Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Springing Free from Moorings


Meeting people can sometimes be an interesting affair.

Once in a way, you meet this someone and as you get to know the person better, you realize that this is who you were just a few years ago. It is as if you are looking into a mirror that is showing you an aspect of yourself, a quality or an attribute that you possessed some years ago, but had not been really aware of.

Occasionally, it is a good quality, a softer sweeter side to you, which you lost, dropped or forgot with the passing of time.
Perhaps, with the changing of circumstances, you got tougher and harder and acquired a steely frame to cover that vulnerable spot that someone in the past had touched with a careless finger…
Or perhaps, no one had appreciated that quality nor encouraged you to cultivate more of it.
And today, when you are looking into the mirror, you wonder why, when and where you left behind that wonderful part of you, and you want to revive it. You feel grateful for having met this person.

The above is not always the case.
It could also happen that you begin to get irritated and uncomfortable with the ways of this person you met a few days ago. When at last you have figured out why and are able to point your finger to a specific habit or a way of behaviour, you may suddenly realize that this was the very quality you had possessed a few years or even a few months ago.
The way people had behaved towards you on some occasions - distancing themselves, counter-arguing for the sake of it, becoming offended when you did not mean offense - is exactly how you find yourself behaving towards this person now. Back then, you wondered what wrong you had done them. Now you know. The mirror is showing you exactly that.

You feel grateful for having met this person too. You feel grateful to know that you are no longer the way you were, that you have grown, moved to the next level and changed for better.
Most important of all, you feel grateful for the lesson you have learnt from this. “You are entirely responsible for the way other people feel towards you.” Well, almost.
We often talk about being misunderstood, mistaken or misjudged. But, somewhere, somehow, we are responsible. For the impressions we make, for the perceptions we create.

Recently I had an opportunity to meet one such ‘person’. Initially he came across as intelligent and conversant. I have always liked a good argument and I thought that after quite a gap of time, I had met someone who could debate on almost any subject for any length of time.

But within a few days, I began to get irritated. He turned every conversation we had into a detailed analysis or argument. He would pick up a word or a phrase or a sentence coming from me and undertake a microscopic dissection of the same. Sometimes, it would be such a waste of conversation - when I casually remarked about something and he would pick that up for dissection - something or someone that did not even matter to us. It would often be a very trivial thing.

Everything I said would be subject to rationalization.
Sometimes I would feel like screaming “Can we talk casually? Without caring about political correctness of every word, every statement?”

Just imagine, conversation would become such a liability to you if each and every word that comes out of your mouth is subject to rationalization, dissection and then correction by the person you are talking to! If you have to speak deliberately, pausing before every sentence to think if its correct - syntactically, semantically, politically and morally - for fear that the one you are speaking to may pick on something and start dissecting it!

I will leave my friend to do what pleases him. That was just an example.

But surely he got me thinking as to why certain people rationalize so much. I am sure it’s a strain to them too.

After some pondering, I thought, perhaps it has to do with the genesis of their identity. Or evolution of identity. At first they believe that they are rationalistic. And their belief in turn creates in them, a habit of rationalising everything around them, and after a while it becomes their nature. We become who we believe we are!

That got me thinking about my own identity.
As we grow up, groping for identity, we hold on to many crutches for support, before we finally find ourselves. Each crutch represents a phase of our life. Each crutch is an image we have of ourselves in our mind – an image of who we are or who we want to become – impressed upon us by those we admire or trust or want to please. As we carry this image with us all the time and everywhere, our actions and our behaviour are determined by that image and also reinforce that image.

I don’t remember when exactly my search for identity began. When I was 12? 13? My memory permits me to go only as far back as that.

I think that for sometime I found my identity in idolising. I lived in an apartment complex and there were a few boys and girls slightly older than me and very popular among all the children. I idolised one or two of them. I admitted their superiority and would talk about them all the time, about the qualities they possessed and the fact that all of us should respect them and those who had messed with them were the villains. Fortunately, this was for a very brief period and I moved on.

Later, was a phase when I found my identity in moralising. I would use words and phrases like moral values, morality, immoral, moral dilution etc. very often in my conversations. I would categorise all people, all their actions as moral or immoral. After listening to what my people had to say, I would moralize. I watched my own actions carefully, with the intention of being ’moral’ and took pride in lending my tuition notes to those who had wronged me. As time passed, I let go that crutch too.

Meanwhile, I had for company, these elderly cousins of mine who were extremely critical. Wherever they went, they found faults. They judged everyone. They were eager to nitpick. Whether or not the matter at hand and the person in question concerned them. And all this criticising, they did with a great relish. And flourish.
Today as I look back and ponder, I realize that they were groping for identity. They perhaps believed that they had high standards in life. They felt a sense of pride in not approving most of what they saw around them. Most of the people. Most of the arrangements. Most of the world. They were above the others. And this, they had to often prove to themselves with a lot of armchair criticism.
Fortunately, I escaped their influence before they could pass their habit to me.

A few years later, an elder, respected by all, visited our house. At the time of his departure, everyone present offered him their respects. Men prostrated and women genuflected. My mother called summoned me but I escaped saying I had to use the bathroom.
This was my rationale. “By touching someone’s feet, I must admit that I am inferior to that person and he is superior. Since all beings are equal and the almighty resides in all, it makes no sense to fall at anyone‘s feet.”
Thank God I did not voice my thoughts. I would have received a blow!
That was the phase of my life when I was beginning to develop newly, a spirit of scientific enquiry and reasoning. I found my identity in being rationalistic. I began to rationalise. I would use logic and reasoning for everything. Blind faith had no appeal, whatsoever.
My turning into an atheist temporarily perhaps was a result of this “being rationalistic“.

As my intellect developed and I started debating, discussing and conversing about various subjects, with people from different backgrounds, age groups, I enjoyed analyzing and subsequently theorizing. I AM analytical and enjoy pondering over various issues.
This blog would not BE if I weren’t analytical.
But I wasn’t particularly selective about the subject of analysis. I would, for hours together, dwell upon all kinds of issues in this world.
More importantly, it was not always ‘I’ who controlled the choice of the subject. My friends, acquaintances and anybody, for want of occupation, could get me to discuss in length, a subject that they fancied. All they had to do was to ask me what I thought about something and I would start. Then, they would go on countering me, no matter what I said. At the end of all the analysis, I only felt strained. Perhaps, this compulsion to analyse was a result of the image I had of myself – that of an ‘analytical person’. And again, this had to do with identity.

I continue to be analytical but I am also selective. And ‘I’ decide what I want to analyse and whether I want to analyse at all. If somebody wants to dissect a subject that does not interest me, I don’t feel compelled to talk, but simply shrug and say “I am not sure…”

Having said all that I have, I cannot declare that I no longer hold a crutch for support, that I have ‘found myself’. Perhaps a few years, or months from now, I will look back at today to find out that I was leaning on some support, if not holding a crutch.
But one thing is sure. I feel free. I feel freer and lighter than ever before.
Today, I do idolise. I do moralise. I do criticise. I do rationalise, analyse and theorise. But not because I find my identity in doing so or being a certain way but because I feel like doing it. It is incidental, not intentional. There is no compulsion, conscious or unconscious.

It feels so good to spring free from the many moorings and simply drift at will, on waters of clarity, away from a perplexing shore, towards my true calling, as the winds of instinct and intuition guide my path, on which I discover, deliberately and serendipitously…not pearls, not emeralds, not rubies but Myself.

8 comments:

Standbymind said...

Very interesting post...

Pretty Long though!!

Nice Blog :)ct

Rishi said...

Final realization will be simple that all those days you had to be just absolutely honest about everything and not try to put on any act. You will also realize that some people you met on the way, who you thought stood out were people who had some sort of early realization of the same. And some people ages go never get to realize this fact.

Rishi

Ketan said...

Hello Sowmya!

In all honesty, it is after many days that I am reading a post written by you.

And I am very impressed by the keenness of your observation of others and of your own self, and also the clarity with which you could express it all.

But more important than being impressed, your post made me introspect.

If I go by what my friends and a few fellow bloggers tell me, I am possibly the kind of analytical person you described in your post. I many times take pride in that, of course, with this wishful assumption that I am CHOOSING to analyze those issues, which others would not.

But what made me think the most is, what is the genesis of this tendency to analyze?

As I write this, I am trying to be as honest and analytical of my own self. And I have no answer!

It is not that I had idolized someone analytical when I was young. Ever since I remember, (maybe, when I was 7 to 8 years old) I used to wonder about things like exclusivity of experiences despite shared sensations (for instance, could 'I' enter my mom's body to feel exactly how she felt while looking at a star in the sky, which I was looking at?).

It was maybe in fifth class, I realized that a lot of my doubts could actually be answered by things written in text books. And that was the genesis of academic in me.

Somehow since very long, being able to understand and explain a phenomenon has given me a sense of power and pleasure. Even greater pleasure, if I could 'manipulate' the phenomenon with the understanding I had gained.


But at no point, did I try to understand things because I idolized someone who did the same. And also I was encouraged and discouraged for possessing this tendency in equal measures.

Possibly, this urge to be able to understand EVERYTHING is inherent in me (yes possibly, genetic!) and I cannot help it.

This tendency is so consuming that I feel insecure if there is something I would not be able to understand, or if some phenomenon would not fit in with my current body of knowledge.

And I could so very much relate to the feeling you have discussed that is induced by meeting someone with one's past attribute that one can strongly relate with. I really am impressed by your observation. :)

I too avoid touching people's feet [your bathroom excuse made me smile, as I could relate with it :) ]. But my reasons are somewhat different....

Ketan said...

...Firstly touching feet comes with this inherent assumption that there is something inferior or lowly about someone's feet - an idea I detested, because I felt it amounted to partial attitude against feet! And reminiscent of my old theistic days, if God only made those very feet, why should they be considered "dirty" as compared to other parts of the body! But the more important reason, as I grew up was the margin for hypocrisy involved in the act. Touching of feet had been brought down to a level of a ritual, a binding convention, rather than being by choice. Meaning, I would touch feet even if I would actually not respect a person. So, in that sense the act lost the purpose behind it! Also, the second issue was - would it become imperative to respect someone only because they were born long before me? Is respect inspired by a person's thoughts, words and actions or merely their age?

So, I realized touching someone's feet, at least for me, had ceased being a mark of respect. But my current attitude is a very practical one - when situation demands, just touch the feet and keep quiet, irrespective of whether I respect someone or not. Personally, this attitude reeks of hypocrisy, but probably my only defense is that I cannot explain my philosophy to others, so why not keep things simple by just conforming.

I had turned atheist, and still am, and am unlikely to revert back to being a theist.

But the moment I had turned atheist, I had realized being a theist or an atheist was a matter of choice of outlook, and to choose to believe in existence of God would have not been possible to do with complete faith (as by that time I had been able to conceive a Universe which could exist without having a creator to create or 'operate' it). And I would've considered my 'choosing' to believe as a case of intellectual dishonesty. So, in that sense, my reason for turning atheist were more of emotional than scientific/rational.

Later on of course, I started finding the hypothesis of God less and less compatible with the way the World exists, and further less required to explain it. I might blog about all this, and at least then I hope, you will visit my blog once. :)

Anyway, you might wonder why did I write such a long comment?

And also that anyway, I ended up ANALYZING so much!...

Ketan said...

...And that is why I loved your post so very much. It made me think very intensely about myself. And for that I am very sincerely grateful to you. :)

You could consider my comment a diary-entry of sorts, and I can only hope, you do not get irritated by it.

But I chose to enter my thoughts here itself on your post, because your post itself was their progenitor. :) So, you can take my comment on its face value, also as a token of gratitude and appreciation, and lastly as punishment for writing a thought-provoking post! ;)

This was one of the most beautiful, clear and honest blog-posts I have read in the entire Blogosphere up till now.

Take care.

Sowmya said...

Standbymind,

Welcome to this space. Thank you for your nice words... Do come again

Rishi,

Its not as simple as that. It is more easy to know when you are putting on an act. That happens at a conscious level.

But when you are groping for identity and believe you are someone who you are not, it is an unconscious level. You dont even know that you you dont know...

Ketan,

Thanks for all your nice words...

Yes. Its after a long time that I have written a post. I have decided to do more of this regularly. So keep coming here :)

Its ok to try and understand every phenomenon. But dont be in a hurry... Give yourself some time... to gain a better understanding.

As for theism, I have kinda come full circle. I was a theist, turned an atheist, then an agnostic, now a theist again... well almost.

Once again, thanks for your words :)

Anonymous said...

Crystal clear.

Rishi said...

Sowmya,
Ofcourse it is not that simple as I made it sound, if it were why we go through all that. All meant is in the end thats what it will seem, all summarized to the simple fact.
Rishi