I’m wide awake.

The thing about growing older is the realization that the dream of finally living life, of becoming a ‘real’ person is only that, a dream. It’s the devastating realization that the life you are living right now is all there is and that you are no longer secluded by that childish voice that declares: ‘When I grow up I’m going to be…’ You’ve grown, you’ve lived; the surprises peter out from here.

And each day comes round no matter how distant they appear at first, a year seems such a long and beautiful or dreary stretch as a child. A year now is too soon and too quick and too easily forgotten. A year has to be tied to a meaning, a purpose, it has to be collated with activities. What did you do to clutter your days? And what of the days, weeks, years forgotten, for if we cannot remember our lives, we are stuck in the continual present of active forgetting. We do things in order to remember them or write them or capture them in art and elevate them from the day-to-day drabness.

Growing older is a continual loss of all the persons you could have been and all the things that could have happened. It is a process of collecting efforts and successes filled with hard work and varied encounters and lots of nothingness and loneliness and failures and happy accidents. It’s happening upon unhappy events and wandering through them and being changed or chipped away by some indescribable forces like loss and grief and friendships and relationships that fall apart. It’s sitting at a table on your 28th birthday surrounded by beautiful faces you never even knew existed a year previous to that day. It’s seeing a life a year at a time instead of daily, and reflecting on whether you lived up to the expectations of your age. It’s wondering why I feel so childish and naive and innocent at an age where I should feel experienced and skillful. But it’s also about being able to confidently say what you mean and losing the irrational insecurities of youth. It’s an incomprehension of girly fixations on weight or looks and beauty and seeing the fleeting and empty nature of it all. It is feeling ambivalent about the prospect of losing looks which you feel you have yet to be rewarded for.

It’s thinking about what really matters. It’s thinking about what makes a good life. It’s the heavy beating heart that keeps me awake at night and the object in my eye-line. It’s not about feeling good but it is about desire and unwrapped sensuality. It’s about love but not obligatory love for the self or the body. It’s a journey home filled with love and happiness that feels both too much and not enough.

It’s about choosing to perform what is considered a normal life and trying to make that meaningful or a radical rejection of what is already not working. It’s about building ways of living outside the dream of the ‘good life’ that are not hopeless. It’s about never getting ‘back on track’. It’s about exploring unbeaten terrain. It’s about ways of living that are inappropriate and happy failures. There’s no self-realisation or rebirth or new identities or other temporary cages. There’s only the finite and the haphazard search for a life worth living.

What dreams may come.

Here’s an idea. Don’t attempt bhujapidasana whilst menstruating. Wearing trainers. In a boutique on the Kings Road in Chelsea. Apparently it was impressive. I can’t even remember the last time I did a sun salutation. Truth is, the body is failing me. I’m sick. It was the city what did it.

Here’s an idea. A week of sleep. Solitude. Writing. Practice at dawn. Woods. Endless mint tea. And perhaps some cake.

I once believed life could become what one desired. Actually that’s bullshit. I was always acutely aware that life was persistently disappointing. And still I believed. I believed not that my dreams would come to fruition. I believed as if they could happen. I had no reason to believe as a child there was much purpose to my bleak existence. And yet I believed as if there was a grander purpose. Perhaps all those Sunday school teachings of my childhood will never quite leave me. But to believe as if ones desires can happen (even if reality suggests the contrary) can in Kantian terms mean progress will ensue. Believing in the beauty of possibility can allow things to happen.

But how to distinguish progress and the mere fact of the passage of days, that is to say, not dying. Can progression not be understood as merely the act of awaking each day realising one is not yet dead and then endeavouring to actively do stuff. I am not dead I might as well clean that window, I am not dead I am going to have an omelette for breakfast, I am not dead lets pay that credit card bill. So can my life be considered as a progression or just a clutter of stuff I did whilst not dying. I am not dead so lets do that degree, I am not dead so start practicing ashtanga yoga. I am not dead so lets go to Mysore, India….

A bit of a morbid perspective perhaps. And not to mention constructing a world view dependent on the absence of a negative (if we must consider death as negative) could lead to fatalistic qualities (not an awful proposition in my personal view). Yet I am often puzzled, what comes first: the belief or the doing? Is it not that we fall into things and then in retrospect say oh yes this is what I always dreamed of? And is it not that dreams are always altered by reality in some very mundane detail?

To believe always feels a little ridiculous as well. I have started mumbling to people that ‘I write’ when asked that foreboding question “What do you do??”. I remember declaring to my mother shortly before she died, that I wanted to write. My 15 year old self had finally articulated this urge that had always resided in me. To write though, not necessarily to be a writer. I was not into categorising my passions into job titles – nor am I now which is no doubt to the detriment of my “career” (i.e. my distinct lack of).

To state my desires was not to believe they would happen nor was it even an act of believing as if they would happen. Rather it was a statement that did not contain any performative qualities. A statement that did not bring about the desires declared. It was a statement made in spite of the reality, and in spite of my beliefs in what could happen. Perhaps “I love you” can sometimes act the same way – a non-performative gesture that is used without taking the action it declares, to love, and something believed in often in spite of the reality that reveals the ridiculousness of its purpose, and in spite of a reality that will shape its course (for better or worse).

Though to make the utterance is a performative gesture in and of itself, for to make the declaration: I want to write, I love you, brings about a new situation in which the desire is finally articulated and thus made real in the sense of being dragged into a shared present. The declaration believes in itself – it believes as if it is true – even if the speaker does not.

To believe as if feels like an exciting exercise. To believe as if feels vital even if I do not believe in the possibilities of the materialisation of my wishes. It feels like something I should cling to. It feels like I should embrace the ridiculousness of believing and just wait a while and see what dreams may come.

Quandary

Don’t let it be forgotten that a little goes a long way. Mini-practice today. Admittedly dragging the fat-slug carcass of my body around the mat was not a pleasant sight. But still, after the desert of 6 weeks (? – I’ve lost count), the practice is there.

Somewhere in this summer sadness it all started to fray. At some point I will finally wake up and I will look back on this time as a mere messy interlude.

And then the other night the worst feeling; the feeling that I could do anything and I didn’t care. Reaching out for limits, but I grasped nothing. No parental guidelines, no need to prove, no obligations, no repercussions.

Is this the landscape of freedom?

“So what do you do?”

“What made you do that?”

I don’t know, I don’t know.

In Mysore I was traumatised with the realisation that I had no idea who I was. In abandoning the objects that created meaning to my life I suddenly felt weightless. I kept looking inside for a core but there was nothing tangible to hold. Where did I begin and end? All there was, was the moment. And a brief embrace of something like home.

Always too busy getting attached to people, to the objects that replace the people that we lose, to promises of love, to easy ideals. Stepping to the front of the mat, a fear is present. In the silence of a solitary practice I become overwhelmed with thoughts of death.

How to replace something when you don’t know what you have lost. I feel it but I cannot be conscious of it. It’s too large, incomprehensible. Staring at the sun; it burns.

I pretend there is nothing to mourn. I don’t need you, I don’t need anyone.

(Come back, come back.)

I would return, I would go home again, but there’s nothing there.

And then during my practice I am struck by a memory. In the shala. Led practice. Utthita hasta padangusthasana. A guy starts to wobble, losing his balance. In an attempt to stop falling over he starts hopping around on his standing leg in a frantic manner. Sharath looks on bemused. “No dancing!” he calls. I laughed so much remembering this.

To Return (Home)

“Whenever I was home, I wanted to get away, and whenever I got away I wanted to go home again.” – Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Sometimes I wonder if certain things will ever change. Actually no, I wonder if certain things are even meant to change. I have been so enamoured with the possibility of transformation, of escaping (one’s self/environment/bad habits), that I have failed to acknowledge the importance of those parts of life and of my sense of self that remain resolutely unaltered.

Recently I have been longing to leave Mysore. The routine of the days no longer comforts me but leaves me feeling trapped. Though escape from Mysore is not possible so instead I sleep away my days, finding a familiar refuge in my obscure yet increasingly repetitive dreams. On waking I am initially nestled in the pleasant suspension of all realities where I do not even remember my own name. But then the burden of context descends and I feel heavy again with the knowledge of my present and my blurry and indeterminate future.

As the night continues to refuse me sleep and my mind chooses to escape the day in slumber, dreams and realities merge and my skin grows paler, lacking the stability and sunlight the daytime hours bring. I realise the patterns of my days here in India remain as incoherent as my life before, back ‘home’. Staying up late, eating too much of the wrong things, spending hours drinking tea alone in a cafe reading, staring into nothingness and feeling restless. All with the persistent thought in my head of wanting to escape – no a persistent pounding of my heart, my heart, that longs to get away… But I am away and as I acknowledge this I am engulfed in a panic; even in my escape I am not freed from whatever I am running from.

And so is what I long for to go home again? Yet wanting to go home – this is a futile longing for someone such as I who does not have a home. How to reconcile this dilemma? This ambivalent back and forth motion of dissatisfaction? It is feelings like this that my yoga practice can normally remedy, even if it is only transitory. But now my practice is failing to fully save me. As I leave the shala the emptiness is there waiting for me in the early morning darkness, enrobing me once again. I hurry back to my bed to shed its overbearing mass in the lightness of sleep.

But still the sleepless nights torture and the clock measures out my impatience, my anxiety. Another day left unresolved. And again the long unbearable wait for tomorrow, for the start of another day. Another day in which I will escape over and over again in pointless journeys that lead me back to the same place.

I keep writing the same story. Perhaps it is time I gave up my childish expectations of transformation, of change, of escape, and began to learn to resign myself to the impermanence and unfulfilled nature of life. Maybe then I will finally find my way home.

Home (to return)

I am walking through the overgrown garden, grass up to my knees, wading across the lawn. The unruly stems and branches of the surrounding bushes and trees appear almost grotesque, hideously deformed from their previous groomed shape. The garden thrives on its neglect, out of control, greedy it feeds upon the loss. I enter the house, as ever it is empty, silent, cavernous; I am alone. A languid warm summer glow illuminates the rooms. Ahead I see the front door, slightly ajar, light lurking around the door’s edge. I hurry towards the door, it is open. I push it shut but it swings back again, the glow from outside overwhelming my vision. The open door fills me with an unspeakable fear. The fear of someone (thing) inside the house, intruding in my home. I try once again to seal the door. Panic.

As I begin to acknowledge that my time in India must come to an end I wonder where to go when I leave. People speak of going home – ‘when are you going home??’  But where do you go if you have no home? If my home is wherever I am then to where do I return? Is home not just a fiction we construct to enable us to feel secure so that even if it remains a lie, at least we feel assured and contained in our illusions.

As I am met with ambiguity in my life – the precariousness of my future, the lack of vocation, a restless disposition  – I struggle to form a home inside, a stability dependent on neither people nor place, wealth or possessions. But to find this home I must first dissemble the home of the past. In my dreams I find myself continually returning to one place. The house of my childhood. Even as I actively seek a new home in my waking life I return to the only home I know. As much as I wish my imagination to be free of this ghost I protect it against intrusion. I keep trying to shut the door on the world outside, maintaining this little bubble of sameness inside. This phantom house possesses me.

I have not walked through this house for years and yet in my dreams it appears vivid and alive. My dreams remind me of things I had forgotten (or choose not to recall). The garden of the house was once grand and as a child, a wonderland in which I would spend hours roaming alone. After my mother died, it grew and grew. I would peer at it out the window as the chaos multiplied. It disgusted me. The insatiable appetite of nature. Relentless, no pause to mark my grief but just going on, taking over (me).

In my dreams I keep going home again but this is a place that no longer exists. I can never go home again. But somehow the child in me doesn’t give up trying. So in my dreams I return, returning over and over and over again. There will be no end to this. It can never be changed. For this house (home) lies at the heart of all things.

Erm, Is that Contentment I feel…?

So as a fortnight in Mysore draws closer my mood has certainly transformed. This week has involved mostly too much eating, way too much shopping, too much sleep (well more than the average 3 hours per night) and too little practice. I am feeling a bad yogi indeed. Too be fair this week has featured my ‘Ladies holiday’ – this seems to be the acceptable term here for menstruation – and with Diwali, today was the first practice after a lazy (but poorly) 3 days break. I had my moment of shame however when on Tuesday I was walking past the Shala and Sharath (my teacher)  happened to be sat outside with his kids. Now with barely 7 days of practice at the Shala I had thought my non-attendance would go past unacknowledged. Instead he saw me and pointed and said ‘You didn’t come to practice today!’. I stood paralyzed in fear, mumbling something about feeling unwell – which appeared totally unconvincing with a bag of shopping in my hand (I was hormonal and needed to shop). Though I was mortified at giving such a bad impression, it was nice to know I was remembered. However I am probably remembered as the one who can’t do headstand, or worse the one who whacked him in the face with my feet in headstand…. Oh yeah that happened….

The days are long here in Mysore with yoga practice over by 6am or 7am and no pressing engagements and leisurely 3 hour breakfasts. Here in pleasant and (relatively) quiet Gokulam, I think perhaps I am finding the chance to breathe, and let my thoughts roam.

Meeting the people here has also been an important experience. Though I feel I have not yet met people with whom I connect with on close level (but these things always take us by surprise), and that may be due to age or experience, I have witnessed and been acquainted with people who’s lifestyles have inspired me.

Most people here are travellers. Those who have jobs only work in order for the next extended traveling trip. Others have been going from once place to another for years, with Mysore a regular stopping point to practice at the Shala and meet familiar faces. Today at breakfast I met an Australian couple who spend months traveling at a time. And traveling in the sense of having some idea of the route they plan to take, but no hotel reservations or itineraries, and no fears. And speaking with others, who are walking travel guides for pretty much anywhere in the world, who pass on their tips and advice; I suddenly feel the world open up and an old excitement locked away begins to bubble up in my chest.

I am captivated as they give their tales on the places they have visited. I think of my own life and the possibilities that exist. I think of the staleness of the narrative I thought was the only route – job-settling down-having a PLAN. But here everyone is defying that narrative – some more successfully than others – but still the spirit remains. I remember a list I wrote at 19 when in Australia, of all the things I hoped to achieve in life and the places I wanted to visit. Being in a different country for the first time opened my eyes and stimulated a desire in me. The following years of education conflicted with my childish dreams and adulthood encroached upon my naivety replacing my dreams with practical ambitions.

But I cannot simply blame grey old England for destroying my dreams, as I cannot simply attribute India for rekindling them once again (For then I will surely be heading into Eat, Pray, Love territory, god forbid..). I stopped travelling physically, but my mind stopped too. I had stopped dreaming. My ambitions for myself grew smaller, the realities grew so much harsher, the burdens weighed heavier.

There is no worser fate than the death of the imagination. For the past four years my imagination has suffered a severe deterioration, with only temporary glimmers of originality. My PhD was doomed from the beginning – I had lost my passion, I was uninspired, my mind felt closed – ahead I could see only greyness and it was stifling .

Now I don’t know what I see – but the difference is I feel excited. No regrets and no turning back, now I have left I cannot imagine returning (yet). Yet it does not have to be a matter of burning bridges, as a friend once reminded me; I simply am choosing not to walk on those bridges anymore. But those bridges are still there for whenever I choose to visit them again.

For now, my childish dreams dictate and say: just keep going – so many places to explore and I want to see, experience, taste them all.

I think it is time to go and rewrite that list….