The Angst of Guilt!

Have you ever felt that sudden perplexing yet completely fathomable emotion sweeping you heartwards, going down to your stomach and traveling to your ears that go warm and then feeling your throat constrict? That sudden clenching of the jaw, the clenching of the palm and this sudden urge to lash out? Yup, been there done that right?

Before you nod your head or shrug your shoulders like, “so who doesn’t feel anger?” pause. Anger has many hues. The colour of anger born out of injustice is different from that when you’re frustrated, or when you’re trying to prove a point to someone stubborn, or when you feel jealous or from someone’s apathetic attitude. But when someone nonchalantly makes you feel like you’re wrong, and dips into the bowl of guilt hiding just under your skin, you yearn to scream. Every time.

So tell me: has it ever happened that you’ve answered emails promptly every time and then that someone who usually never bothers to respond let alone on time looks for an opportune moment and asks when you, on that odd occasion haven’t responded, about why you haven’t responded?? How do you feel? Guilty, angry, both? It gets my goat.

What about those times: when you’ve always made it a point to call people and wish them well before they embarked on a new journey in their life – an engagement, a baby, a new job, a new house, – and they never ever bother to actually keep you informed in the first place, because you’ve always heard it from someone else?

Or wait a minute: or that very thoughtful post that you posted on FB that got perhaps 10 Likes and 5 comments, versus someone who only posts pictures of some banal stuff in their lives and it gets about 110 Likes and 78 comments? How does that make you feel?

Or or or: you wonder how not to wear your heart on your sleeve and show your dislike and disgust towards really Ugh! people and their attitudes, who are just plain unlikable, and then you see other known people doing a marvellous job of sidling up to them and pretending that they’re the best people in the world? You do start to question your own attitude don’t you? Like, is there something I’m missing here? Somebody? Anybody? Please, tell me?

And hey remember that time: when you’re supposed to be invited to a very important but intimate family occasion, but all you get is a hand-me-down invitation from associated family members? And the ultimate groundswell of humiliation swallows you up when you learn that this very family actually deigned to bill and coo an invitation out to some other associated family members but couldn’t pick up the phone and call you? Wow! Talk about being shown your place! Or like some people I know would say, “really? oh don’t feel so bad, she/he’s like that only”. Yeah, right!

Yup, so these things happen in our lives as we live day-to-day. You may think why make such a brouhaha about it. But I can bet you that you’ve felt miserable about similar happenings in your life and have felt a minor (or major) twinge and let it pass. Because you’ve shaken your head and thought, “Ah, it’s okay. Why make such a big thing about it?” You’ve sometimes writhed in humiliation, hurt, pain, disappointment and that ugly little five-letter word called GUILT has bared its fangs and dug deep into your heart. Sheesh!

It can make you toss and turn as you wonder if it’s only you who feels hurt. You justify other people’s miserable behaviour, and even more jaw droppingly,how no one ever says a word. Hush is the sound that emanates from these hallowed hearts. And a smile that doesn’t reach their eyes, but hey, when the world gets by on theatre, what’s a little pretence eh? While Guilt continues to pierce deeper and deeper into your weak little poor heart.

“Is it me? Why don’t others say something? Am I just a funny person with a hyper sensitive psyche? Or maybe that really horrible person is not so horrible after all and everything I feel is a chimera? Maybe, maybe it’s time to look at my hurt and disappointment and anger in a different way? no no, wait, actually I’ve got to forgive myself and free myself from this chain of thoughts that keeps me imprisoned in my mind. Yeah right, everyone is good, everyone is pristine, you must really understand how they operate, maybe they didn’t really mean something even though their behaviour was obnoxious, because perhaps the rancid smell of stale relationships comes from your mind not theirs. As if you don’t put your nose up in the air and give people the cold shoulder. Why does it bother you so much? Oh look, they’re best buddies and how amaaaaazing they are no? How thoughtful, cheerful, fine specimens of humanity.” (And all you want to do is shout out loud, A-Hole! Bitch!)

On and on and on the carousel of the mind keeps turning, with angst and guilt following each other. While you twist and turn and gripe about it, these “people” who so expertly make you feel at once, guilty and angry go about their lives so surely, amassing adulation and confidence, empathy, sympathy, even admiration. Yuck!!!

“Hey, so can I treat you out to lunch because I’m a really nice person and genuinely think for and of other people and their sensitivities, and you, yes I know you never bother, you’re blinkered and you only call, talk, share when it’s convenient, or not at all, but yet, I’m asking you, would you like to go out for lunch today?” (Can I hear someone piping up and saying, how come you asked him and not me? And the spiral of angst ridden guilt or is it guilt ridden angst starts the slow churn.God, I need a break!)

From now on, I’m going to try and see if I can lead my life giving other people ulcers. Must be nice methinks to be a little callous, a little selfish, a little self-centred, a little blase, a little snooty and have people falling all over you no because you’re so “cool”? Because somehow the world wants you to believe that it’s all about being lovable and gracious and compassionate and sensitive and loving and forgiving. But sometimes, just sometimes you want to say, Bullshit! because these people are serenaded by the world, while you and I and the rest can end up licking our wounds in the hollow of our pillows, with our silent queries, ‘what did I do wrong?’ Go figure!


Fears, Mine – 2

We all live lives of imperfection and yet we cling to this fantasy that there’s this perfect life and that our leaders should embody it. (From Mathew Santos’ speech in ‘The West Wing’ – Season 6, Ep.22)

They’re showing re-runs of ‘The West Wing’ here in India. I’m hooked on to it. It’s fascinating how we humans have created ideas and concepts, for how we should rule ourselves. It’s gobsmackingly entrancing to watch the political machinations that are in play in the self-proclaimed ‘most powerful nation on Earth’. How people lie, cheat, pull strings, commit perjury, infidelity and yet somehow manage to stand tall and do what is right. Yes, it’s intense, extremely smart, for most parts beautifully written by Aaron Sorkin, masterfully enacted (one needs to take lessons from Allison Janney aka C J Cregg in one of the best etched characters for a female actor ever, and that’s IMHO) and so real. Who cares if the sets are not the exact same way as the real deal, who cares if it doesn’t exactly work like this in the actual west wing. I care about the characters – righteous, brilliant, brilliantly funny, with a sense of repartee and rejoinder that is almost inhuman it’s so bloody good, cocky, determined, insistent, persuasive, sly, compassionate, heroic, loyal and everything else in between –  who are like me and you, whole, flawed and oh so perfectly imperfect. Which is what makes it so eminently watchable.

Yes, we do live lives of imperfection. Perhaps it’s the law of the Universe. Maybe when the Big Bang happened, it created so much noise that it deafened the sound of perfection. And thereby created an eternal, gnawing, insatiable greedy desire for that which is unattainable. Perfection.

When I see myself in the mirror, I see thinning hair, sagging tummy and breasts, dry skin, gnarled hands, a butt that is no longer as firm as it used to be, teeth which are just about holding up, and then just when I’m sighing in mute acceptance of that which cannot be changed, I look at and into my eyes. I see a fierce brightness, a smile, a soul that’s so bright, a radiance that cannot be diminished and a perfection that is hard to beat. I catch my breath. And then the moment passeth!

I don’t look at myself in the mirror with such care and devotion everyday. Most days it’s cursory. For the longest time I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror in public places. At a restaurant, hotel, office, airport, anywhere public, when I visited the cloak room, I really wanted to be cloaked from the prying (?) eyes of others. I couldn’t look myself in the eye with confidence. I would never be able to run a quick comb through my hair or darken my liner. I was afraid. I was ashamed. What would these beautiful women (everyone other than yours truly was always prettier) think of me when they saw me? Would they be thinking, ‘My what an unpleasant looking woman?’ or would they go, ‘she’s dark, she’s a loser’ or would they not think I was worthy of any momentary attention at all? I was probably the most focused when I was in the cloak room – in, do your thing, out – and didn’t really dawdle, linger, gossip, or indulge in vainglorious practices, ha ha ha ha. I never showed up for myself. I let myself down. For what?

Fears, mine:
I’m ugly and people will find out.
I’m dark skinned and perforce, always be inferior to those who’re fair skinned aka pretty women.
I’m short and don’t have a Size 0,2,4,6, figure. Men won’t ever desire me.
I’ve got big teeth and my jaw line and profile are all screwed up. No guy will ever dedicate a song to me at a fete.
I’ve tubby fingers, broad feet, fat thighs – people will laugh at me when I wear nail polish or tight jeans. Ewwww!

As I write this, I feel ridiculous. Just reading these statements makes me wonder why I’ve held on to it for so long. Couldn’t I have known, seen, understood? I guess not. It’s very difficult to be a detached, non-judgmental bystander peeking within and figuring out how to heal.

Where did this come from? Where does it stay? Who is its bedfellow? What is its purpose? Why this self -deprecatory dialogue intent on sucking the soul out of my soul? How long will it continue? Does it deserve to continue? Am I so weak that I’ve let this dialogue show me the middle finger in open defiance?

Questions that I’ve been wondering about all my life. Fears, fears and more fears. Like I wrote before, fear is essential. But it’s up to me to decide how much, when and where it can be called upon to play it’s part. It’s time to say STOP! And flex my brain muscle and heart muscle and belief muscle. It’s time to put the fear into fear.

I’m whole. I’m beautiful. And everything that God wanted me to be. And proud to live my life of imperfection.

—  Thank you Joe Cocker :).



What have you failed at today?

I was listening to this interview that Jonathan Fields had with Sarah Lewis and she mentioned something there about Sarah Blakley, the founder of the multi-million dollar company Spanx, whose story incidentally is an inspirational read for every one of us who dares to dream of doing something daring. So anyway, in the interview, Sarah Lewis (they both share the same name, just realised) apparently talks about how her father would ask her and her brother at the dinner table, “so what did you fail at today?”.

Pause. Mull. Take the question in an imaginary glass, sniff it, sip it, roll it over your tongue and then swallow it. Does it create a warm fuzzy feeling as it slides down your throat or do you start spluttering because it just wouldn’t go down well with you?

What have I failed at today? Little do we realise that it’s our failures really, all the small ones, the big ones, the stupid ones, the funny ones, the egg-on-your-face ones, any kind of mistakes, failures and slip-ups are what teaches us to be smarter about it the next time. If little gorgeous miraculous babies were to give up at the first instance of a fall when they’re first starting to get over the crawl and learn to walk, well we’d all still be crawling on our fours wouldn’t we? Doesn’t it strike you as strange that as we grow up, more aware, more insightful, the things that we dared to earlier, only get more and more fearful as time passes by. We fear:

a) ridicule – the egg-on-my-face, what-will-people-say moments when we fail (notice I say when, because failure is a certainty that we honestly don’t want to embrace)

b) comparison – she did-it-so-well and she’s so goddammed successful why can’t it happen to me or with me or to me? Yeah. Stop. Did you ever ask “her” or “him” about his journey to the success that you have ascribed them to? Why don’t you ask and be prepared to hear about their travails?

c) judgement – now this one is a classic irony – we yearn to be successful because success to most of us is about the external approbation and the applause and the camera flashes popping in our faces and the people gushing about how “successful” we are. Yet, yet we fear these very people’s judgement about us if we’re not. What is success if not a judgement by the very people we fear of failing in front of? (Now that’s a tweetable).

d) censure – people who have our backs will always encourage us to go out and really s-t-r-e-t-c-h our limits and bask in the flowering of our potential as we do so. The muscle of potential really does get all warmed up as we s-t-r-e-t-c-h and practice everyday. Slowly, little by little by little we get better. Watch The Karate Kid, one of my favourite movies, to understand how practice helps. But we don’t want to put our time and effort into it. We want mastery in a day, sorry, in an instant, NOW. And when we fail, we are afraid of censure. Are we strange or what?

e) being left behind – we’re not rats, yet we call it a ‘rat race’. We’re not rats, yet we have books alluding to rat food, “who moved my cheese”?. In fact if you see ant behaviour (and there are myrmecologists who’ve devoted their lives to the study of these wonderful tiny creatures with big hearts and will), you’ll be blown away by their intrinsic discipline that is so individualistic and yet works so amazingly in groups (read this fascinating article on Swarm Theory here) as well. So why are we equating ‘living’ to a race? I just want to live freely, happily, connectedly, joyously and doing my own ‘thang’. Why should I be afraid of you? Beats me. Always has, but the heartbreaking truth is that we end up beating ourselves over it. We’re our own worst enemies.

f) not coming first – winning is everything. Or not. Depends on how you want to look at life. And how you define winning. Winning, success, failure, are not just adjectives in the language of life. They can make or mar us. Coming first in school I remember was the ‘big’ thing for me. When I came 2nd when I was in the 4th grade and got rebuked by my folks, I honestly felt like I’d let them down. That was perhaps the beginning of ‘wanting to please other people’, and the fear of failure. It’s okay isn’t it if you don’t come first? But then the guy with the podium finish is the one who gets all the endorsements. Ha!

g) shame – what does shame mean to you? this is perhaps the most inexplicable yet one of the most powerful emotions that can elicit a visceral reaction, can have us bound like a mummy in our own fears and keep us from truly blossoming out into the fabulous human beings we are. Shame. I hate that 5 letter word. Because we internalise it, we make it about ‘me’, we make it about ‘not being enough’ we make it about ‘never being good enough’ and we eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Jesus! We need to chew it and spit it out.

h) guilt – what is guilt? is the flipside of shame? Perhaps it is. It gnaws at your innards, brews toxic emotions and suffuses your being with this toxicity that is a drug that you are addicted to all your life. No amount of detox helps. Guilt has you firmly in its grip. But guilty of what? If I have to be convicted for:
being myself, being flawed, being quirky, being imperfect, being ‘too much’, being my true unique self, being non-conformist, being politically gauche or savvy, being a free ranger, being anything goddammit that is at its core being human, then yes, I am guilty. I want to listen to the beat of my own drummer, not yours. Is that alright or what?

When and if we are able to traverse this rocky road of the fear of failure, it is then and only then that we come to a self-assured, perhaps tranquil and “indifferent to a world-view that defines success” place. Yes, it is only then that we have truly arrived. It is time we rejigged our internal GPS to point us in a direction that is N-E-W-S (North, East, West, South). How does it matter? It’s your direction, your definition, your path, your life. Go fail.

And while you do so, please do share with me how you failed today, or tomorrow, and what you learnt from those failures? Did you feel misery, shame, guilt or were you able to take it all in your stride? Sharing is caring, I invite you to do so. Lots of love.