I wrote down these learnings over the year in scattered forms, mostly in my weekly newsletter Looking Inwards. But I am putting them together here to have them in one place.
Lessons 2022 Taught Me
# We can run as fast as we like. But life is always right there. Running behind. Chasing us. In this race we cannot win. For we are life itself, and she is us.
# I ain’t perfect but I can love myself despite.
# We are living in a different — and difficult — time. Things have changed, and we cannot send them back to their original course as if they never deviated. But we can accept them as the new normal. In our acceptance, we show courage and the will to move forward.
# “Productivity Dysmorphia” — No matter how much I do I’m never happy with how much I have done.
# “There is so much outside the false cloister of private experience; and when you write, you do the work of connecting that terrible privacy to everything beyond it.” Leslie Jamison
# Basic living in the forest roots me to the ground. You can’t really think when you have to watch where to put your foot and if a snake is dangling from the bamboo on your path ahead. It’s better to be mindful.
# Three secrets about relationships I have written here.
# I wasn’t always who I am. Yet, in a way, I was.
# Travel teaches you to put yourself out, ask for favors, and accept them with gratitude. Asking someone for help or advice doesn’t make you a small person.
Don’t hate the poor, hate poverty. Don’t hate technology or technology users, hate how technology is being abused.
# Music can turn me into a child again.
# The bright Mac that went blank, the rude host who on our last day held my face in her hands and hoped she didn’t say what she had said, the Palaeolithic axe in the museum, the meaningful conversations with people from the North in the handicraft fair in the deep South, the Chennai restaurant owner who made the Malaysian fish-okra curry on one request, the guy from Spain with whom I could talk not only in Spanish and English but also in Hindi and Punjabi — out of all these what was in my control? Were they serendipities of life? I would say life itself.
# We can enjoy the moments in between.
# When wars begin, we watch them with empathy as if they won’t affect us. But even that one person on the throne unleashing the battle isn’t out of its reach. Slowly, we, far away, smell the war in the air, too.
# “The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.” Albert Camus
# “How much there is in art that is beautiful, if only one can remember what one has seen, one is never empty or truly lonely, and never alone.” Vincent
# I need to love more.
# The absence of contact may not necessarily mean the absence of love.
# It is hard to smile at strangers because when they don’t smile back we feel we have been wronged and disrespected. It is tough to soften up because then the other person wants us to bend more. We are hesitant to offer someone bananas or flowers because our hand of friendship can be considered as our submissiveness. It has all happened in the past. But it’s also hard not to do these. (Ideas on forming strong relationships with those around us.)
# There is soil as deep as three meters on tree canopies. (Source: Radiolab’s podcast episode Forests on Forests.)
# Irrespective of how many times we switch between pre-established systems, we are still blindly following someone else’s method, now of a different community than before. Both of which aren’t ours, not developed by us through trial and error, strict in their forms, and so not customized to our needs, temperaments, and beliefs. Instead of jumping into an existing system that promises the desired methods and outcomes, we should simplify our ways, do things naturally, and create a favorable space for our preferred conventions. (Might Help: My definite guide to creating our own healthy, purposeful, aware life.)
# Playing with the cats, chuckling with my partner, strolling in the forest, and knowing I had food and tonnes of mangoes took me out of my emotional upheavals and sent me into this immediate real basic raw physical zone in which all I could do was take the step that would take me to the end of the road. Happiness, it seems, lies in the simple things.
# All the big events we plan, wait, and look forward to — our graduation, foreign trips, marriages, potlucks, successes, get-togethers, movie nights, and so on — happen soon and finish. In the end, we are left alone. But our loneliness can be complemented by the daily magic of nature. There is life oozing out of every nook and corner. We just have to look closely. And then we would never be alone.
# This life enriched in the arts, in books, in emotions, in science, in nature, in seeing the world, in love, in the body, in food, this life, I wouldn’t exchange this life for anything.
# “The concern a man has for another man, and an ability to be moved to make sacrifices at the sight of another person’s misery are the true basis of a society and it is immaterial whether a progressive is a believer or non-believer in god, and whether he participates directly in leftist politics or not.” D. Jayakanthan
# I am not here to prove anything to anybody. After all these years, I am coming around to knowing that this is what I was meant to do.
# What is ugly and cruel to us could be the way of living for others. In other words, not everything is right or wrong. Black is black and white is white because I see it so. (Inspired by the movie Mudbound and my travels in Vietnam.)
# I feel secure when I control whatever I can. But while trying to squeeze it all together, I am dissuading the unknown from showing itself to me and losing out on moments of joy. When I let go of perfection, I am happier.
# A little nudge in the direction helps, but while thinking continuously about something(s) we didn’t do, we stall our progress. Putting a little thought in our head to do it later is generally enough. Now we have created a space for the thing inside. Tomorrow, while there is still time to do the task, we will give it its deserved attention. (As always, having some daily positive habits makes all the difference.)
# Time is to measure the passing of life. We don’t have to build our worth around how well we have used each hour.
# “One of those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T.S. Eliot
# What we do takes us where we want to be.
# We are the youngest we will ever be and the oldest we have ever been. (I read this somewhere.) [Lessons from my twenties and Things I would tell my younger self.]
# While time runs, the only thing we can do is run along with it. If we immerse in the now, we won’t eternally be waiting to get done with the thing we are at and won’t feel empty when it has left us. It would be the moment, the doing, the immersion, the gradual progress or improvement that will drive us. And the fear of the upcoming won’t haunt us either. Because before we would be able to think about the future, we would arrive at it.
# There could be many definitions of cleaning clutter. But to me, it is to look at the one important thing and move the rest aside from the view, the kitchen shelf, and the computer.
# The dark is always up against the force of life.
# We resent why we didn’t think of this and that. But if we could think of this and that, we would have.
# We are sad that no one is kind to us while we are being unkind to others.
# We are scared by the dark, by the unknown, by strangers. But the known and the mysterious together make our world. The unknown is not fearsome, it is something we haven’t seen so far.
# We tell ourselves we have to do too many things and worry about them all. If we instead spend that time doing even a little bit — without worrying over the progress too much — we would get a lot more done. (I follow a routine to stay sane.)
# Some of us live in eternal imaginary suffering. We can come out of it any minute.
# In a challenging situation, we forget about happy days.
# We are scared of being too happy afraid we might lose it all.
# We read too much into what others think of us or talk about us. Mostly their ideas about us are so different from what we imagine them to be — because what people think of us has nothing to do with who we are and what we do — that this activity is not only futile but also harmful. The sooner we get out of the habit of forging a likable image the freer we would be. (14 other things that we shouldn’t care about.)
# When we judge others, what we really say is that we wouldn’t want to be them. We may feel better about ourselves by judging someone, but that shows we are so unhappy that we have to stand on others to feel great.
# Instead of blaming our parents, we should change what we don’t like about ourselves.
# Sometimes we don’t do certain things because we don’t want to. There is nothing more to the inaction than that.
# The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in his journal we now know as Meditations: “Neither worse than not better is a thing made by being praised.” No matter how much we love the flower or hate the cactus, both remain as they are. No one can go against their nature. Then does it not make sense to stop lusting for appreciation, live, and take whatever comes our way ever so lightly?
# Not even pain stands a chance in front of the passing of time.
# “There’s only one rule you need to remember: laugh at everything and forget everybody else! It sounds egotistical, but it’s actually the only cure for those suffering from self-pity.” Anne Frank (And other powerful quotes for life.)
# What if there’s nothing wrong with you? (And other important questions to ask.)
# Those of us who can’t do anything else become writers.
# “Bad literature presents the reader with conventional stereotypes and encourages him to assume a role which, in the very nature of things, must be different from what he really is. Good literature presents the reader with the results of an honest investigation into what is, and so encourages him to break out of the role he happens to be playing and to discover for himself the realities of perception, thought, and feeling that lie behind his assumed mask and have been eclipsed by it.” Aldous Huxley
# I commit the same error repeatedly. And when I do, I get a familiar sinking feeling that starts seeping in as soon as I have done the thing. Something inside me says, “I have been here before. This, I know. Oh what the hell, I have done it again.” Now I have two options. Either I bury myself under the remorse, not so much for the error, but for repeating the blunder, or I use the past experiences as a ladder to rise out of the well faster, more gracefully, and if not with a smile, probably with fewer tear patches on my face. Even if to fall all the way under all over again. It might not appear so, but I am making progress. Forward movement is not always in changing, sometimes it is in the knowing.
# Such is life. Always feeling stuck, always moving despite. Even if not in the direction we like. Or in a direction we don’t understand.
# We can choose to have fun anytime we like. To rejuvenate myself, I walk around, drink lemon juice, disturb my partner, wash my face, go to the forest, make up a joke, tell it to my friends, dream about dinner, or pick up a book. After these amusements, I go back to the task of the day much more thrilled than before. But I don’t always do these things to get back to productivity. I do them because I enjoy them. If the course of the day is smooth and I am well, for sure I will be maneuvred toward my creative work naturally. But many times I have to make myself sit even if I don’t want to and then these refreshments are all the more priceless. They are my little secrets and they can be as ridiculous as I want them to be. (This is only one of the 30 tips on working from home I have collected over the years.)
# 5 Lessons from 5 Years of On My Canvas that I summed up this year at the blog’s fifth anniversary.
# I am not doing a favor to anyone by doing good work. I am just holding the end of the rope thrown towards me, helping in the running of the system, paying the dues for being here. (Don’t feel like working? Read this.)
# “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” Mary Anne Radmacher
# In passing, we love.
# Our lives might look different. But they are different only in their appearance, like the clothing we wear, like the masks we put on, like our skin. Inside, at our core, all our blood, flesh, bone, suffering, joys, grief, and struggle all are the same. (Learning resilience and repetition from an old Himalayan woman.)
We are on tiny islands on this vast ocean that is our earth. But we came here by sailing the deep seas. What is it that we fear then? We have, literally, crawled out of those fathomless depths, lived on ice, slept on trees, and hunted with our own bare hands. What is it we fear then?
We are the most afraid of ourselves. What will we do in the face of this and that? But that moment isn’t here yet and we forget that we are endowed with enough strength, courage, and knowledge that we will know what to do when the time comes. And we cannot know better than what we would know at that moment. The journey is, after all, the endless pursuit of all we want right now. ( Everything I have learned in life is summed up in this essay.)
# Food is not part of a culture. Food is the foundation of a society. It’s the river along which communities are built. You take away food from people and you take away everything.
# Instead of making excuses, or lying, we can be honest and tell the person why we think/believe/do what we do. Maybe they won’t judge or criticize us as harshly as we fear they would. And even if they do, it’s their turn to be honest now. We have done our part.
# In most circumstances, we don’t have to react immediately. The instant reaction may seem like a painkiller, but if it is a painkiller, it is the one to which we will get so used that our body would simulate pain just to get the medicine. In our urge to react, we would tell ourselves unreal stories of how we are in danger, our sense of self and values are under threat, and so on. But if we step back for a bit, the clouds clear, it doesn’t hurt that much anymore, and we don’t need the medicine. All we would need is a reasonable conversation or actions that move us forward through the marsh.
# Festivals are our excuses to laugh without a reason, dance without thinking, and meet without acknowledging that we are lonely. We don’t need faith to celebrate; we just need to keep our egos aside.
# The question is how much you can pay for what you want.
# “Wanting to be someone else is the waste of a person you are.” Kurt Cobain (This advise echoes with one of the methods to do your best in your 30s.)
# When the dawn scares away the night, and when the sun sets and leaves with the light, neither is it dark nor is it bright. And that is most of our lives.
# Happy relationships are made of two things, Space and Silliness.
# When we allow others to be, when we stop judging people harshly, but rather laugh at them and ourselves for the bizarre things we all do, that is when we really grow, not just individually, but together, too.
# Loneliness will get to us no matter where we are. (When I am lonely, I read Virginia Woolf, get out in nature, or work.)
# Doing the day-to-day isn’t wasting time, it is life. And I must be onto something here. For my food is fresh and delicious, my tasks are never overdue, and if I’m investing, I would have not only thoroughly understood what needs to be done but also enjoyed the figuring-out process.
But simply doing is different from constantly staying engaged in the daily, mulling over every little thing, and bothering about who said what. When we are tuned into the clutter, we can’t hear creativity speak. She raises her voice only when she knows we are listening. By obsessing over mundane, I will get temporary wins. But they will not take me anywhere, apart from making me care for them even more the next day. It is an addiction.
We can detach ourselves from the humdrum of how things should be done. And slowly, those daily distractions will patter less and less leaving the path to us clear and fragrant for creativity.
(Here are some creative practices I follow and stand by to create regularly.)
Maybe you would like to continue reading about life lessons. Let me recommend everything I’ve learned so far, lessons from twenties, letter to younger self, and how to do our best in 30s.
What did you learn this year? I would love to hear.
Feature Image Courtesy: Odilon Redon, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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