“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” — Carl Jung
I have always been enamoured by the idea of change. It evokes romantic notions of reinvention, of transformation, of fresh starts.
When I came to Dhaka nearly a year ago, I wanted to rest my head on my mother’s lap and exhale. I was desperate to get away from my depression in London. So much so that I wasn’t deterred by “going back” – to the place of my birth, to old histories, to memories so obstinately stale I could never shake the sepia-toned feel of it.
Now, after 11 months of being soothed, comforted and nourished by my dear mother, by home-cooked food made with love, and a sense of emotional and psychological security no money can buy, I am looking outward again.
People who know me well, like my sister, predicted this before I even came to Dhaka. You’ll want to move again, I was told.
But I insisted that this was the new, improved me, who can actually stay in one place, put down roots and be, you know, normal. Conventional. Grown up. Mature. Like my infinitely wise and sensible sister.
The desire to move isn’t about leaving everything behind. I’ve moved around too much already to not have learnt by now that wherever I go, there I am. I can’t ever escape me.
It isn’t even about travelling per se. I read with awe about people swimming with dolphins or climbing Machu Picchu. I hope I get my turn too, but I’m not driven by the urge to see the world. (I’m also an appalling tourist – I lived right next to the Duomo in Florence for a year, and I can’t recall ever climbing to its top.)
No, this is about going beyond surviving. As the saying goes, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” This is about the exquisite awareness of my – of all – existence, of being alert, and of being present in the moment.
This happens with falling in love. And, for me, it happens with moving. It’s not about running away from life, it’s about running towards life.
I had gravitated towards my film life partially because of its stop/start full-on/full-off intensity. But it was also frustrating. I once spent five years trying to get a film off the ground that, despite major Hollywood names attached on every end, never got funded. After one disappointment too many, it stopped feeling like an adventure.
I changed direction and got a nine-to-five. I went to work during the week and had weekends off. I scheduled holidays in advance because I had only my allotted vacation days. After the erratic nature of freelance film life, I was kicked to receive a pay cheque every month. I marvelled at my transformation into a responsible adult.
Only this life of “balance” didn’t bring out the best in me. Once the novelty wore off, I became bored, seeing the same pattern of days recycling itself over and over towards infinity. Like the Jeremy Renner character in The Hurt Locker staring at the long aisle of cereal boxes at the supermarket.
So I gave that up and went to write in London. But its very greyness (and it can be endlessly, torturously grey) got to me after some time, and I traipsed over to my mother in Dhaka.
Which brings me back…
I know. I sound like someone who will never be happy. But on the contrary – bouts of clinical depression notwithstanding – I consider myself to be an extremely happy person. And an incredibly lucky one. I have my health, my brain, my family and friends.
It’s not despite the surround sound of love, comfort and gratitude I feel in Dhaka that I want to move. It’s because of it. Because it nourished me back to where I feel strong and capable again.
And because I miss that feeling of arriving somewhere and not knowing how to navigate it – a feeling I haven’t experienced in about two decades (in film production, we would schedule toilet breaks if we could). Even my sister, that paragon of sensible planning, reminded me how pre-internet days, we would land in a new country and stand in a queue at the tourist office to book a hotel room.
We trusted the universe to deliver what we needed for that moment. And it always did.
I miss having a clear sense of my days; of saying “May 1995” and remembering exactly what I was doing where, every month monumental and sharply delineated, instead of bleeding into one another.
I miss having no plan. I miss not knowing what’s coming next. I miss steep learning curves. I miss adventures.
I miss being me.
In a way, I’ve designed my life to be untethered enough to roam. Hence the pared down possessions, no kids, no traditional career – hell, no real residence. Perhaps in more determined moments, I’ve removed the excuses that fear brings up – as it inevitably does – when I contemplate moving.
But in my previous approach, I would go from black to white, from zero to 60. I had an all or nothing mindset.
I blame it on my infatuation with transformation. The idea that I had to wipe the slate clean every time I made a change. But, of course, true reinvention is not about becoming someone else. It’s more like peeling off the layers to get to the core of me.
If we are all born with darkness and light, it is our responsibility to bring out our light.
And mine beams by going somewhere new and getting lost. It feels like a rich way to learn about the world and myself. It connects me to humanity. It awakens me to my blessings. It teaches me often my toughest but also most gratifying lessons. Sometimes its very discomfort forces me to re-examine all that I take for granted.
At the same time, I equally love the comfort and ease of being in Dhaka with my mother. Of her unwavering and anchoring support, affection and love.
The old me would have left one completely to have the other.
The new me says I’m choosing both. For now.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as transformation. But there is definitely evolution.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Malcolm Gladwell said recently in the Observer magazine: “The biggest mistake we make is trying to square the way we feel about something today with the way we felt about it yesterday. You shouldn’t even bother doing it. You should just figure out the way you feel today and if it happens to comply with what you thought before, fine. If it contradicts it, whatever. Life goes on.” Read David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell and re-examine our well-preserved notions of human behaviour, interaction and strategy.
When asked why he didn’t follow up his phenomenal success of Seinfeld by producing other sitcoms, Jerry Seinfeld on WNYC’s Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin replied: “How do you want to be on the water? You have to decide if you want to be on a surfboard or if you want to be on a yacht. I don’t want to be on a yacht. I don’t want to be on a yacht just to show other people that I have a yacht.” How encouraging to learn that when he could have done anything (namely, expand his empire), he chose to do only what he loves: stand-up. Not a bad choice, considering he continues to top lists of highest-earning celebrities year after year.
A comic’s story that started as a chapter on the radio show This American Life was turned into a feature film. Watch Sleepwalk With Me, starring, co-written and co-directed by Mike Birbiglia, based on his own life. Where being the nice guy who avoids confrontation leads him to do in his sleep what he can’t face doing when he’s awake. A neat parcel of funny and bittersweet.