis, loves to hold that feeling of a hot-cocoa-and-snowfall romance in dreamy New York City.

(Hey, so what if reality is grittier than that, this is how I chose the souvenir for me.)


~M. xx

Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?

#SouvenirStorytime 1/28: The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

Recap: what is Souvenir Storytime? I am kicking this off in lieu of nourishing time in the mountains up north. (Another lockdown is imminent in Mumbai, so the visit to the mountains will have to wait). The magic of creation through words is always deeply nourishing. If new memories cannot be made, I decided to pay homage to all the beautiful places I have already been, by honouring my ~fridge magnet~ collection. Seriously. I had collected several over the years, knowing that they were the ultimate tourist-y kitsch. I have held them close not for their beauty, but for the stories within. With Souvenir Storytime, I am attempting to bring to life the memories held within these ubiquitous magnets – in no particular order. This is not to help people “armchair travel” (a term I’m growing to dislike through this pandemic). It is to re-live small, significant moments from years past. In the process, I hope to help you – dear Reader – recover your own pearls of memories from deep within. The journey will continue, but for now let’s pause and look back on its meandering path, shall we?

First on the list: The Little Mermaid – Copenhagen, Denmark (December 2017)

Watercolour of the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen mounted on acrylic
Watercolour of the Little Mermaid, Copenhagen

I still remember that cold evening. It was my first winter in Europe, and my first time in Copenhagen. Also my first time experiencing what it means to have the cold “seep into your bones”. My father, who had been in Denmark several times, had often described the cold to me like this – and I always assumed he was exaggerating. It didn’t sound like anything more warm layers couldn’t solve. And yet – when I felt it, I understood right away. I couldn’t keep the chill out of my bones. And yet, such was my resolve to see the famous bronze statue of the Little Mermaid – I was happy to change two buses and walk down the otherwise empty waterside promenade in search of her despite the cold. Pink cheeks, nose leaking and stomach grumbling, I walked down with two reluctant friends in tow (a couple I knew from grad school in America, that I serendipitously bumped into in Copenhagen!). Only to arrive at this small, green-brown statue of a mermaid girl hunched over on a rock. It was….underwhelming?

All three of us stood and looked. Hmm. Was that it? Then again, what did we expect it to be? I thought it would be bigger, my friend’s words echoed our thoughts out loud. I thought it would be….more? But not really, I had seen pictures – I knew exactly what she looked like. In fact, a little replica of her had sat in the showcase of my childhood home for years. My father had brought it over as a souvenir from his first visit. It’s part of why I wanted to see her myself. She was exactly as I imagined. She was nothing more or less, and yet why was I disappointed?

I realised it wasn’t so much disappointment – as it was discomfort. It was a cold and dreary evening, the sky was grey and so was the dark water. She sat there with the waves lapping at her rock glumly, a forlorn expression on her unmoving face. Only the waves, and hopefully visiting seals for company. I had heard she was often vandalised by locals – how sad. To be so exposed to the elements, yet the only closeness she received was in the form of defilement. (Was I giving too much emotion to an object?) The stark setting of the statue and her loneliness made me feel, for just a split second, the miasma of feelings I liked to push away myself. As we walked away, I wondered what the sculptor wanted us to feel when he designed this lost statue.

The next day, I bought this beautiful magnet with a watercolour replica mounted on acrylic from a local artist. (More about her when I share another story on another day.) I thought it would hold this memory in brighter colours than it really had, and I hoped it represented the Little Mermaid on a happier day. To me it is a reminder of little journeys that are worth it for their own sake, even when the destination doesn’t match up to anticipation. This happens to me so often, it makes me shake my head and smile.

When has this shown up for you?

~ M xx

I Dreamt a Little Dream

I did a silly thing. Lived a little fantasy. I’m already feeling my ears go warm as I write about it.

No, don’t worry – it’s not NSFW. (Ha – if only)

Background: I am an independent single woman, I have taken thirty turns around our sun. This year has been all the more challenging being single, but I haven’t yet gone into the throes of “woe is me”. Neither am I keen on sending “haha-but-actually” memes to friends about why all the good men are gone. For that matter, I’m never keen on receiving them either. I like my company. For as long as I’m not in a committed relationship, I will continue to enjoy my own company. I mean, the inside of my head is a mad world in itself – I rarely lack entertainment. I’m also learning to love myself after many years of too much self-hate, and that exercise is best undertaken solo. Yes, I want to be married someday – but I’m not pining for it with urgency. What can I say, I’m just really not. \_O_/

And all the same..last evening, while watching ‘Virgin River’ on Netflix, I found myself fiddling with the only ring I wear – a silver ring with seven small orbs, on my middle finger. And without much thinking, I absent-mindedly slipped it off and onto my ring finger, just to see what it would feel like. And then I realised – some part of my mind was vaguely curious to see what it would feel like if, well, someone “put a ring on it”. I was surprised, and almost embarrassed despite having an audience of ..none. Tonight, again, did the same thing with the same amount of awareness. Realising after the fact that – maybe some part of me was not as comfortable being proudly single and independent?

I felt a tinge of sheepishness – such a childish thing to do. To play “married”. And yet, I flexed my fingers, just to see if a band looked (or felt) out of place on my normally bare ring finger. No, I decided, it did not. I almost felt more mature, more grown up for a second – like the real adult I always suspect I am not. Like I could feel societal approval warming my face already, the phantom applause from my liberal-but-conventional Indian family almost reaching my ears. And then – I had a thought: this looks the hand of a woman who could be a responsible mom. My ears started tingling with embarrassment again, for my silly childish fantasy and how ridiculous it was sounding with every second. I slipped the ring off and back on my middle finger where it belonged, shook my head and with it went that false miniscule increase in maturity, and woman-ness and whatever else. And yet, here I am – writing about this uncomfortable daydream. So it can’t have meant nothing to me.

Like I said – I’m Indian. My very Indian family doesn’t know what to make of a woman who is “thirty and single”. Much less one who calls herself a girl, is quite comfortable having adventures without a mister, and doesn’t seem outwardly perturbed at the lack of one in her life. They see me as approaching the end of my shelf life, as they know it – as my grandma says, even if I don’t look it. Why thank you, Amma. They think I’m painfully obtuse to this fact of nature, and don’t understand why I wouldn’t be panicking already. After all I’m down to my last two eggs. Why should I keep-calm-and-carry-on like I seem to be.

In front of them, I scoff. I play it cool. I’m relaxed, I joke, I tell them: “all in good time”. I believe it too. All in good time. When I’m alone, I believe it. I tell myself – all in good time. I didn’t ask for a schedule conflict with The Great Pandemic of 2020 when I thought I planned The Great Dating Season of 2020 for the same window. If the Universe decided this is not the time, I’m sure it will send wind in my sails (and the right men with it) in good time too.

But sometimes, when I’m alone, and my guard is falling, and my spirits don’t feel as optimistic and full of sunshine – my family’s voices echo in my head. It is more common now that I’m back home, and have weaker defences to their nagging. I also have to reluctantly admit sometimes, the challenges brought by this year would be so much more bearable with the comfort of a man-friend by my side. On vulnerable nights like this, I wonder:

Could they be right? What if I really am edging towards a cliff after which no one will want me? What if I never do find love? What if Ma is right – and I will become so rigid that I could not adjust to another human’s contours and experiences at all? What if I’m destined to spend the rest of my life more independent than I want to be?

Those evenings and nights deepen the fine lines that are starting to show on my forehead. No amount of moringa oil or anti-aging serum seems to wipe them away. I bet a dozen of my greys are basically these thoughts in hair form too.

So for a moment, I guess the little girl in me gave in to that guarded fantasy – of trying on a different life for size. With the slip of a ring. For a few minutes, I let myself be that woman that my family, our society, all the meddling aunties and uncles want me to be. And then with a shake of my head, I’m back to being the girl who bought this ring from a suntanned, kind-smiling Portuguese artisan on the streets of Sintra, and chose to wear it as a reminder of magic the seven orbs hold for her and the Universe. A deep breath and on we go.

~M xx

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

A Reluctant Admission

I know I said I would write more frequently than once a month. I remember laughing to myself in September at the thought of taking a whole month to post again. After all, I love writing. I would never post-pone doing more of it again.

And yet I did just that, again. I have been having this squirmy feeling in my belly this whole time, this discomfort that rises up into my chest. Because I know I have been putting off doing what I love. And until recently, I felt too much guilt to even look this avoidance in the eye.

I feel like I’ve been standing on a diving board. Looking down at the rippling blue water. Knees bent, all wound up like a coiled spring but not ready to jump. Not ready to jump. Holding that pose. Mind dashing back and forth between intent to act, and the comfort of waiting – because the jump cannot be taken back. It’s the same feeling I had when I was learning to swim at age seven – my swim instructor wanted me to jump into the deep end. And I just couldn’t. It was as if my feet were glued onto the wet edge of the pool. I could not get my feet off. I could not get myself to plop into the murky green pool. Why? Because I couldn’t imagine what that jump would feel like. I could only imagine jumping in and not being able to feel the surety of sturdy ground under my feet, I could imagine flailing and drowning. I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to surface and swim. I could only anticipate that primal fear, and was too scared to lean into the grey area between fear and knowing.

Today, two decades on, I am trying to (over)analyse a similar reluctance to commit to something that I love doing. It’s not obviously terrifying like a deep, opaque swimming pool would be to a child who can barely swim. However, it is terrifying in a deeper, more subtle way: writing has been the dream to me, full of potential, beyond that fear of plunging in. I’ve always told myself, in quiet whispers (lest they be overheard), that I think I can write expressively, engagingly. (Ugh, my ears are warm just from writing that sentence) That thought, rarely tried or tested, has been like a warm blanket to me, comforting me after a long day’s work, after a long season’s work, every time I’ve felt weary of my day job, my nondescript life. There’s been this naïve, hopeful thought – that in an alternate version of life, I could be a writer who can connect to the hearts of people through her words. That I could help another soul feel more seen, less alone on their journey. Not trying, not testing that theory – because what if it isn’t true?

What if I jump in only to prove myself wrong, and lose this mental safety blanket? This secret hope that was a salve when my less-exciting “real life” dealt blunt blows to the spirit? I can’t take the jump back. And I’d potentially be left with a void where this reassuring, blind dream used to be. Reluctantly, shamefully, I admit – I am unwittingly choosing to be comfortable not knowing. < pauses to feel pretty shit >

< takes a deep breath >

On that wet afternoon, aged seven, I didn’t jump. I kept crouching, wound up to jump, feet glued to the edge of the pool..until my instructor shoved me in anyway. I was terrified, but I surfaced. I swam. The salty pool-water mixed with the salty tears on my face, but I swam. And things turned out okay. Except that I was too terrified to go back to that swim class. That was my last swimming lesson for the next five years. It was probably also the beginning of my tendency to stop, to quit, at fear.

The last seven months have been a wonderful, painful, quiet, subtle journey to stop resisting fear and walk towards it. That has been an overarching goal of this time away from Real Life. Every single time I have leaned into the discomfort – be it big or small, visible or invisible – I have come out glad for it. So this time should not be any different. I have been blessed with one life as me, might as well live the most colourful version of it. Even disappointment, helplessness, disillusionment adds brush-strokes of colour – deep and bold – to the canvas of life.

So this time, this girl vouches to jump – even if it takes some time hanging out, all wound up, toes curled, on the edge of a metaphorical diving board. I can’t take this jump back, but I’ll see it through.


S1E01: “What Have You Been Doing Now That You Can’t Do Anything?” – 1/2

Pink tulip with three drooping petals, and two strong petals

That is a direct quote from one of the several curious well-wishers who reached out in the weeks after I left my job. In the midst of a global pandemic, and more specifically – in the midst of international lockdown.

Sidenote: My first official day of freedom was a week before official lockdown in the U.K. Talk about serendipity. I’ll be honest – this isn’t exactly the setting I thought I would encounter it. I thought it would come as a surprise, in a way I least expected it, but I secretly also wished for some romance. And a happy ending, like in the movie. It did come as a surprise and there’s been no romance so far, but this story also doesn’t have an ending yet – so I will dare to say, there is still hope.

Even previously, I had been intentionally vague in my answers when people asked what I planned to do. I would say that I wanted to travel in the UK through the two months I’d be allowed to stay there, and then I’d see. No set plans yet. Turns out that uninteresting, directionless response was not what they were looking for but hey, I’m not here to entertain.

Regardless of what I said to inquisitive acquaintances, privately, I had options outlined to be set into a plan. And yes, most of those options involved being abroad. Or being exposed to art. Or having new experiences. And the one directive during the worst months of the pandemic was: stay put. Stay home, stay safe. The experiences I wanted to have were no longer happening. Museums were closed. Forget going abroad, getting on public transport was a scary thought. Travel of any sort, even the kind on foot, turned into a risky activity. Banned, even. Non-essential, they said. What could I do when I couldn’t do anything?

I didn’t have an answer to that, to be honest. After all, I had the same question. And this had just happened to me, as it had to everyone else. I’d barely had time to react. So I did what any person with professional crisis management experience would do: I maintained composure, pretended everything was under control, and calmly told enquirers that I didn’t know, but that I was figuring it out. Transparent, clear, calm communication.

And then I turned off WhatsApp notifications. I stopped answering the phone. Tried to make sense of what was happening through journalling. And hid under blankets. And retreated from humanity.

I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know what I could do. But I knew what I could not afford to do – I could not afford to stay overwhelmed. I could not collapse under the anxiety of several layers of uncertainty. I could not let the constant incoming bad news about this “novel coronavirus” send me into a dark spiral. I couldn’t fall back into binge eating my way through this new source of stress.

Because I was my own safety net.

The only way out was through. So I spent a lot of my time cultivating practices, habits that would keep me healthy and sane. Started with the basics. As I get closer to the six month mark since leaving work, I thought to share some of the foundational lessons I learnt / stumbled upon through these last strange five-ish months:

1 // Chasing productivity can be counter-productive

One of the reasons I wanted to take some time off is that my brain felt fried. I felt exhausted all the time, like I didn’t have enough energy to get through normal days. I definitely felt too deflated to deal with any new changes, or come up with new ideas. I wanted to re-energise, although I wasn’t sure what that meant. All I knew is that the intended outcome was to have an energy surplus.

After decades of having been conditioned to feel like time well-spent had to be time being busy – I didn’t know what to do with the 50-60 hours that were suddenly available at my discretion. For the first two weeks, I gave myself full freedom to go with the flow, and listen to my heart. It took me a week to learn to sleep well at night again, despite grappling with the implications of COVID-19 during the day.

Two weeks in, I felt the old urge to be productive, keep myself busy. I figured that would give me something to tell my curious friends and acquaintances. I signed up for two courses – both in line with a new direction I was exploring. I wondered if I should be doing more. I threw in learning a new language too, gave myself a timetable to follow.

While the courses were interesting, and I was learning something new after a long time – I realised I found myself dragging my feet. There were books I wanted to read, documentaries I came across and wanted to watch – but I couldn’t because my timetable said I was to be doing something else. This break was supposed to be re-fuelling time, so why was it feeling like the opposite?

So, two months in – I decided to park this need to be productive. I learnt to be comfortable with not ticking all the boxes on my “ideal routine”, if one day I wanted to spend the day reading in a park. I walked for hours around an empty London, seeing the city as if for the first time, without the people and the commotion. I read, and wrote, and slept, and doodled, and roamed. I was happy.

It was three months into my downtime that I felt like my mental battery was up from reserve to 80%. I felt new ideas coming to me, and my mind moving from “survival mode” to “engage mode”. Looking back, I know for sure that I would not have experienced that reset in the middle of the pandemic had I not let go of that need to chase productivity. Doing is not a replacement for being.

2 // Fear is the lighthouse at the end of my comfort zone

In previous years, I have confessed in those rare conversations where one shares truths held close: “I live with a lot of fear”. People imagine that to mean “big” fears like – fear of heights, fear of speeding, fear of death etc. Yes to all of those – but I am more inhibited by the “micro” fears. The ones that hold me back in little ways on a day-to-day basis – and snowball into a limited state of being. For example, I talk myself out of sending a cold email to someone interesting on LinkedIn for fear that I may ask the wrong question or sound stupid. I hesitate to try anything that I have never done before, big or small, fearing that I would be bad at it. Being bad at something means that I would have failed. (lies, I know – but this is how my brain works)

Fear of failure is hardly a novel concept. However, it really sunk in after I read ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself‘, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. Our brains are wired to guide us away from unknowns to keep us safe. Our brains are literally keeping that fear of the unknown going, because ‘known experiences’ are safe, and safe is good. Do you see what I mean? Your brain would rather have you continue to sit in a pool of self-sabotage or anxiety or addiction if that’s what is familiar to you. Because it is known territory and so trumps daring to venture out into healing.

* two minute silence for internalising that *

I then realised that whenever I find myself faced with some form of fear at the thought of something, it is really because I am faced with new territory. Big or small. My brain is trying to put the spotlight on everything that can go wrong in order to scare me into staying put within known territory. Which means…….I am on the edge of my comfort zone. And beyond that fear lies growth: the discomfort of stretching into new experiences.

My mind lit up the day I realised I could use fear as a metaphorical lighthouse, to keep me directed towards growth and experimentation. I am still learning to venture beyond that fear into the newness beyond, but I am glad to be standing at the edge to start with. Time will bring progress, I am certain. Can you see how this could change the way you go about your life? Like wow, I am still mind-blown.

3 // Gratitude is grounding, and being grounded is pivotal in times of uncertainty

One month into my break, I had started having good days and not-so-great days. I had gotten over the frustration of having my once-in-a-lifetime plans overthrown, and had adapted. However, I was faced with several levels of uncertainty, especially being on a visa tied to my previous employer. The uncertainty drove up anxiety. Some of the questions on my mind included:

“when do I absolutely need to leave England? If I need to leave, what if India’s borders are still closed – where can I go?

“Are my family going to be okay back in India? Will mum be able to manage taking care of the family without help?”

“Will I be able to see my friends one last time before I have to leave the country?”

You see what I mean? Levels of uncertainty. Enter: bullet journalling. I thank the lovely Sadia from Pick Up Limes for sharing her structure. Inspired by her, I built in daily gratitudes as part of my otherwise-minimalist bullet journal structure – and it has been a GAME-CHANGER. Every morning, I write down one thing I am grateful for. Just one. (Why? Because even on your worst days – you would be able to think of atleast one gratitude) By the end of a month, I find that I have a page with thirty unique, real, personal gratitudes. It is just not possible to feel resentment at the universe, or stay bitter for long when I re-read that list and am instantly reminded that I have so much to be grateful for. Yes, there’s a lot that is uncertain – but being aware of everything to be thankful for creates a beautiful positive mindset.

This one, two-minute daily habit is probably the single reason why I have gotten through the tight lockdown months with my head on and heart open. I have had my days of anxiety and low mood – but I have not been bitter. Because whatever has happened, however my days could have been better, they could have been so, so much worse – so I am thankful. Interestingly, it also quickly shifted my outlook to be more focused on the positive, even amidst the COVID-19 shitstorm. We could all do with more of that (positivity, not shitstorming), no?

I’ll give these ideas some time (or a month, given my pace – ha) to softly dance around, barefoot, in your minds. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your thoughts / experiences / rants.

I’ll follow up with the second part – sooner than a month, I promise.

(links shared in the post are not affiliated or sponsored, only sharing what helped me in case you find it interesting too)

xx ~M.

Pilot: Why Are We Here?

Off to a profound start. This was one of many questions that were swimming in my mind in the years leading up to this supposedly-life changing break. What break?, you ask. Fair, I jumped in with no preamble.

After much deliberation, I decided to get off the treadmill that was my life as I knew it, for a few months, in the hope to rest, re-energise, change my worn-out shoes for a new pair, hydrate and get back on. For those of you not as keen on metaphors – I mean I decided to leave my job and uproot my life to take a long-ish break and change some things. Why? Because, I realised that somewhere along the way, my job and my life had taken a direction that didn’t sit right with me. I felt like I had fallen out of sync with my life, had more big questions than big answers in my mind, and felt exhausted on so many levels that I wasn’t really living. I had to change that if I didn’t want to live half a life anymore. And I did not.

I noodled on that thought for six months, and finally actually made the decision on February 10, 2020, per noodling. Gave notice at work as a Valentine’s Day present to myself, and left work a month later. Wait, isn’t that exactly when coronavirus put the world on pause?

Ah yes, you noticed. Yes, I thought I was working perfectly to a plan – but turns out I missed syncing schedules with the Universe’s plan. Rookie mistake. Turns out my Big Career Break coincided almost too perfectly with the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe and the UK. And basically everywhere. Lovely.

(I promise I’m not trying to make the pandemic about me, but it is relevant with regards to this blog’s existence. So bear with me, please.)

My goals for this time off were:

  • Re-energise and recover creative energy
  • Learn, have new experiences and broaden perspective
  • Improve physical, mental, spiritual health
  • Enjoy and really feel alive
  • Make progress on uncovering answers to life’s biggest questions

(Can you tell there is a somewhat morbid backstory? Yes there is, but that’s for another time.)

I had a wishlist of things I wanted to do during this time. Without going into details, they involved some travel, some new experiences, some family time, lots of time in museums and exhibitions, yoga courses and spiritual workshops. Almost all of which had to be struck off the list because of The Pandemic (yes, it deserves capitalisation). And the lockdown that followed. And so it felt like this journey was called off before the train even left the station. (I like metaphors okay, you’ll get used to it)

But I decided not to call it off. It only changed shape and form. I decided to keep going – the stars had aligned, my intuition told me it was the right thing to do even if I had no clarity on the immediate future even, there was never going to be a better time even if this timing was shit. I had kicked something off with a lot of resolve, and I had to see it through, no matter how it ended.

As crazy as it seems, that was over four months ago. 

And so – four months on, I’ve finally decided to stop giving in to all the nagging, whining emotions in my head (parent: fear) and instead make way for my slightly brighter compulsion to share (parent: curiosity). I’ve been feeling an itch to write and share, to provide solidarity to those in a similar boat, and feed the curiosity of those who aren’t. This is a story with a beginning, a long middle, an out-of-order prologue, and a yet-to-be-known end. At best, it’ll be funny and inspiring. At worst, it’ll be uncomfortable. Realistically, it’ll probably elicit a few chuckles and maybe a surprised “ah” and some contemplative “hmm”s. 

Follow along for those chuckles, “ah”s and “hmm”s. It’ll be fun. Maybe.

(Next Up – S1E01: “What Have You Been Doing Now That You Can’t Do Anything?”)