5 Gentle Learnings from an Aggressively Existential Year

The majestic complexity of 2018 (read ageing) cannot be summed up in a few words. It probably is a culmination of several existential conversations with friends, books that I read, choices that were made and the experiences that followed these choices. And since the peak and end rule demands that we remember this year by it’s most intense points and the ones closer to the end, here are my favourite juiced out learning bits of 2018.

  1. Obstacle is the way

Ryan Holiday in his book, Obstacle is The Way, said it best, “ What stands in the way becomes the way.” in short, to grow you must suffer. In order to grow you need something that is brutal, something that breaks you and throws you off centre. But if you’re in the hole (Bandersnatch, anyone?) don’t dwell in your suffering, accept it and have the audacity to fix it. And if you’ve ever been denied the audacity to act to your free will (Bandersnatch? Not yet?), you’d know what it means to get that opportunity again. It’s simple- everything in your life is your responsibility. You should expect to be treated unfairly, you should know that things will be hard, and you should be ready for stress and pain.

Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

Psychologists call it inner locus of control. For me, getting knocked down by stress eating into severely unhealthy lifestyle cycle and initiating my fight back out of it has required all of my mental muscle. I am not even half way there, and it has needed every bit of change ranging from environment, habits, and creating artificial delights & motivations to keep myself going.

We craft our spiritual strength through physical exercise, and our physical hardiness through mental practice. Mens sana in corpore sano- sound mind in a strong body (taken from the book)

2. Being selfish is the best choice you got

This one needs repetitive reading. I have often times struggled with saying “no” and many a times it has cost me my mental health or de-prioritising something more important. Both are rather inefficient ways of going about life.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert Principle in his book ‘How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big’ says: There are three kinds of people in the world: selfish, stupid & burden on others.

That’s the entire list. Your best option is to be selfish, because being stupid or a burden on society won’t help anyone. By “selfishness” he doesn’t mean the kind where you grab the last doughnut so your coworker doesn’t get it. That wouldn’t be enlightened selfishness because that sort of pettiness can bite you in the ass later, and it might rob you of some energy if you feel guilty about it or you get caught.

The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with you family & friends. If you neglect you health or your career, you slip into the second category- stupid- which is a short slide to becoming a burden on society.

3. Art is a cure

I did a bit of travelling this year and came back soaked in some knowledge of art, exposed myself to new music artists, ate some good food and discovered new poets to read, and felt my soul was every bit nourished through it all. Art exists all around and you don’t have to wander off to far flung places to find it.

Museo Del Prado, Madrid

Museo Del Prado, Madrid

The art antidote is like a dual edged sword- only one that works wonders and not only for the ones who consume it but also for those who create.

If you find yourself in times of emotional excess, art helps you articulate, process and even overcome. This self-renaissance can be induced too- by using any form of emotional excess to create what you know best. Anais Nin once wrote to her 17-year old mentee in a letter:

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.

4. There is a centre & you must find it

Do you start the day in a calm or reactive state? Do you end the day feeling nourished or depleted? How about during the middle: Are you focused or scattered?

Your answer to all these questions all relate to the centre. Centre of Awareness is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual.

When you’re out of centre, one thing is certain: you’re not breathing properly. When your mind is racing, your breath is coarse.

Variation #1: Observe your breathing. Don’t try to change anything; simply observe the involuntary process of breathing. Let the mind follow the body, not vice versa.

Variation #2: Take deep, slow, rhythmic, quiet, breaths from your belly.

If this creates tension, breathe from your chest a few times first before focusing on your belly.

Just practicing 5 mins of pure silence where I focus on my breath followed by creating a bucket list for the day has made all the difference to energy levels. However for maximum impact, growth would look something like this:

Consistent Practice/Diligent Effort + Right Method = Growth

5. Memento Mori

Or “remember that you shall die.” The concept of Memento Mori dates back to the Medieval times, reaching its peak during Renaissance period with extensive depiction of death using biblical characters in art. It is not just a macabre skull architecture cult that it may seem to be, but it literally depicts the transience of life and detachment from all things materialistic.

Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

The concept, still relevant today, not so much as a death knell but as a reminder of living each day to its full potential. Be grateful for today, tell your friends & family you love them and often, contribute constructively to the society, and be kind to those who may need your patience & support. The world is a-changing: create an impact! A few years ago, at my first Fashion Revolution event, literally 5 people showed up. Creating a community of people and awareness around the debilitating effects of fast fashion, seemed impossible. This year, along with other communities & brands, we have been able to mobilise hundreds to people to attend over 10 annual events, only in Delhi alone.

It’s only upwards & onwards from here.