Sunday, June 30, 2019

Of friends and friendships


I recently read an article called, 'How to end a friendship' in the Opinion section of The New York Times. The author discussed the lack of guidance available about the etiquette of breaking-up and/or dealing with the natural death of a friendship (platonic) as compared to avalanches of advice available about how to end a romantic chapter in ones life. 

That got me thinking.

The article resonated with me while I was reading it. Yes, I have had my fair share of not knowing what I've done/not done to warrant cold spells from erstwhile warm friends. So Lauren Mechling's (author of the article) suggestion :"when the magic dims, the best thing to do is let go." made sense, common sense to me.

However, almost as soon as I had put the newspaper down, a realisation tingled through me like realisations do. I realised that even though I agree with her wisdom of 'letting go', I don't agree with her notion of  friendships being like "beads on a string". In other words, according to Mechling, friendships should be like romantic relationships: you give your all to only one friendship at a time and when the time comes to let go, on account of dimming magic, you close one friendship and move to the next or at least feel comfortable with the demise of an old bond.

Disclaimer: Before any knickers or g-strings out there threaten to get into any twists, let me state clearly that the article was in the opinion section and therefore what I'm about to share with you is also an opinion: my opinion based on my experiences. No facts have been consulted. This post is purely based on experiential explorations of my heart vis-a-vis my friendships.

My all time favourite poet, Rumi and his best friend, Shams of Tabriz, are shining examples of giving your all to one friend at a time, but I'm wired differently.

Mundane acts like moving cities and continents, changing jobs and locations, changing interests and schedules has opened doors to many new friendships for me. But that hasn't warranted shutting doors on my old friends or 'ending' a friendship.

Of course, friendships comes in different shapes and sizes and depths: depths being of particular interest to me.  

Meaningful friendships, the kind that nourish  are very important to me. Some nourish my grey cells, while others nourish my soul and then there are those friends who feed my ambition to do better: to cook better, to write better, to be more organised or to travel lighter, to buy more consciously, to use resources sensibly, to recycle, reduce and reuse. There are friends whose knowledge of books, authors, art and poetry leaves me in awe and every time I spend time with them, I feel like I've been hugged by a library or kissed by an art gallery.  

So while Mechling looks at the individual bead and sees a single friendship at a time, I look at her analogy of  "beads on a string" and see a collection of friendships co-existing side by side, completing the equation of my life, complimenting each other, never competing for attention.

Ambica, my best friend in high school, opened her heart and offered me her family's love when I needed it the most. Asha and Anu were my rocks through college: my go to buddies for food and shelter who were always ready to listen to my latest 'crush' stories. I used to fall in love often: one sided, admiring from a distance kind of love. The kind my adult children find lame and don't see the point of. The kind Asha, Anu and I spent hours discussing and dissecting and drooling over. We pick up where we left off whenever we meet or talk. Time spent apart shrinks to zero. 

Payal and Fakhra, whose daughters were the same age as Arshia, my two year old, when we moved to London, got added to my string of dear friends when we took our toddlers out to the park together, baby-sat for each other, emptied our hearts out about in-laws, husbands and the general grind of busy London life as young mothers.

Angela, Di, Helen, Jess and Jane appeared on my life's primary school teaching horizon and shine brightly to this day. My string of beads would be bare without their love.

My sister and my cousins, my sisters-in-law, my nieces and some second cousins play the dual role of friends and family. Their presence in my string of beads is precious to me.

Doha's easy going pace and the job-free last three years of my life have conspired to add not just beads but entire strings of beads to my necklace of friendship. There are so many friends I've made here that I'm in danger of missing out a name or two if I start listing them all. 

Friendships, to me, are like mountain ranges. 

On bright and clear days, when the skies are blue and the clouds are invisible wisps of  vapour, I can see all the peaks and hills around me that make up my range of friendships. Some seem far away in the past, others reachable after a day's travel and some shine with snow covered peaks in my future. The mountain I'm climbing or walking on at this point in time is the friendship I'm experiencing right now. I do it with all my being, all my attention, all my love, all my laughter and with all my tears and emotions. For the time I'm on this mountain, with this friend, I step with care on her jagged rocks, I relish in her gurgling streams, I see heaven in her alpine blooms, I take shelter in her forests of trees when the sun starts to get too hot. When I'm with her, when I'm climbing this particular patch, I'm all hers, I'm all his. But, the range that holds this mountain, the string that holds this beautiful bead of a friend is also always present. 

If I look at a bead as separate from the one sitting next to it, am I not in danger of snapping the string? When was the last time you saw a mountain separate from its range?

For me, therefore, all my friendships have painted my life's canvas collectively. There are no solo stars or villains. 

I may not have spoken to some friends in decades or they may have travelled far from me in distance or interest, but I've not had the need to 'end' anything to move on to the next. Perhaps, I've been extremely lucky. 

I suspect, instead of letting go when the magic dims, I've learnt to let go of expectations. 

It wasn't always like this. I've been harsh with my words and put the phone down on a friend when I've felt let down by her actions. I've been moody and broody and no fun at all when I felt I was being excluded from plans and parties. I was there, in that land of expectations and 'why me?' woes. 

"Oh! you don't call any more." I've used that needy, clingy group of words too.

It was exhausting to live in that land of expectations. I wasn't happy. 

Anusha once asked me when she sensed I was hurting about a friend's actions, "Did you sign a contract before becoming friends that she should always include you in her movie going plans?"

It was a rhetorical question, of course. But it showed me what I needed to see.

As if by magic, old friends started behaving more gently and generously. New friends walked into my arms with open hearts, their world views not necessarily compatible with mine but it didn't matter.

How did this magic happen?

Almost as soon as I let go of my-friends-are-bound-by-unsaid-and-unwritten-contracts-of-expectations, my friends changed. They all became beautiful. 

I no longer needed to think up of excuses to get out of catch-up-coffee-sessions-which-I'm-not-keen-on-but-feel-obliged-to-attend-or-I-may-be-excluded-from-the-group-and-not-invited-for-the-next-birthday-or-anniversary-celebration. 

I no longer need any excuses. I speak the truth: sorry-mate-can't-meet-got-to-do-yoga-or-write-or-just-be-with-myself works perfectly these days. None of my friends have disappeared from my life. On the contrary, beautiful souls infuse my time with love, grace, home-cooked food and hugs whenever it's needed.  

As a lover of mountains, I know that the path I'm currently on seems closest to me. The light is right for me to see what I need to see to travel this stretch of land, this mountain, this meadow and to bask in the warmth of this human, this friend, this soul who holds my hand and my attention today.

Why do I need to worry about how to end anything when there is no such thing as an end?

We're all connected. 

For me, at least, letting go of expectations has opened my eyes to the vast vistas of mighty ranges of solid friendships that stand witness to my journey of self discovery.

What are your thoughts about friends and friendships? How has your journey been? You know I'd love to hear about your experiences.


 

Wishing you all the sweet fragrance of friendship, wherever you may find it.
Photos taken in spring of 2019, on my way to Kuari Pass

Monday, June 3, 2019

Solo in a Pack

"When you practise on your own, you meet yourself." Giselle, my yoga teacher said softly. She smiled her usual warm smile, her eyes disappearing in the rise of her cheeks, only the shining sparkle of her wisdom shone through. 

I was sitting on my mat feeling at peace with my body. The class had come to an end. Mats were being rolled up, blankets were being stacked neatly and placed in a blue Ikea bag. All the students were in different stages of getting ready to leave. 

It was the last class before a long summer break. To me, it felt like a weaning off session, an attempt by our soft spoken guru to nudge us towards our mats without the scaffolding of her words guiding our limbs, our breath and our thoughts. 

She may have said something after that last sentence. But I didn't hear her. Something about 'meeting myself' made me stop in my tracks. Like a camera lens, my thoughts zoomed in on those two words. The rest of what was being said and done around me faded into a blur.

How easy is it to meet yourself? 

Are we ever ready to make our own acquaintance? Truly and honestly? 

Why do I find it easier to drive to a class to practice than to roll out my mat at home? 

Keeping the raging dialogue hidden inside my head, I  paid up, said goodbye and left. 

When I resist the mat, am I in some way refusing to meet myself? I wondered as I drove out.

I had put my reluctance down to lack of discipline and general laziness. I never thought of it as being unprepared or unwilling to meet myself. 

And what does meeting oneself really mean? 

'Listen to your body', Anusha, my first yoga guru, used to say. 'Don't worry about others, be present on your mat.' 

'How you are on your mat is how you are in your life.' was another one of  Anusha's favourite things to say during a class. 

For me, the words I hear in class are as important as the techniques I'm shown. My teachers' wise utterances keep playing in the recesses of my self, especially the bits that I need to pay attention to. 

Summer is unique in Doha. As the school year comes to its natural end in June, many families move out of the city for good to either head back home, or move to a new place with better job opportunities or to be close to where their children are (at universities etc.) Doha's working population is predominantly ex-pat, so it's natural for the city to be a transient stop for many.

A friend recently remarked how her corner of the yoga class she's been part of has emptied out as many of her yoga buddies have left.

Getting attached to a group of people, a class time-table, your favourite place in the shala to unroll your mat, a sequence of asanas, or even a yoga teacher are all shades of that which yoga is showing us to distance ourselves from: attachment. 

And going back to Giselle's words, only in finding the discipline and courage to make a date with myself to meet me can I hope to distance myself from all the above attachments. Otherwise, any one of the above has the capacity to interfere with my practice.

Being solo in a pack is a beautiful place to be in. 

Often on treks, despite being part of a group and despite respecting the safety codes of trekking (not lagging too far behind or running too far ahead), I often detach from others and walk with myself. It's a beautiful and liberating feeling.

Watching the daisies dance with the breeze, the play of the morning sun on leaves, the dusty clouds that keep puffing out of soles of the one walking ahead of you and rustling leaves are all present like my teachers' words: telling me to listen to the voice inside, to meet the soul that has been given a body that I use to live, to walk, to practise yoga, to write, to cook, to love, to laugh, to sing off tune, to dance with abandon, to dress up in a saree or to spend an entire day in old pajamas, to bathe in waterfalls, to slip on big rocks, to hold a friend's hand, to give her long and tight hugs and to sip hot tea.

"We are not becoming experts.
  We are just finally becoming good students."
Says William Martin in The Sage's Tao Te Ching

As a student, I hope I can use the steps my teachers have shown me to practise the discipline of detachment so that I may meet myself more often on my mat. And in doing so, I can be a better version of my solo self, one day at a time.

Whatever your daily practise, be it a walk in the park, mediation, preparing food for family, writing, singing, dancing, listening, earning money or just being, I wish you all the best. 

I'm writing a blog post after a long time. Bear with me while I flex my writing muscles. The thoughts I've poured out today have been knocking my insides for a few days.

The photos I've shared on this post were clicked in the Himalayas (Maunda and Chakrata) a couple of weeks ago.

Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating .

I'll sign off with these lines from The Sage's Tao Te Ching by William Martin

"Work with passion and energy
at the tasks you cherish,
but connect often with that part of you
that is watching it all happen
with eternal joy and love."
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I'd love to know what you make of Giselle's words. What do you do to meet yourself? Do you do that often?