What I Learnt in 2019

Japanese Garden, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” — Lin Yutang

It feels as if I’ve spent the past 12 months intensely prepping, cleaning and clearing the decks for bigger things to come. Learning what to carry with me and what is better released – that always feels good. Like a piece of machinery slotting into alignment, while the superfluous bits fly off and away.

Some leaps from 2019

I started pottery classes to get out of my head and use my hands more. My teacher says there are critical life lessons we can learn from pottery, such as how being grounded and centred is an important first step to everything.

While not yet unplugged for prolonged periods, I have consciously been on volume-off and one-thing-at-a-time mode. It feels amazing.

Something in my energy changed this year that made animals move towards me instead of away from me, as had always been the case earlier. In turn, I have gone from being petrified of them to can’t get enough of their love. This is the most profound shift this year in terms of how full my heart feels.

I’ve tended to live two steps ahead of the present, hovering in the future in the hopes of trying to prevent some unspeakable calamity if I can just be prepared enough. As a gesture towards letting this go, I’ve stopped stockpiling. I used to always keep backups (and honestly, often backups of backups) for things like green tea and eyeliner. If I liked a pair of trousers, I’d have to bite back the urge to buy several duplicates in case they stopped selling that model one day. Now I do my best to trust the future will have enough green tea, eyeliners and trousers (and everything else) as and when I need them.

I finally educated myself on being financially savvy (amazingly following through on the one resolution I’d made this time last year). Gathering information was part of it, but a decision to take responsibility was bigger.

It’s never too late to reclaim the parts of yourself you left behind, even in despair and trauma.

I’ve thought a lot about this quote from Dr Kulreet Chaudhary: “Just because you’re on the spiritual path don’t expect that your life will be ‘easier’. It will be richer and ultimately more peaceful, but it doesn’t mean it will be easier. Embrace the challenges as nothing less than the hand of God moulding you into the person you are meant to become.”

I’ve been mentoring young people in the film industry for a while now and this is the advice I most repeat: Do your own thing. Do the right thing. And don’t believe your own hype.

Venice got flooded and I wanted to stop eating meat (meat consumption being the second largest contributor to climate change after transportation). I have so many allergies and food intolerances, this is proving difficult but the intention to do it is definitely there.

A visit to Venice in September 2019 (above), two months before its worst floods in 50 years.

Though I once ran (just about) a 10k race and have loved using kettlebells, I’ve been haphazard about exercise. This year – following a diagnosis of osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) – I committed to a personal trainer who makes me lift very heavy weights. The fear of fragile bones made me start, but getting stronger week by week has kept me motivated to continue. (Last week I deadlifted 65kg – honestly, I’m still doing a victory dance over it.) However, it’s made me realise how rarely I feel embodied in a literal sense; I am often disassociated from my body. So it feels like part of a bigger journey.

I’m taking responsibility for all my choices, which means I can’t keep asking everyone else what I should do (bummer – I excelled in that).

My aesthetic has generally been pretty monastic, but moving into an unfurnished flat this year for the first time in ages – and therefore being surrounded by only my belongings – has clarified my taste to myself. I’m drawn to vintage wood, cotton, linen, ceramic, terracotta, beeswax, tin, brass… humble, organic, handmade materials often in an uneven unvarnished finish. It makes me swoon!

A white home. The ceramic bowl, bottom right, was hand-made by my friend Farhad Dehlvi.
Most of all…

If you spend a lot of time wondering if people will like you, first decide if you like them.

Trust the universe. Get out of your own way.

Only when we face the consequences of our actions do we actually learn from our mistakes.

A true connection can only happen when we are radically honest.

When we think we really want something and it doesn’t work out, life shows us later that it was too small for us.

And finally…

I am really excited about 2020. My one resolution is to be me. What’s yours?

I thank each of you for being a part of my life and for reading my words. I haven’t been very active on the blog this year (because I don’t want to waste your time with inane waffle), so it feels extra special that you have stayed with me despite the long gaps. It means the world to me and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I wish each of you a powerful year ahead, where clarity and purpose keep you buoyant. Where you allow your immense talents to shine. And where love and trust embolden you to soar.

You are amazing, my angels!
xxx Nupu

“I live by two words: gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go. And gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” — Henry Winkler

Although I am no longer active on social media, I’m more than thrilled if you choose to share this post on your end, thanks!

Picks of the year:

In documentaries: Leaving Neverland, directed by Dan Reed, covering multiple accounts of Michael Jackson’s paedophilia, was harrowing and heartbreaking. Meanwhile, Amazing Grace (directed by Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliot), a recording of Aretha Franklin singing gospel in a church in 1971 was uplifting and joyous. Game Changers, (directed by Louie Psihoyos, with producer/presenter James Wilks) which looks at all aspects of a vegan diet was nicely put together, and made better for not being preachy, sanctimonious or gimmicky.

The shows I enjoyed most this year: Derry Girls (ha ha! fab), Unbelievable (easily the best thing I’ve seen all year) and, ohmigod, FLEABAG (the title is not in caps, I’m just writing it in caps because I can’t contain my love and excitement for it). I also saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s original Fleabag stage show via an NTLive recording in London, and she is so talented. And original. And of course hilarious.

My favourite films this year include Marriage Story, written and directed by Noah Baumbach (it’s resonated with everyone I know who’s gone through a divorce). I thoroughly enjoyed The Two Popes, directed by Fernando Meirelles (director of one of my all-time favourite films, The Constant Gardener), which is really just witty dialogue between two old white men but somehow works extremely well. I also loved Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory for its exquisite and heartfelt storytelling.

In fiction, I’ve been working my way through the British Library Crime Classics. The best one so far is Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, a classic 1950s whodunit set in a London law firm. Such fun!

In non-fiction, Greta Thunberg’s No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, a collection of her powerful speeches, is so impressive. I also loved the meditation handbook, A Monk’s Guide to Happiness by Gelong Thubten; every thought is beautifully articulated.

The most eye-opening book I read this year, however, is called Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s based on a psychology model of attachment theory, which I’d heard of before, though never understood quite so lucidly. It’s rare when a book can reframe a part of your life (in this case, romantic relationships) and help you understand it in a new way.

In brief, there are three types of people in a relationship equation: secure, avoidant and anxious. Secure people are comfortable giving and receiving love, and are – in Levine’s words in a separate interview: CARRP: consistent, available, reliable, responsive, and predictable. These are the people in happy marriages I’ve seen from the outside and wondered – how do they do that?

Avoidants can only get so close before they distance themselves again. They like vagueness. They find it difficult to commit, and they refuse labels (or as one man memorably told me after eight months of seeing each other regularly: “we’re not boyfriend-girlfriend, we’re just ‘hanging out’.”). They give you just enough to keep you hooked before withdrawing again, confusing the hell out of you. They’ll say things like “when we live together”, making you believe it’s serious – only to then say they really need their space. The term “crazy-maker” pretty much only applies to them.

The problem with avoidants is that movies have glamorised the hell out of them. You know, that elusive guy (or, occasionally, that elusive girl) who’s inscrutable and unattainable. Except, the movie machine feeds a very toxic lie that makes so many women persist with the guy who won’t commit: that he’ll change once he falls in love. No, he really won’t. Please don’t waste your time.

The third category is anxious. They analyse and read into every tiny detail. They worry that if their crush (or even partner) doesn’t call, then it means they’re not lovable (a secure person in that position, in contrast, would not internalise someone else’s behaviour). Anxious types need a lot of assurance, without which they can act out in a passive-aggressive or manipulative way as a defence mechanism. They are highly sensitive and attuned to others.

Anxious and avoidant types should each find stability with nice and sensible secure types (who thankfully make up half the population), but instead they keep falling for each other, driving each other nuts. An avoidant loves the attention of an anxious type because then the anxious person does all the work. But it’s hell for the anxious person to receive the avoidant’s hot and cold signals, and ends up drowning in a vortex of interminable push and pull.

This book helped me understand so much about human behaviour and dynamics (I sobbed with recognition at times) that I immediately bought multiple copies of it and sent them to friends around the world. Now we jokingly (but also not jokingly) use this model as shorthand to describe people we know. Of course, it’s crummy that it took so long for me to finally learn what constitutes a healthy relationship – and that too from a self-help book – but there you go. Here’s to more enlightened times!

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