You are good enough

Some periods of life are too close and too real to write about.

For a number of months now I have been unemployed. I have been clinging by a thread to normality, in a seemingly unending precarious spiral, feeling at times the only way out was to cease existence. This felt a logical solution to the fact I couldn’t afford to live. If I just took myself and the price of keeping myself alive out of the equation, the burden would lift. In short: it’s been dark.

There are many essays to write about the unequal damaging structures of higher education and the perpetual precarity and anxiety they foster for the many that struggle for those few elusive jobs. The competition began to consume me. Feeling palpable envy of those of my career stage who got the fellowship I applied for but didn’t get, or who had more publications than me, or who won a special prize or got the job straight after the PhD.

This background noise plays out in the daily routine of job searching and job applications. Starting out with the naive assumption that if you meet the essential and desirable criteria on the person specification then you will get an interview. Envisioning the possible futures every time you submit, and then the waiting. All the waiting, checking the inbox over and over, and sometimes, often just nothing. I started to get so used to the rejections that when they came I often couldn’t even remember applying for the job in the first place. I was rejected from the type of jobs I did before the PhD, as though I was slipping further backwards, the PhD a huge wasteful burden that made me ineligible for a minimum wage.

The handful of interviews that punctuated the waiting and nothingness became increasingly more weighted with importance. I got more and more desperate and thus more incapable of performing at an interview and getting out of the spiral. I loathed the circus of interviews, the performing, all that energy poured into 30 minutes of questioning, or a 5 minute presentation. The ups and downs of glimmers of hope followed by desolation. And then hope again before desolation, and so on until the body is so exhausted and drained by anxiety and self pity.

I was haunted by the sentence: You’re just not good enough. I had tried to make my way through the system but I had failed, it was my fault. I read first hand accounts of others, academics trying to find work after the PhD, and they were all framed with a sense of individual responsibility for failure. All the comments below the line declared: you need to publish more, you need to try harder, you need to sacrifice more.

This story has a ‘good’ ending though. It might not have, the spiral it seemed to me was set to continue, and I was at a point where I had to begin considering a different path. In my powerlessness I could only have faith in an ambiguous idea of the universe that would somehow reveal, when it was ready, whatever the hell was in store for me.

Yesterday I received a phone call – from the sort of elite higher education institution I felt so sealed off from – offering me a job. I accepted. Later in the afternoon I received an invitation for a job interview at the University of Cambridge. I declined the interview. I presume that was the universe showing a sense of humour and letting me know: you are good enough.

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a field guide to getting lost

Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you can get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realisation, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone; you can be rich in loss.

Rebecca Solnit (2006) A field guide to getting lost, p.22-3.

etc.

Practice is quieter, that’s for sure. I’m taking myself out of the equation. I’m getting out the way and its taking me wherever it chooses. I’m getting overwhelmed with sensation – I’m easy like that – and I’ll keep coming back for more.

The practice is silently eating ‘me’ up. ‘Me’ – the academic by day (yogi by dawnlight). Though 5am in the city doesn’t really exist. I’m not here, the bodies on the train aren’t here, we’re still in dreams and disrupted sleep. This is some secret hour we stole from the rest of the city, but we won’t ever let on – the ashtangis, night-shift workers, cleaners, baristas – how we see magic in the grimy morning sky over the river.

This ritual expends five hours of the day before I’ve even logged on. The working day shrinks as the kapo tiredness hits me and I spend the afternoons in my subconscious. Its been a little hard to admit that the mornings on my manduka turn me on more than the PhD fieldwork. I made the false assumption that I had to separate the two lives – thats why there’s two blogs: the academic brain and the yoga stuff.

Truth was I was concerned the yoga stuff would undermine my credibility as an academic. Besides it was too personal.

Anyway phew, I’m tired.

What I wanted to collect were some thoughts without a container. Disparate thoughts following a winding conversation on the weekend regarding consciousness, where lies vitality, samadhi, the soul or core self, death and so on.

I’d been unknowingly stifling words by blocking the stream of consciousness that I used to let flow here. It got ugly at times and so I kept trying to pull back. It is within this censoring maybe where my frustration with what I have been experiencing as an incompatibility between my two spaces of daily existence had been bubbling up.

This has manifested in childish bunking off and making rules lax (though this is a good medicine for the active militant in me).

What it is more about is how conflicting it is to carry around these contradictions in models of selfhood, one where the self is integrated within itself, able to present a coherent narrative of oneself, bounded and containing a core. And another self that exists on the surface, integrated with other and all living things, radically relational, and concentrated to the point of silent awareness.

Right now I’m trying to reconcile the two, whilst thinking about the violence that can be done in the name of potential, and being overwrought with sensation that has no place and my vested belief that after death lies nothingness.

Emotions have to go somewhere so the counsellor tells me, so deal with them, complete them else they’ll come back to get you, inhabit you, become you. There’s only so much space and energy that already exists that circulates in and over. So then what do we create? How can we find space? What about encounters that become relations, something is evolving there, being built, a life together. What could feel like bare space becomes so full, so so luxuriously full.

And then a little image from my memory to conclude: A whispered exchange in bed on the nature of consciousness – here is bliss is it not? – and the last thing I uttered before sinking into sleep: “I can only write about sensation, and even then not very well.”

I’m with you but I’m lonely.

There are many dumb things we believe in when we are younger. For me, it was believing friendships last a lifetime. The splintering of hope is all part of the Adulthood process, I guess. And I can feel it right at the fore of my cerebrum, hot and heavy. Some weeks are just wearing.

I write so much about love that it might seem I have a lot of it to give. But I’m just a hitchhiker, I only tune into love as an affect, how it emerges in the spaces between people or how it dissipates. I learnt about the subtle layers and spaces between people first from Gilles Deleuze and then all over again when I was given the opportunity to assist in the mysore class in my shala. Its been an experience too exhilarating to really talk about in a form that makes sense. There’s such a subtle chemistry in the mysore practice room, and it shifts constantly. Sometimes it feels as loud as thunder in there, and other times so quiet it feels exposing. Sometimes I carry too much affective baggage out of that room and other times I slip up and pass on my own bad affect. What you give in an assist is the counterbalance to whatever affective mode is lacking, or not quite working that day. Stiffness meets softness; softness needs strength; you provide the frame in which the student finds the space to feel the posture. And sometimes, especially when you are assisting people twice your size, you are just resisting. I’m not pushing you into the unknown, I’m just trying to keep you on track.

There’s a lot to learn, guiding a person’s practice, and I’m hardly qualified. Though learning to assist, to give, was somehow the perfect remedy for coming out of a period that left me emotionally, mentally and physically depleted. It showed me how the spaces in between can be bridged, momentarily, through the breath. That’s the only piece of advice I could give to any student, if anyone would ever make the mistake of believing I hold any secrets to the practice, just BREATHE. Space opens up with the breath, and not just physically. It allows things to happen, flow out and over, shedding and gaining in one cycle. To allow the touch of another in an assist and to breathe into the posture creates a situation where there is an admission to wanting to become different. This is no small deal. The surrender on the mat is a dispensing with sovereignty, and no-one owes me (least of all) to reveal themselves.

There’s something about that subtle negotiation of space that has little comparison. Love maybe, in theory.

Though without that subtle space in between, love, like a bad assist, can be a colonizing force that forgets the importance of difference. I used to think that the non-sovereignty of entering into relationality was expressed by two people becoming one person. In my story, becoming the same person meant never being two individuals and so being the same person is what ultimately drew us apart. We never had any space between us, no common breathing place. It wasn’t even that we weren’t on the same page anymore, it was a realisation that we never had a page to begin with.

To love is to expect some level of endurance from your object, this is not necessarily based on any hard facts, we just want people to make promises possible for us. This is the world we create through our desires in love. Our attachment to our object and the patience we have for situations that are not working keep us in place, literally. My academic research is fascinated by what happens when we are rejected by the objects we desire. In this situation it is because the object of desire has physically died, and yet psychically still present. Holding on to dead objects is something anyone can do, bereaved or not.

When an other becomes the means of propping up your own image, a lack of or disappointing response can cause feelings of disassociation. This can be minor, they say or do something that makes you feel distant from them. Yet that moment of disassociation can feel like a gulf where once there was relational space. Disassociation is a feeling that is framed by the bad stories our culture tells about ‘the one’ and having a person that is ‘everything’ to you. Disassociating yourself can seem like a defensive strategy when you start to feel yourself begin to unravel. It is not about fear but trying to hold yourself together. Choice and autonomy don’t really exist in human relations; once we’ve realized it, it’s usually already happening. We often are only ever playing catch up with our feelings.

Who knows why it gets so confusing in the space of relationality. Relationality promises equality but attachment is always messy and sticky. The best we can hope for is an equal match in the level of surrender, someone who is game to dissolve with you, without guarantees.