If you have been following The Citrine Room for a while you will know my deep interest in how we think, why we choose a certain path over another, what are the tools we develop to recognise challenges & roadblocks as essential to our growth, and where this journey of self-discovery began for us.
Oftentimes, for many of us, that journey begins when things (sometimes traumatic) happen in our life that are seemingly out of our control yet we are wondering how we got there in the first place. Oftentimes, for many of us, that journey begins when we don't feel we are where we want to be--emotionally, mentally, professionally, personally, and even geographically.
While we often get clues throughout our life in the form of gut checks, instinctive feelings, we tend to put them on the back burner, relegate them to the corners of our minds, places we don't want to explore. We do this because we have been taught throughout our lives what that life is meant to look and feel like, what we are meant to be striving for and should have. We do this because we are told that following "the rules" is our sure-fire path to success and when we get there, we are guaranteed the holy grail of happiness. Yet those rules were set arbitrarily. We probably don't even know who set them--maybe it was our religious leaders, community elders, who learned them from their ancestors. Maybe they worked for a time when there was a need to define a way for a society to be in order to function. But at no point has it ever been proven 100% of the time, that their way was the right way. For everyone.
Growing up in a relatively conservative Indian family with strong ties to the Sikh community, first in Hong Kong and then in Toronto, I was expected to be a certain way, to follow certain rules. Rules such as only dating people from within the community, people who come from "good families" (whatever that means), not moving out to live on my own, only moving out when I got married. I was expected to do well at school and become a doctor or a lawyer because those professions were deemed worthy of pride and honour for my family. While my parents never said I wasn't allowed to go out to clubs at night with my friends, it was expected that I wouldn't engage in excessive alcohol consumption and, god forbid, be seen dancing with men. Because "what would people think?" is a question I was often asked and expressed by my parents.
"What would people think?" It is perhaps a question that has lingered in the dark recesses of my mind for as long as I can remember. For the most part, I rebelled against that thinking for much of my life, even though it was (and to some extent still is) ever-present. I dated people who weren't only not Sikh but also not Indian; I even eventually married a man who is English. Now this wasn't an active rebellion. I was just following my heart. I didn't become a doctor or a lawyer, I became a journalist instead at a time when there weren't many Indian women in Toronto reporting and anchoring the news. I moved out of my parents' home, even out of the country, to live alone in a city where I didn't know anyone, for a job that was a life-changer. I then not only moved away to another country I moved to another continent, and then to the other side of the world. I would follow a path that felt like I was being pulled by a runaway train going somewhere, destination unknown.
It hasn't been easy. Throughout my teenager years I was riddled with feeling torn between wanting to live a life that was mine for the choosing and one that was expected of me. And that has had an impact on the events in my life. It shaped my unconscious self, thereby shaping the choices I made from the people and opportunities I brought into my life to how I allowed myself to being treated. Both good and bad. Good, because while I followed my own path-- the guilt, the sadness, the loneliness that came along the ride, brought with it the bad; where I made choices to assuage those feelings instead of choices that were better for me. That was me living unconsciously, if that makes any sense? I was going with the flow of my life but one that was directed by all that came before me, my childhood, how I was raised, the expectations, my parents' feelings, their experiences--all of it thrown in to a big pot of energy absorbed into my soul like osmosis and permeating every part of my existence.
Until I became consciously aware of it.
Until I felt life had thrown me one too many emotional curveballs for me to finally say, "WTAF?" It wasn't a 'why me?' Rather, it was more of a "what is going on with me?"
And then things began to change. It was as if I took off the filter that had covered my eyes and I saw why I was where I was. Why I chose what I chose. Why I thought what I thought. Why I felt what I felt. Why I believed what I believed. Why I acted the way I did. Why I felt the pulls towards a certain place or a certain person. And that was when I felt the strength to live more consciously aware of my 'whys' and choose a path that was more aligned with my 'whats'--what I truly wanted my life to feel like. And it is a daily awareness, a daily choice, a daily education; an evolution which I know will continue until the day I day.
My parents are good people. They are wonderful parents. Loving, attentive, honest, caring, funny people. They raised us the best way they knew how. What was a big a-ha moment for me though was recognising that they were and are people. It sounds silly but hear me out. We don't often look at our parents as people. We see them as Mom and Dad. We don't look at our elders as anything other than elders. But once I saw them as more than that, as human beings with their own journeys, hopes, dreams, feelings, fears, insecurities, issues, baggage from their own childhood, their life experiences, people who were and are just trying to live their lives, trying to give us stability, comfort, nourishment yet still being these individuals, I started looking at them with compassion and wonder. Now when I look at old photographs of my parents, my aunts, uncles, grandparents, I do so with an understanding of lives being lived their own way in a family, where community was an important source of comfort and sense of belonging, and what that community thought was important too. I think we often forget that about the people around us. That they are in fact, individuals on their own journeys that, before we came along, had nothing to do with us but everything to do with them. That there were expectations placed on them as well. That all that we are and all that we do is learned from the people who were important to them...and so on.
I realised that we are all trying to figure out how to live our lives the best way we can, with the knowledge and information we have available to us. That information is either a conscious look at our thought process, a desire to be more self aware, or it's just surface living; living by reacting to events as they come as opposed to proactively searching for more, proactively digging deeper into ourselves to find out why we are the way we are. That curiosity into my own life introduced me to a new way of thinking, being, and even working. And it has brought me to seeing everyone I meet with wonder, curiosity, and appreciation for their story, for their life. In doing so, it has enriched my own experience, my own story, my own life. It has helped me find my "why."