“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anaïs Nin
On most cities’ roads, cars are at the top of the hierarchy. Not so in Bombay, where I am at the moment, and where I more often walk than take cabs. Here, it’s a free for all. I used to panic about stepping out when I first came here, but now I see – and enjoy – how it works.
There is a vague nod towards traffic lights but, really, however you’re moving – car, bus, bicycle, auto, motorcycle, push-cart, on foot – you just keep moving. You pause, you lose. So you hustle your way through. In this vast teaming humanity, you stand your ground.
Out of the current
In a podcast episode titled Beloved Community, Tara Brach spoke about how on a holiday she swam out to an island. She was swimming after a long time and felt amazed at feeling so strong, athletic, balanced and capable in the water. On her return swim, she felt the opposite – winded and unbalanced, and requiring much more effort. She then realised that she’d been swimming with the current in the morning – she just hadn’t known it. She compared this to white privilege, of not noticing how many doors in this life open for you.
And so it is with anyone secure in the establishment or the status quo. And how oblivious – and/or disdainful – they can be of anyone who’s not. Many years ago, a childhood friend said to me about gay people: “they can be gay but why do they have to talk about it?” Now, we had just spent the entire weekend catching up on each other’s lives, exchanging stories of boyfriends and romantic escapades. If I were gay, I would have either had to stay quiet or pretend to conform to her expectations.
This is what many of my gay friends in more traditional societies still have to do. And I can’t blame them. The pushback is severe, ranging from social ostracism to death.
Our world is designed to be smooth for those in the establishment. For everyone else – whether by choice or, more likely, because they don’t qualify – we are swimming against the current.
I can’t pretend to be fighting the same battles as my gay friends. But it’s taken me this long – I’m 43 – to finally accept that many traditional norms I’d been taught as beneficial don’t always fit with my own values and heart. It’s taken me this long to stop fighting it.
The career ladder leading to a corner office, marriage, 2.2 kids, stability, routine, the retirement fund – these have never appealed to me, though I would often feel guilty for not wanting them enough. Or, I would imagine that if I achieved those benchmarks – which are, after all, proven symbols of success and happiness for so many others – then I too would feel content.
Now I release them with relief. Now the real work starts: finding what it is I do want.
Living by others’ rules leaves us hollow. We go through the motions, wondering why we don’t feel quite as fulfilled as we should; wondering if this is all there is. We can expend a lot of energy rebelling against it too but, as I’ve said before, defiance for the sake of non-conformity means still being defined by someone else’s rules. Instead, we need to each figure out our own.
When we examine what moves us – away from others’ expectations, cleansed of our social conditioning – we come closer to our own truth.
When we are centred in ourselves, we are not threatened if other people don’t act as we do. If we’re grounded in our convictions we don’t need to proselytise – or become defensive. We don’t need others’ approval or validation. We just are.
Standing our ground
As for me, I know I would rather stumble and fail then stay in one safe place for the rest of my life. I enjoy change and challenge and adventure, of feeling exquisitely alive. Even if the experience ends up painful, it is worth trying something that could shake up my world order. I want to reach the end of my life with crazy good memories, not regrets.
We are each here for a brief moment. All we can do is love, laugh and share. All we can do is keep moving. In this busy, overcrowded world of ours, there is enough space for all of us to be who we really are. And in this vast teaming humanity, we need to demand our own right of way.
“It is so ordered.” — the Supreme Court of the United States, granting same-sex marriage rights across all 50 states, 26 June 2015.
This film examines the role we still expect men to play in today’s world; the difficulty of accepting a woman who chooses to have many partners; how a family unit can disintegrate with one wobble. Watch Force Majeure from director Ruben Östlund for a potent look at our expectations.
Having always had close gay friends, I used to consider myself an open-minded liberal. But it took regular listening to this podcast, Savage Lovecast hosted by Dan Savage, to normalise all ways of being. I am now far less judgmental and critical of anything that is not familiar or that doesn’t conform to my way of living. I’ve learnt that we like what we like, and that it’s more constructive to manage that well than to deny it.
“We have a romantic ideal in which we turn to one person to fulfil an endless list of needs: to be my greatest lover, my best friend, the best parent, my trusted confidant, my emotional companion, my intellectual equal. And I am it: I’m chosen, I’m unique, I’m indispensable, I’m irreplaceable, I’m the one. And infidelity tells me I’m not.” Esther Perel tells it straight in this TED talk, Rethinking Infidelity: A Talk For Anyone Who Has Ever Loved, one of the most insightful talks I’ve seen in a long time.