‘Act f—ing human’.
These were, to my surprise, the exact same lines used by two people I met on two separate accounts last week.
They used it in reference to what they discerned to be unnatural ways with which I manage to carry a positive aura about me. The ones questioning my way of life didn’t believe it was a normal human characteristic to look at life with such kind and compassionate eyes all the time, that in a way was typical of brushing aside one’s anger, frustrations, and resentments. They opined that it’s okay for us to want things to be in a certain way. And for us to be angry, sad, and frustrated when things don’t go the way we want them to. But more importantly, to not hold back and to let it out in the spur of the moment. Or else, they said, we wouldn’t be human.
I didn’t have a reply to give straight away but then figured writing an essay would be the best way to go about it, a few days later. Firstly, thank you! I appreciate you for acknowledging the values of compassion and kindness that govern my life. It may surprise you to know that I wasn’t like this right from the start. My default was never kindness and compassion. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I was a terrible person who never valued loving kindness. Just that they weren’t necessarily my driving values or something I did consciously as I went about life. However, two specific events between mid 2015-end of 2016 rattled my life causing me to take a long hard look at the world, fellow humans, and more importantly, myself. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you that I even contemplated giving up my life at one point during that phase of my life when hope was in scant supply.
I lost someone who meant the world to me (yet I failed at gratitude taking her for granted) and to add to my misery, I got duped by a gentleman of money that didn’t even belong to me. This meant grieving over a loss I could never over-turn no matter how much I wished, and losing sleep over paying back hefty sums of money I now owed to people.
I was engraved in darkness with no possible solution in sight. Initially, I was extremely bitter-toward myself for failing to keep my loved ones close and for trusting someone else to guide me well with my career aspirations and money; toward the guy who I had thought very highly of but in hindsight had fooled not just me, but several others of a sum excess of Rs. 1 crore, and toward life for taking my dearest one away and making me go through not just one but two devastating blows at such a relatively young age.
How do you overcome such exasperating life situations? Well.. The easiest way would be to play the victim. Start throwing tantrums around at loved ones, turn into one of the same type of gentleman and dupe someone else so as to recover the money, or perhaps become so bitter that you see no point of anything and take your own life.
Thankfully, it was around that time was when I got introduced to the wonderful idea of mindfulness for the first time and embarked on a journey of dealing with the difficult emotions and states of mind that followed me everywhere. I soon came to realize that whatever majority of negative thoughts I encountered throughout the day, I wasn’t one of them. It just needed a bit of shift in perspective to step back and just observe. This helped me create a cushion between what arose (excessive angst, regrets, anger, frustration, and melancholy to name a few) and how I responded to it. The beauty of mindfulness is that it isn’t just setting aside 20 minutes to meditate to feel a sense of bliss and calm and then cave in the midst chaos we face in ‘real life’. In fact, the idea is to transfer the virtues of calmness and detachment you experience in your meditative setting in dealing with daily life scenarios. And that’s when I started creating that much needed cushion between the stimuli in my external environment and my responses to them.
I completely agree with the two people when they say that it is human to feel disappointed, angry, and hurt. Of course! But then, stoicism (which has been a major influence in my life) has always taught me one thing- the major difference between a stoic and others is that a stoic knows what is in his/her control and responds accordingly. Instead of turning outward and going about life becoming bitter and resentful about irksome scenarios, lost causes, opportunities, people who are ungrateful and hurtful and so forth (and my experiences tell me that this is never in short supply), I choose to look inward. Is there something I can do about it? Let me do it but with kindness and compassion. No? Then let it go. Let it be.
Negative emotions are easy to arise. But if I easily give in to them, what justice have I done to my mindfulness practices of over a year? It is true that I’m also susceptible to negative thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and states of mind. However, I choose not to befriend them. And this is what makes me a positive person in your eyes. True joy, unlike happiness, emanates from within without necessary conditions in the external environment.
Some of my closest friends and family talk about this immense growth in me and how I have dramatically turned around my life. Some even go on lengths to talk about how I have inspired them to travel lightly in the course of life, to look inward, and to be more kind and compassionate in the midst of daily challenges. As true to my nature, I don’t let myself become affected by these praises, nor by the accusations that I shouldn’t act godly. Why would I? I don’t even believe in god. But that’s not the point. The point is, I have had some really bad experiences that had the power to turn me into a person I wouldn’t have been proud of becoming. And it was only through kindness and compassion-toward myself and toward others that helped me turn my life around.
I genuinely believe that we humans are kind and compassionate at heart. Just that the gravity of fast life and a sense of instant gratification and accomplishment has confused us along the way. I’ve been in a negative spiral long and deep enough to tell you from experience that it is not a good place to be. And the more you associate with it, the more trapped you become.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” I don’t know if I can proclaim to be beautiful. However, I have definitely known defeat, suffering, struggle, and loss.
No, I’m certainly not a godly figure; just that I have managed to find my way out of the depths through the values of kindness and compassion.
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