How My Old Clothes Saved Me From Depression

On 25th March 2016, around 24 hours before my 21st birthday, I made a very important decision for myself – a decision about clothes. It was not about what I’m going to wear the following day or the days after that but about what I will not wear now onwards; that was a new piece of cloth. 

As I was grappling with recurrent feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty about the future, I thought of diving deeper into what I thought constitutes me, rather than drifting away from it. There was a need to associate myself with my belongings; no matter how much they’ve been neglected since then. In a constant rush of ‘becoming,’ I had diluted the significance of what unifies me with my innermost wanting and never asks anything in return. What is it that embraces me the way I am and never looks down upon me for what I choose to be? This pure and natural bond of being an association I could only find in a lifestyle that moves away from modern consumerism; a freedom that could only be found in living in the shadows of what shines.

17 months later, now that I think about it, my little pledge to myself, that I so proudly fulfilled, was something more than a decision I took to reorient myself towards what mattered. What may have been a sudden ripple of my subconscious brain now seems to me an escape through which I saved myself, or more like got myself protected. I think I saved myself from the Diderot Effect.  

Diderot, a French philosopher, wrote an essay titled Regrets for My Old Dressing Gown, in which, while lamenting, he explains how the glitter of new things makes us look at the things we already have with disgust. The ‘new’ may symbolise the chronic consumerism of the day, the ‘old’, our neglected possessions, and the process of lamentation may well as be the pain of breaking away from the unity and bond we had imbued with the possession that evolved with us through the thick and thin. Such was the artificiality of the superfluous joy of hoarding new possessions, that Diderot said the following for his new scarlet gown: “I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.”

The state of mind I found myself in 17 months ago, such a decision may have been nothing short of a survival instinct. When everything around me fashioned its wickedness and boasted of its self-constructed significance at the same time, going back to my humble haves and letting go of my have-nots came across as a blessing in disguise. As Diderot said it, poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.

A lot has happened in the past year, things that were good and things that weren’t. However, this little promise that I made to myself, and being able to fulfil it, gave me a bag full of positives to rest my future foundations on. What may come across as a minor lifestyle amend, had a much larger effect on how I see my mental phases nowadays. I still have phases of self-doubt and self-loathing lurking inside my head but now every time such thoughts manifest themselves, I’m able to understand that it is just a phase which deserves a brief and limited period of grief. The grief may be temporary but the sense of control of taking decisions about your own life is permanent.

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On Regrets in The Process of Becoming

We ponder upon regrets, or more like let them linger because we see ourselves in this journey of becoming. Like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, we see our present as a part of a larger destiny; an element in the life optimization process. 

Transcience, as preached by Buddhist philosophy mojo, is the only reality of life. The only thing that never changes is the change itself. When life is lived in moments and every passing moment is marked by a sense of decay, every thought about the ‘decayed’ is just a hindrance to the process of becoming. When we regret, we force to recollect and relive the moments we will never capture again. Such is the weakness of regrets. 

When Edith Piaf agreed to perform at her last concert after the death of her most beloved person, she chose to perform a song titled non je ne regrette rein – which translates as ‘I have no regrets left’. It’s fascinating to see a person who has met with such a profound incident of loss denying even an atom of regret in her system. Edith tells us that regret is not natural and is definitely not connected with our material reality; it’s never about what we have become. Regretting is a hedonistic activity of indulging oneself in the artificiality of the past. Such is the frivolity of regrets. 

So as I was talking about life goals with my dear friend and a fellow law student, my only advice to his long drawn out plans was to move away from the linearity of these very plans. It doesn’t matter how you would feel about your career when you are 90 because the happening of that very event in future in nothing more than a contingency. If we will dwell in anything other than present, we will be taking away our energies from the phase that matters the most in the process of becoming. And that is – now! 

 

Picture: Regrets by Jasper Johns

Middle Name

One day, or

Most of the days, I’ll 

Walk out of that door without saying 

A word

Not to you; not to myself, I’ll

Take my old leather satchel and that pair of blue denim

On me, And 

Maybe, 

I’ll leave the door half open, or 

Half closed. 

Those will be the days when you won’t

See a much of me or what

You think was made 

Of me, you

Will not wake up to what you had of me for

So many years, or months

You might hear a little humming for a while, but

Maybe that neither. 

One day, or

Those ‘most’ of the days,

When you see me leave, or just realise it,

Please remember that I 

didn’t leave from what I thought I didn’t want, but

For what I don’t have, or I

have but I don’t know

I’ll be gone,

I hope not for long

Not for the end or the start

But for the middle,

Of self 

 

Conversations: On Internal Conflicts and How I Perceive Them

He: Why did you disconnect the call for like 5 minutes? Was there something important? 

Me: No, no! I just had to go to the terrace. I didn’t feel right talking to you with a roof over my head. It just didn’t seem right. 

He: Well..! So, where do you place yourself mentally? How’s everything going?

Me: Well, I’m conflicted as usual! A part of me can’t wait to go back to Pune and start the new semester the way I want to. But, a part of me also wants to stay away even from a glimpse of anything remotely college. The funny part is that I’m aware of the existence of these conflicts within me but I still can’t do anything to resolve them

He: I think it shows your maturity as a person. In your case, knowing that the conflicts exist is mostly an exciting thing for it gives you challenges to prepare for. Something that I know you so passionately adore.

Me: Aaaah… Well, I would put it differently. Earlier, when I had a lack of self-understanding, these conflicts were more like temporary baits that used to lure me and sway my attention towards them; only for me to realise the depravity I felt afterwards. I was unaware of the fickle nature of my overambitious head and that made me feel extremely devastated at times. I was clueless about the reasons behind the things that were happening to me. But now, after years of learning about self, I am at least aware of the nature of these dispensations and the fact that they exist. I know that I as an entity is different from the conflicts that I carry within and thus I should be minimally affected by them. 

He: So you think it works for you somehow?

Me: Kinda! Like now knowing this fact about myself has changed the entire matrix of mental response to the rise of such internal conflicts. As I see them as periodic but inevitable guests of my overly ambitious conscience, I see myself dwelling in peace and calmness whenever such conflicts arise. I no longer panic or enter this horrid phase of self-doubt. I as an individual is above the inhibitions in my psyche. This is a very empowering yet peaceful understanding that I’ve acquired. 

Probably the reason why I’m having this conversation about my internal conflicts while taking a stroll on my terrace with a beautiful blue sky over my head and the chirps of migratory birds dispelling the evening silence speaks volumes about how I see my conflicts. The nature around me is a metaphorical representation of how I feel on the inside – big, calm and purposeful.  

Oasis

I measure freedom with the

Stretch of my

Hands, my palms facing the  

Sky, fingers  

Stretched.  

I dance today in my stillness, I fly

With the winds unseen, I give up on the

Retreating rays of sun, in the sky, 

All I see, 

Is Blue.  

I whirl my storms in an utmost peace, the

Silence sings my fortunes

I flow through

My trajectories in every sip of 

My tea

Take me nowhere, but here

Take me somewhere, but there

I dawn my light in 

This evening,

See love,

In nothing

And everything

From Have-Nots to Havelock: Understanding the Alternative ‘Now’ of Life

Between ‘one pint down’ and ‘thinking about another’, a conversation happened. Like most of my social outings, I didn’t exactly plan to meet the other party to that conversation, but I guess it happened for good; or, it could not have happened any other way.

Sitting on a jute mat at a quiet Naga café, the guy across the table carried a life story that was very fascinating. In a capsule, he got drunk one night, booked a ticket to Andaman Islands with his friends and then never came back home. As much horrific it sounds at this juncture, the follow-up is just so dreamlike. He fell in love with the scenic nature of the Islands and decided to settle down there. To his good fortunes, he immediately got a job at a tourism agency with a humble pay for which he bade goodbye to his job in the States. Five years fast forward, he’s now a diving coach at Havelock Island (Andaman), has a girlfriend and is still dwelling in a small studio apartment where he comes back to sleep after his enchanting tryst with nature.

Now, with this sort of a lifestyle set as a premise, there wasn’t much left for me to boast about my life – a law student surviving on optimism and slugging through competition. However, I did feel a little hit in my wits (maybe because of that second pint that I finally decided to take) that made me think the other way; to see through the romantic construction of his life. It may have been anything else, but as of now, I think it was that one thing that he said during that conversation that caused the hit – how it feels like to live in the ‘now’.

A remote island 1220 km away from south-east Indian coast, Havelock Island is a much neglected, strategically significant and naturally gifted Indian territory in the Andaman Sea. This faraway land is much closer to nature’s bounty; devoid of accessible mobile or internet connections. It is in this environment that this friend of mine found a home like nowhere. He said that it is like living in the ‘now’; detached from the strings of past and future. The only access to the news about the ‘parallel universe’ comes from a newspaper brought to him once a month by foreigners working in his organisations who get a permit for only 30 days and need to return to their respective countries once in every month. So, it is the music of the winds and the vistas of the stretched out sea that entraps his conscience for the longest duration of time – a form of liberation, as he puts it.

Does that mean that the life I lead or is led by some of the people that I know is not lived in this idea of ‘now’? And, is it even worth harping about? Well, to each its own, can be a possible answer. However, to me, it looks more like an excuse than an explanation. So I thought more closely about it and did come across with certain explanations.

There are two ways one might feel like living a life of this diving coach from Havelock. First, it is a natural calling motivated by one’s deepest understanding of self or coming to know of the same. Second, the romantic construction of such a life in one’s head, more like a reference group, without understanding the correlation of the same with one’s understanding of self. I think for my friend, it was the first case that motivated his decision; even though I don’t know much about him. However, to a lot of people, it may be a motivation falling under the second category.

The information we receive about these referential lifestyles is mostly asymmetrical. We often tend to focus on the broader bright side of such stories to feed the voids existing in the understanding of our own life. This is how we create some sort of a mental equilibrium (or at least try to do so) by feeding hope and aspirations to an apathetic conscience. ‘Grass is always greener on the other side’ is a phrase generating from the similar mental construction. There are many philosophers and movies that have vividly romanticised this idea of ultimate liberation – a detachment from all possible human connections that take us away from nature. But is it the only form of liberation available or is it just a form of resignation disguised as one? I would say, it’s neither.

Nature itself asks to move away from structural and linear interpretations of life. The constant movement and mutations of smallest of cells is a reflection of the degree of diversity we are capable of. So, in this particular understanding of nature, the liberation and the lifestyle as fashioned by my diver friend becomes ‘one’ of the many choices available. Something which is neither smaller nor larger than the life we naturally desire to live and not romanticises about. It requires a much deeper and honest understanding of self to differentiate between the one wanted and the one fancied. So, the diving coach doesn’t live in the ‘only now’; rather, he lives in the ‘alternative now’ and so do we.

If I’m a person who seeks to outgrow his space and predictabilities associated with his identity, I’m a person of movement and not resignation. For me, liberation lies not in finding solace in a static life closer to nature but optimising my potential and energies in understanding the diversity this nature offers. This doesn’t put the orientation opposite to mine in a less important pedestal. It just gives me space and authority to respect and love the alternatives that I wish to choose for myself. There’s no pitting one ‘now’ against the other. It is about recognising self and nurturing it within the various alternatives of ‘now’.

So, as we bade goodbye to each other and I headed for an eagerly awaited family function, I settled my bill and scribbled a little note for my diver friend that read –

“I would love to walk your land, or the only land you know. I would love to wrap my head around the liberation that you understand. But I will soon grow different and might want to sail away. For the island that brought me liberation once, might also bring rising waves within that hit the rocks hard and then retreat back to the sea, defeated.’

 

Japanese Theater of Kabuki: Understanding the Existent Invisibles of Life

We often neglect the life led between the realisations of narrowly perceived moments. It’s like we hopscotch from one landmark to another without ever thinking about who draws the line between the two; and why? In this never ending movement of ‘becoming’ we often push much of our life to this interlude that interests no one. In other words, we construct our own invisibilities.

Not much, but some remarkable observations have been made about the existence of this invisibility. No matter how much ironic it may sound, but the phrasing of this phenomenon as existential invisibility rather than a non-existent entity is a deliberate choice. We may rightly force a non-existent thing into oblivion, but doing the same for an existent but unperceived entity calls for some serious consequences. Therefore there have been deliberate attempts to unmask the invisible and one such attempt was conducted by renowned economist Adam Smith in his theory of laissez-faire. However, the so called unmasking doesn’t involve some sort of creating a visible form of the invisibility. Rather, it endeavours to make the invisibility a part of constructive human conscious. As we can see in Smith’s idea of invisible hand, the invisibility is not given a perceivable form but is provided with a characteristic in order to recognise its existence and the effect of the same on our functioning.  

So why is it so significant to not only recognise but consciously understand this existent invisible entity? An answer to this question can be obtained by observing a practice in traditional Japanese theatre of Kabuki. Commencing during the Edo period, Kabuki is an erstwhile avant-garde theatre of Japan which is now seen as a form of classical theatre. Kabuki involves characters staging folktales and ancient Japanese classics while being dressed in elaborately designed kimonos and hair dresses. Since Kabuki is aimed to generate a cathartic feeling within the viewer, the operational activities which are not part of the main narrative are often cloaked in order to avoid distractions. One such operational activity is the job of a group of men called kurogo.

Kurogo are part of the theatrical construction but are not part of the narrative. Their task is to provide props to the actors so that they can perform their roles according to the narrative. So how are these existent invisibles incorporated? Well, kurogos are dressed in all black and their faces are covered with a black veil whenever they appear on the stage. Japanese theatrical convention considers black to be invisible, hence the dress. Kurogos, much like Smith’s invisible hand, provide the actor with all operational needs required to reach/achieve desired moments/goals. Whenever they appear on the stage, the viewer has to neglect their presence and consider them to be non-existent. They are instrumental in actor’s central decision making process. So much so, it would be hard to imagine the fluent movement of the actor’s story without the unrecognised interventions of the kurogos.  

The very practice of kurogos unsettles me to think about our own real lives. Both history and chemistry have proven the causal effect of moments in life. In this world of claiming opportunities, more like seizing them, there is a lot that happens that is often pushed aside as non-existent; as interlude. The movement from one landmark to another is physically impossible without crossing the territory that connects the two. This very territory, coupled with the mental instrumentality of self, constitutes the existent invisible of human beings. This is our kurogo.

Our kurogo doesn’t have a definite shape or form. It manifests itself both as animate and inanimate substances. Sometimes it can be your cab driver who takes you to work everyday without delay or the trees in your neighbourhood that make sure you get enough oxygen to survive another day. Just like Lego, we are scattered pieces of various shapes and sizes that are brought together to be made into a meaningful entity by these very kurogos. Our life, our journey, our becoming, all is incomplete and impossible without the effort of our existent invisibles; our kurogos.

So, now that we know that there exist some invisibles in our life that play an instrumental role, the next question is, how do we recognise them? How do we make sure that they stay forever? Honestly, the answers to these questions lie in forgetting. Yes, after consciously understanding the existence of certain invisibles, the next stage is to make your unconsciousness active. By this, I don’t mean to push humanity into neglect of its most faithful helpers. Rather, I want humanity to forget that it exists outside or independent of these very existent invisibles. I want humanity to stop perceiving its kurogos as invisible and start imbibing itself with them instead.

If you want to know how this can be done; how we can imbibe ourselves with the most selfless caretakers of universe, with our kurogos, kindly read my next post that gives an insight into achieving the same.

 

Resignation in Japanese Poetry

Murasaki Shikibu, if not dissected psychoanalytically, represents a landmark of women literacy in the history of the world. As court lady in the ancient Japanese empire of the Fujiwara period, Murasaki pens down what is seldom referred to as the first novel in the world. 
Murasaki is able to write a sort of historical account of her period due to the proliferation of Chinese language in the elite circle of Japan. Daughter of an imperial aristocrat, she was exposed to the learning of Chinese which was seen as a status symbol for the high ranking families in the region. Even though Japanese relations and actual cultural importations from China were put to halt by her time, she does create a cultural bridge between the prosperous Chinese civilisation and her own northern city of Heian Kyo (modern day Kyoto). 
 
In her massively popular The Tale of Genji, we see quite an insightful account of Japanese socio-cultural life of the early eleventh century. Out of many themes, what marks the depth of the entire novel is the spiritual element that Murasaki is able to grasp and reflect upon the circumstances of her real life. After the death of her husband we see the reflection of Buddhist ideas of impermanence and universal transience in the poetry of Murasaki who herself was a devout Buddhist.   
 
Buddhism (Tendai) came to Japan from the Chinese hills and became the dominant religious faith during Murasaki’s time. The Mahayana Buddhism and its principle of resignation from the sorrows of the world reflected heavily in the Japanese poetry of the ancient period; even though the same wasn’t followed to the letter in practice. 
 
Japanese Buddhism was fascinated with the concept of fleeting nature of the world and the same can be seen in this poem from the Nirvana Sutra:
 

Brightly coloured though the blossoms be,
All are doomed to scatter.
So in this world of ours,
Who will last forever?

So in Japanese Buddhism, the memento mori should not be a grinning skull but the images such as scattering of blossoms or the yellowing of autumn leaves, which served to remind them that all beautiful things must soon pass away.
 
Inline image 2
Izumi Shikibu 
 
The host full of women Japanese writers of the period include one of the most emotionally intellectual poetess Izumi Shikibu. In her poetry, we can find an outspoken lamentation about death and illness. This is an excerpt from a splendid and one of the heart warming poems she composed, and this one, she wrote on her death bed:
 
Yo no naka wo                                            
Nani ni tatoemu
Asaborake
Kogiyuke fune no
Ato no shiranami. 
 
Yo no naka wo
Nani nagekamashi
Yamazakura
Hana miru hodo no
Kokoro nariseba
 
Kuraki Yori
Kuraki michi ni zo
Irinubeki.
Haruka ni terase
Yama no ha no tsuki. 
 
This was translated by Arthur Waley:
 
This world of ours – 
To what shall I compare it?
To the white waves behind the boat
As it rows away at dawn
 
This world of ours – 
Why should we lament it?
Let us view it as we do the cherries
That blossom on the hills
 
Out of the dark
Into the dark path 
I must now enter:
Shine on me from afar,
Moon of the mountain fringe 
 
The same lamentation about the fleeting nature of life can be seen the sombre dispositions of Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji is heavily preoccupied with evanescence and death. She writes (in her diary) – ‘If only I had been more adoptable and respond to the pleasure of this fleeting existence with a little more youthful enthusiasm! In her verse she writes:
 
Like the waterfowl that play there on the lake
I too am floating along the surface
Of a transient world 
Apart from lamentation about the sorrows of life, we see a sense of understanding of the transience nature of the world. Another Japanese writer Sei Shonagon writes about the death of her mother – 
 
The moaning period had come to an end and as usual time was hanging heavily on hands. I took out my psaltery and, as I dusted it, plucked occasionally at the strings. Now there was no longer a taboo on playing music, and I reflected sadly on the transience of this world.
 
And finally Murasaki writes – 
 
As I walk across the bridge
That spans the Ford of Yume
I see that this world of ours too
Is like a floating bridge of dreams 
 
Japanese poetry of the ancient period cumulatively reflects the theme of resignation, an ideal so central in the teaching of Buddhism. Even though the subject matter focused on resignation, the very act of writing and creating a body of literature that is homegrown, shows a complete opposite of it. As the eleventh century marks the blossoming of Japanese indigenous culture, after centuries of Chinese and Korean imitation, the idea of democratisation of art and the aesthetics itself have something to cry and take pride at the same time. 

Of Lovers Once Here

Just sit back and stare at

What your eyes show you of this world

Of this lagoon,

Of the sky that is on the edge of being delusional.

Just sit back and stare

With your leather satchel by your side

This is not a divided world, This is

What you left for what you have

The time is running, the rain is on its way

Just sit back and stare,

There won’t be much left to see