‘The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.’ ― Gloria Steinem
I was supposed to be in India right now. Previously, I would be so set on a plan, any hiccup would really shake me. That’s because there’s a part of me that takes things literally, and so a plan is a plan is a plan – what do you mean it’s changed? I would say that that’s why film life was so draining for me (film life is nothing but a series of change-of-plans – heartstopping stuff when you’re talking tens of millions of dollars and your neck is on the line).
Either because I’ve mellowed, become more grounded or just grown up, not much shakes me these days. So, although this trip to India had been planned for months, a last minute (unintended) change had me saying simply ‘okay’.
These past few extra days in Dhaka have been rewarding. Even though I’ll be coming back here after my short trip to India, it has the serendipitous feel of old times in Dhaka – when I’d soon be on a plane back to London or Bombay or Boston, and last minute opportunities opened up unexpectedly.
I saw cousins visiting from Chicago I haven’t seen for at least a decade and may not for another decade. I saw a darling friend from Chicago (I know – a lot of Chicago) that these extra days gave me another chance to bond with. I stayed over at my cousin’s place. The last time I’d tried this, I’d woken up wheezing and gasping for breath because of my allergies. It felt triumphant to have worked out what we need to do in order for me to stay over there and wake up feeling fine. And I got my tarot read.
This is all new to me, this tarot business. It was something I had avoided for the same reason I stopped reading horoscopes some years ago: I don’t want to know what may be around the corner – and then get annoyed when all the wonderful things they predict for me never happen anyway.
Also, I knew a woman who worked at a newspaper who told me the horoscopes would come in (pre-email days) by post, and when they didn’t arrive on time, she’d take the previous week’s and switch them around from sign to sign, as it was generic enough to be applicable to everyone.
Despite being assured that tarot readings were nothing like horoscopes, I remained reluctant. There were also various circumstances these previous weeks that had prevented this meeting from happening. Then these extra few days in Dhaka allowed it to finally take place, and I opened myself to the experience.
And it’s true that tarot reading is not about the future the way horoscopes are. There’s nothing ‘predicted’ for me that I have to anticipate or dread. It was a series of questions and possible answers, with gentle guidance from the excellent and deeply empathetic tarot reader. We were in a social setting, relaxing with mutual friends, which I think eased my experience of it.
What is true of tarot is true of any conversation, of any film or book, of anything I engage with: it’s part of a whole range of stimuli I am bombarded with all the time. So when something resonates, it means it’s hit a nerve with something familiar within me that I may not want to face. It’s rarely a ‘new’ idea as such, but one that affects me in the way changing a plan no longer does: it shakes me up a little.
I’m not talking about the things that resonate in a positive way, which basically reaffirm what we already know and are happy to acknowledge. The gorgeous tarot reader gave me some of those and I appreciated them as beneficial reminders.
I mean the stuff that makes us gasp and say, ‘ohhhhhhh’. In my case, it was about something I need to tackle from my past, otherwise it will end up disrupting my future. I repeat: what resonates is what we already know to be fundamentally true but we can be awfully ingenious at ignoring it.
Following this tarot session, I sat with my dear friend from Chicago and we talked, amongst many things, about how we want to be – in this stage of our lives – honest more than polite.
As with so many people I know, we have spent a lifetime being taught to be polite. To always be considerate and ‘nice’. To avoid conflict. To keep the peace. In general, I am all for being considerate. I don’t think we’re considerate enough, frankly (using public transport in London or driving on the streets in Dhaka demonstrates this swiftly and blatantly enough).
But how valuable it is to understand when this ‘nice, considerate’ behaviour stops serving us. When being polite for the sake of avoiding conflict suppresses something deep inside, allowing resentment to build and layer and grow. Until we explode over something entirely innocuous because we didn’t relay our discomfort earlier and now it’s become nuclear.
Sometimes we may feel as if we are getting our frustrations out by having a good argument. But (and this was the case in my former marriage), we can argue about everything except the one thing that is actually the issue. (Not that I could see this at the time.)
And I’ve been realising in that ‘ohhhhhhh’ way today how my being politely evasive is not fair to other parties. That while I may act from the best intentions of avoiding injuring another person’s feelings, maybe this information is what they need for their own karmic progress. My withholding it doesn’t help them, it potentially hinders them.
I’m not even sure it’s easy to get away with not telling the truth to others. I can usually sniff it on other people – it reeks of fear of being found out. It shows up in a calculation of words, conflicting behaviour and a stiffness in manner.
Furthermore, as long as we’re okay with denying the truth, then in that ‘the universe is a mirror’ way, we will continue to attract others who also prefer the sanitised, edited version of reality. When we’re brave to face how things really are, then those people melt away from our lives because we won’t enable their altered realities.
So, I’m seeing this as an opportunity to align my own centre by treating truth with the gravity it deserves. (I always thought I was an amazingly good white-liar.)
Because if I gloss over the reality, or dress it up with something more palatable, doesn’t it just mean I’m unable to deal with the truth myself? For fear of what it says about me, about my life and what I need to do to have what I really want?
And if consistently avoiding uncomfortable truths can turn nuclear with someone else, how does it affect my relationship with me? The drip-drip effect must affect my future. Where, no doubt, the discomfort of dodging reality will eventually overwhelm the discomfort of what I’m actually dodging. It speaks of a life partially lived in shadows. (The truth, after all, has nothing to hide.)
I’m sure if I’d been sitting in Delhi today as I was supposed to be, I’d be having other realisations right now. But instead I’m in Dhaka, making the most of these ‘extra’ days.
If I’m no longer shaken by a change in plans (really, something unthinkable even quite recently), then I may be strong enough to cease and desist on the whole ‘nice’ thing too. To not worry so much about the repercussions of it (mainly that other people will think I’m not nice). To say instead: the truth helps me grow. I hope it will help you grow too.
In youth, it was a way I had
To do my best to please,
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.
― Dorothy Parker
Like the proverb about a person with the soiled face who thinks the mirror needs cleaning, here are some reflections on how we perpetuate this cycle of deceit and pain.
Read about Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy who hates phonies while being one himself. JD Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most enduring influences on American culture and real life from the 20th century.
Watch Six Degrees of Separation for the consequences of when we see others only as we want them to be. Plus, a terrific thesis on The Catcher in the Rye.
From the film An Education, listen to Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy sing Smoke Without Fire. ‘Baby, baby, you’re a liar.’