It was the longest thank you.
“Be choosy about choosing and you will choose well.” These were the words of author Sheena Iyengar, above her autograph. After reading her magnificent creation in 2010, “The Art of Choosing” I was so moved and, I dare say, so inspired that I felt compelled to thank her in person. “Thank you” - it takes less than two seconds to utter; it took me 45 minutes! I hesitated to request her autograph because she was visually impaired. She asked me if I would like her autograph. I wish she could have seen me smile.
It wasn’t always like this.
It used to bother me when one piece of potato in my curry wasn’t properly fried. It used to irk me that my best friend hated my favorite actress. Once, when in my teens, I flung the remote control on the wall when India lost a cricket game. I had non-intestinal digestion issues – I could not stomach the fact that my teacher bought another student a watch for his birthday! Yes, I was a pugnacious brat. But as I dug deeper, I started to realize, courtesy of Professor Iyengar, that I was clearly not being choosy about the things that could make me a temporary insomniac.
It was unexpected.
As I started identifying the things related to my core values or my identity, two things started to happen, one good and one not so. I became relaxed around the choices, or lack thereof, around everything outside that nucleus. Suddenly there seemed more to enjoy in life, more to take in my stride. In short, I gradually felt liberated from many of my obsessions. But when it came to those things – friendships, emotional generosity, even writing, to name a few - that I continue to hold very dear to me, I started being more protective. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing but when you over communicate around your obsessions, you cannot always expect people to think, “It is only four to five things that he is protective about. Let me stay out of it.” Instead, I found that there were enough people to pounce on my vulnerabilities. Why? It might have seemed harmless fun, a way to mask their insecurities or an opportunity to vent out pent up emotions stemming from a perceived inadequacy. The reason doesn't matter at all. Scratch that. It does matter when you bear the brunt from people whom you did not expect to behave a certain way, where moving away even emotionally is difficult. That is when it hurt. Deeply and abidingly.
It happened once…twice…now, I have lost count.
Thanks to close to a decade of meditation, literally and otherwise, I have largely curbed my temper and impulsiveness. But I quickly realized that when you rid yourself off anger, you have to find other ways to express. Where I used to flip out, I now try to reason out. But I know that it does not work all the time. With a couple of people that I have gradually distanced myself from in the recent past, it was clear that my efforts to communicate my needs fell on ears that weren’t deaf as much as purposely stuffed with cotton to mute everything that I was stating. The longer the rope I gave, the more nebulous the person at the other end appeared. Beyond a point, I didn’t want to keep track of the number of instances where these people dismissed, mocked or, worse, attacked passions of mine. But as much as that caused searing pain, it opened my eyes to the true value of people that love you for who you are and wish the best for you. These are also the people that know how to retain levity and laughs in life without crossing just a handful of boundaries that I have drawn for myself.
It was hidden in plain sight.
As I ruminate on Dr. Iyengar’s words, being “choosy” extends to people as well. Letting one’s guard down in front of all and sundry is a recipe for disaster. As some sagacious soul once said, life is the opposite of school. You don’t learn and then take tests. Life gives you the exams and then teaches you the lessons. Still, I wish I could have minimized my hurt somehow. But…c’est la vie.