This year, I almost broke a 20-year-old tradition. For 20 years, including ones where I was traveling, indisposed, or committed at high security facilities, I have made it a point, on this particular day, September 5, to carry a gift to all the people who have taught me the lessons that have helped me become who I am. On most years, it would be in the form of a box of sweets that I would visit my teachers with. This year, in spite of all being normal, I almost deviated from the norm. The reason for this was that one of the greatest lessons I have learned in the recent years is that sometimes things need fixing even if they are not broken.
The Comfort of the Familiar
I have been blessed to have spent nearly 5 years towards the beginning of my working life working with the terminally ill and their families. This is a very strange thing to say, since every human being, without exception, at the end of the day, is terminally ill. The only difference between the general population and those identified as terminally ill is the acute awareness of the fragility and impermanence of life that the terminally ill have. However, that is not the focus of this post. During this time, my primary role was that of an educator and counselor. People much elder to me would tag a “da” (elder brother in Bengali) or a Sir after my name.
This was followed by my choosing to switch over to the field of training. I was entrusted by my mentor in my career with training language specialists for the healthcare documentation industry. Once again, the role placed on me the mentor’s mantle and the mandatory suffix. With time and organizational growth, both the mantle and the suffix grew in stature and my head had to grow at the same pace to keep a snug fit. As time passed, I found myself becoming reluctant to rock the boat when it was the right thing to do, and looked the other way when things around me violated my own principles. Strangely, this same compromise was being played out in my personal life too, where I was becoming more and more comfortable creating and pursuing a life that I did not agree with in principle. Since every morning woke me up to a wonderful day, and nothing “terrible” was happening, I failed to find a reason to question any of this. I came with my box of sweets on Teachers Day year after year, and traded it for flower bouquets and shiny plaques with pretty words written on them.
One morning, some years ago, I woke up and realized that I was sacrificing all that I believed in for the comfort of familiarity. Even though I felt strongly about things, I did not have the courage to make the changes I needed to make in my life. As the little bird kept waking me up with its insistent chirping, I slowly started to see what a sham my life had turned into. Even the box of sweets had been robbed of their symbolic acridness! I was doing everything that I was doing out of a sense of a mechanical ritual to keep things as they were, to keep myself from questioning the system I had become a part of, to keep up an outward appearance of success and happiness. Yet, even after this awakening, I did not have the courage for several months to make a decision to change it. In spite of my life being turned upside down at every level - financial, emotional, mental, and social - over the next couple of years, I was still willing to hold on to the belief that the solution lay in clawing my way back to the middle of the road, to the comfort of familiarity, to the accepted and acceptable norm.
Strip Search of the Spirit
Like a nestling hesitating to fly, I had to be pushed off the tree to finally find my wings. This blessing came in the form of drastic life changes. I found myself in prison on criminal charges, and battling a legal process that would not only drag for years, but also suck up all my time, energy and resources if justice was to be my goal. At the cost of wiping out the last possibilities of a materially and financially comfortable future for myself and my loved ones, I chose to settle the charges out of court, and decided to test my faith in the fairness of the law of cause and effect.
The next several months saw me witness further losses, as I went about closing doors on the past. As each protective filter was removed, the light of reason shone sharper and brighter, frequently driving me nuts. I began to see clearly how I had strayed from what I believed in as the purpose of my life, and traded it for the numbness of material security and overconsumption. I also was shown how my selfishness had led to the struggle and suffering of all those who shared my journey, and how hollow the assurance that it would look different in the long run sounded. On the other hand, I had also been shown the hollowness of all that I had been pursuing. I had been shown how easy it was to disguise greed for power and possessions as value creation, and selfishness as altruism. I had been shown that the highest degree of corruption was practiced by those claiming to be free, by training or by genetics, from all selfishness.
So here I was, halfway through life, my lust for life unhampered, but with most of what I believed in about others and about myself contraindicated by objective evidence. While I desperately clung on to my belief that there was fundamental value in the findings of this strip search, I was absolutely unable to see it.
Winter Always Turns to Spring
For those who believe in the devil, there is an all important lesson that can be learned from this concept, and this is one that is universal to all religious thought - the devil never gives up. The place where I stood in life at this point in time, there was not much godliness I could feel about myself, so I used the devilish attitude to hang on to my faith. I refused to give up. I realized that in order to find a sense of purpose, I had to start by living a life that could serve as a model to others. And while it was not something that I could do “some day” after my filial responsibilities have been taken care of, it was also not something that could be done at the cost of one’s filial responsibilities. Keeping this balance in mind, I set off with my tools, that of being a communicator, an artist and an educator, but this time without the mantle or the suffix, into the new unfamiliar dawn.
Almost all that you will find in this blog, and to a great extent in my other blogs, The Curious Hat, The Operative Note, and The Story of Parth, are my humble effort to reverse the damage that has been caused by my reluctance to follow my heart and live a life of simplicity, responsibility and gratitude. I thank the universe for my family who walk with me, sharing my vision. I am thankful to those of you who follow me in my journey, since I know it is not an easy path to travel.
The greatest resistance to change comes from the grip that the past has over us. As September 5 drew close, I struggled with my decision to not take my box of sweets to my teachers this year. Habits die hard, but they do die. Using my belief in the principle of turning poison into medicine, I allowed the past to temporarily win over me once again, as I share this box of sweets with you. Thank you for teaching me to open my eyes to my infinite potential!