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     Volume 8 Issue 98 | December 18, 2009 |

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Writing the Wrong

For You (and me) With Maitri, and Auld Lang Syne

Sharbari Ahmed

It is the time of year when we set ourselves up for severe failure. We decide to take stock of the remains of the last year and usually what we see somehow falls short of the mark. It is also a time fraught with desperate expectation. Everyone starts scrambling to “improve” as if to get a head start on 2010. This usually involves going to the gym more or refusing that extra slice of cheesecake or various other cosmetic changes that will not ensure long term happiness unless one works on the inner junk that is bottle necking one's spirit. To paraphrase Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, we convince ourselves that money, prestige, the right relationships or dress size will bring us happiness and if we do not have these things then we have somehow failed ourselves. And yet, why is it when we have all of those things we are still bored and dissatisfied? It was exactly one year ago that I headed to Dhaka filled with hope, fear and anticipation. I knew really only one thing, that this was most assuredly an adventure. Nothing turned out the way I had expected. Actually, it was quite the opposite and I was taken aback at times at how things unfolded the way they did. But, even as it happened I understood fully that this was necessary if I was to evolve at all. Miraculously, for every bit of disappointment there were about one hundred blessings in the form of new friends, new challenges, family bonds, divine creativity, collaboration, and self awareness. I also learned practical things that would allow me to further my career and saw a side to Bangladesh I never would have had I not taken a chance.

I liken my experiences this past year to returning to the house where you grew up to find that your parents have transformed your childhood room into a yoga studio. They are not so welcoming and find your presence obtrusive. You are throwing things off balance as they have moved on and want you to. No one in your town seems to recognise you because frankly you have changed a great deal. However, you do not see that yet and you take it personally-- a fatal error, because nothing is personal. The park where you played as a child is a strip mall. Where the see saw once was there is now a Korean nail salon. You walk around, searching in all the old familiar places, trying to find something that will tie your past to you or everything that you knew. The very landscape has been altered.

So what does one do in such a situation? Does one crumble and allow nostalgia and mourning for what once was or could be to overwhelm them, and as a result, get stuck? Or do they shrug ruefully and smile and say, oh well, I guess things are not what I expected them to be. I think I'll just surrender everything I thought I knew and get ready for the next adventure. This is the healthy approach and naturally the hardest one. It is much easier to wallow in victim mode and mediocrity, which I did for a while. Indeed, one can derive a great deal of comfort from remaining in the shelter of Plato's cave. It is dark, and warm, a bit moist (with tears of self pity?); rather like a womb. But you know, none of us is meant to stay in a womb indefinitely. At some point you have to emerge, as painful as it may be. The light hurts your eyes until you adjust to it. The light is key. The doctor slaps your butt and says, “welcome to the jungle!” It's cold, it's uncertain; your needs are insatiable and not met fast enough. It really can suck.

I write this because I know someone reading this is unhappy. It's that time of year; there are quite a few of you out there. Overwhelmed souls, who are wondering why can't I catch a break, either in work or in love or just in general? Another year has rudely galloped by and I am not any closer to happiness or what I thought happiness was.

I am here to tell you, you're just looking at it the wrong way. You are not being punished. I think most people cause their own train wrecks. I caused mine on more than one occasion. If you are lonely or miserable right now, most likely you chose the circumstances you are in and probably spend a great deal of time blaming others for your own hurt. There is good news, however. You have it in you to discard all the illusions, because in the final analysis, if you choose to believe in God, or at least nurture your spiritual life even as an atheist or agnostic, you will know that you are loved. A loved being cannot be alone and must allow for maitri--loving kindness towards yourself. Maitri is a beautiful word. Say it out loud a few times. It's lyrical.

Your pain is not something to be avoided, but embraced. You need to forgive yourself for your trespasses, without pity or regret.

I spent some time in China after high school. My father was working there. He once took me with him on a project. I remember the landscape was stark with dusty brown mountains and very little grass. It was a cold place. I developed a high fever and was in a good deal of pain. One of my father's colleagues said to me, “Focus on the pain, Sharbari, feel it completely and you will find you can bear it.” I did just that and she was absolutely right. I now understand that this also applies to emotional and spiritual pain. When I say focus, however, I do not mean be consumed by it. I mean just stop avoiding it when it shows up and it does so with startling regularity, like that pesky neighbour or freeloading cousin. The more one resists it, the more overwhelming the pain will be. It will most assuredly consume you then and worse still, you will find yourself exactly where you started when the pain began. No movement, no progress. This will just send you deeper into despair.

We were designed to evolve and adapt and when we refuse, we break our own hearts and those of the ones who love us the most. Evolution is, as we know, often violent and disruptive but what is left in the aftermath is always a stronger, better version. The old, redundant aspects of our world have to be cleared to make way for the new. Our lives, its dips and sinews, and cycles mirror nature in so many ways.

I have no desire to make too many resolutions this year. I am setting endeavors instead--that most Islamic of ideas, niyoth (sadhana in Hinduism). Pain is inevitable and I intend to grasp it in a bear hug so it has nowhere to go and just dissolves in my embrace. The rewards are immeasurable, and you find yourself being able to bear the next wave of disappointment and hurt with just a bit more ease and suddenly it just ebbs away and what you once thought of as pain is suddenly transformed into opportunities.

So if I may, please spare yourself unnecessary sadness. Surrender all expectation, note all unknown variables with a question mark and surrender those as well. Make no resolutions, only set intentions and I guarantee 2010 will be the best year you have ever had. Though don't sit around expecting that. Funny how that works.


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