Reflecting on 2021 and Heading into 2022 with Mindfulness, Confidence, and Non-Reaction to External
The Year 2021
I cannot believe 2021 is over. We were recently cheering the end of 2020: the year that marked sickness, unprecedented loss, heart-choking grief, unemployment, loneliness, and lives put on hold. I feel we had just closed our eyes, and we opened them to find ourselves saying goodbye to 2021 too.
Even though so much happened last year — my partner and I bought a car, left our tiny rooftop abode in the big city, drove down the length of the country twice, visited our parents in the two extreme ends of India, lost family members, lived in remote houses in the Himalayas and the south of India — the year still seemed to have passed in a blur. Even when I followed a routine, days merged into each other.
Many ask why I left our terrace house in the city to be on the road in the second wave of a deadly disease (March 2021).
I have written about our journey and the decision in detail here. But to summarize: when we planned to get a car and gave the one-month notice to our landlord, the pandemic had subsided.
The first wave had caught us by surprise. But we were apprehensive about living in a big city during the disease. The sickness had caught up with Bangalore’s laid-back life and had brought many families to their knees. No one was getting beds, medicine, and oxygen. If you got sick, you were on the road. And houses were so close we were sure if our neighbors got the virus, we would go down too.
Bangalore had only served as a base to return from my travels because my partner worked there. After he took up a remote job in the beginning of 2020, we were planning to leave Bangalore to travel through unknown parts of the world. That seemed like the right time. We decided to move to the mountains in India until everything calmed down. There we could live in remote homes isolated from everyone (more on traveling safe during the pandemic).
But we didn’t get the car for months. We couldn’t complain because people were dealing with far worse. By the time our vehicle came, we had already shifted to a guesthouse in Bangalore. The disease had started to spread its wings again. Every day it was claiming uncountable lives.
The day we got our car ready, my partner got a phone call that his parents had caught the virus. We packed whatever we had in our hotel room and drove to Maharashtra as fast as we could. We didn’t want to be on flights. And since we were going to spend the year in the Himalayas, we decided to drive further from the city to the mountains, where we stayed for the next few months. Of course, we took the test and traveled segregated in our car.
The chaos had become brutal by then.
Maharashtra was the epicenter of the disease. We stayed outside Mumbai to rush in an emergency but not so close as to catch the virus ourselves. We were scared. Getting food and room caused so much stress. Restaurants couldn’t allow customers to sit. Many hotels were shut. Lockdown timings were forever changing. The heat was incredible. Queues to get the coronavirus tests done at government and private hospitals were long. Almost everyone was overcharging.
When my partner’s parents got better, we packed again and drove towards the North through Gujarat. Police harassed us on the roads and highways. People could travel between states if they showed negative tests, e-passes, or emergencies. Even though we showed the police the RTPCR tests of his parents, they threatened us, shouted at me to go inside the car, and didn’t let us go until we paid 2000 rupees. They twisted the rules meant to help interstate visitors and used them to get money out of their pockets. Somehow we managed to get out of Maharashtra.
We hadn’t met my parents for more than one and a half years, that duration also included my wedding which my partner and I had arranged ourselves. So we decided to stop at my parent’s house on the way to the Himalayas.
From Maharashtra, we drove through Gujarat state and further onto Rajasthan. We stayed in Rajasthan for almost two weeks because we drove on weekends and worked on weekdays. A local family there made food for us which we picked up from their home behind the closed doors. And ate in the room of our big dusty hotel of which only two rooms were occupied.
When we had to leave, we took RTPCR tests again. The condition of the government hospital was incomprehensible. Patients lay on stretchers in the open waiting for oxygen or ICU beds. There was so much crowding to get the test results we waited far behind in the line. I wanted to stay right in the hospital automating most of the stuff that caused the crowding. But if anything I had learned this pandemic was that one should not put oneself in crowded situations no matter what. What if something happened to me while volunteering in the hospital? I didn’t entertain the thought the second time (and later ran support campaigns online).
My parents were glad we were coming. They had been alone for the entire pandemic and were feeling lonely.
We arrived at my parents’ home masked. Days started with us going into two different rooms and working while our parents stayed in their spaces.
One afternoon, my father came into my room to tell me my mother’s elder sister had passed away. I kept aside the draft I was working on and walked out. A couple of days later, he peeked into my room again and asked me to go out to be with my mother. My maternal uncle had succumbed to the virus.
I couldn’t take solace in deja-vu because the pain on my mother’s face and the desperation in her voice differed on the two occasions. When my aunt left us, my mother regretted how we could’ve saved her by admitting her into the hospital sooner. But later she was pining to talk to her brother-in-law who had warned her in a meek voice from the hospital bed against leaving home. “This disease is horrible,” he had said in what would be his last conversation with us.
That 13-day stay at my parent’s home is now marked only by the mourning days. The rest of the time is blurred because we couldn’t make many memories. My parents and we ate at separate tables the first week of our visit. We wore masks around them, and the first time I hugged my mother was when my aunt passed away. We didn’t step out of the gate even to buy essentials because my parents are senior citizens.
One day before leaving, we got our samples collected from home. We sneaked downstairs because we thought my parents would get scared if they saw we were getting our tests done. We only told them about the test when we went upstairs to our first-floor house.
Nothing about that home trip was normal. The trip merged with the drive to the Himalayas that wasn’t stress-free either. But after submitting the test results and an e-pass we entered the state. Himachal police were cooperating with visitors.
Every day in the Himalayas was glorious. But empty shops, dusty guesthouses, and listless faces stared at us. There was at least one family in every village that invited us. But the families who wanted us out of their village were many more. There was fear in the eyes of locals. The guesthouses we stayed at were glad we were there, but their neighbors weren’t. We got malicious looks. Unwarranted questions were darted at us in a tone anything but polite.
The locals were justified in questioning us. They didn’t know we had segregated ourselves and had driven in our car. We cooked at home and didn’t visit public places. And even though the locals were going around, we had put ourselves under self lockdowns for most of our time there. (India lodging tips and affordable Indian homestays articles will help you find good guest houses in India.)
After four months — about August end — the second wave had ebbed away. We had had a great time hiking in solitary Himachal mountains and working from pastures. But torrential rain had been pouring down in Himachal, and the monsoon was to be followed by extreme cold. We knew we had to leave the state.
The South seemed like a good place to slow down and work. We finalized Pondicherry because we wanted to be near the sea.
We drove down from Himachal to my parents’ home for the second time. And this time we shared a table, didn’t wear masks inside the house, and hugged whenever we wanted to. My partner and I took my parents out for dinner. We played cards and celebrated our birthdays together.
Again we drove via Mumbai to check up on my partner’s family, stopped by Bangalore to get our car’s registration card, and finally made our way to Pondicherry.
When we arrived in Tamil Nadu around the beginning of October, we were ready to settle down. A lot of ambitious projects were on my mind.
But I blinked, and we are now in January. I progressed in most planned projects but could only finish some of them. Maybe, the incomplete projects are stopping me from feeling proud or justified to celebrate the past year.
Also, until recently, I used to think the change of years doesn’t matter. I didn’t like celebrating my birthday either. I thought making birthdays a thing is overindulging oneself. That only narcissists value kitsch occasions like birthdays.
Maybe I felt pretentious celebrating a birthday because we didn’t have cakes or balloons on our special day even when we were little. My parents had lived simple lives. My grandparents didn’t even remember my parents’ birthdays — each one amongst seven and ten kids.
Why should I celebrate the day I was born? This question hit me so hard every time September approached that I left the city with my then partner to somewhere green. Sure enough, we celebrated the day with cake and drinks and had a nice time. But I was okay to be self-occupied only around my partner.
My present partner was the first person who told me birthdays are important. He said every birthday marks another year well-lived. That we are alive is enough to celebrate our existence.
And I’m happy to agree with him. Today, being alive seems to be the highest privilege. Or being able to go to your parents’ house when you like. Or listening to your friends and family over the phone and knowing they are fine.
So even though I couldn’t do all that I had wanted to, I was looking forward to New Year’s Eve. Like last year, this year, too, my partner and I celebrated the new year in peace. We went out for dinner, brought eggless cookies, and returned to watch a movie in our forest cabin in Auroville (a green community of its kind about which you will know more soon). We kissed at 12 and fell asleep soon enough.
The next morning we were up before 8. We sat in the garden with two cups of hot ginger tea and talked in the sun for hours. After a nap and a head massage, we showered in the open under the trees in cold water. This forest ritual was followed by a drive to the market and a cup of tea.
We walked around in Auroville. Then I drove my rented moped on dark and sodden narrow mud roads to collect fresh prawns from the delivery boy at a suitable landmark. Afterward, we put some music on and cooked prawns masala and rice. We ate the delicious meal with chips while watching Money Heist. And that was more or less the routine we followed the next day, too.
Simple and easy, that’s what I like.
Now I’m sitting under this tall bamboo bush. While its leaves fall on me and sunlight creates patterns on my arms, I reflect on the last year and write.
For 2021 I had resolved to face my fears and move further through them. And I pushed myself hard.
I started driving in 2021. I bought a car even though big purchases make me feel pinned down to one place. I hiked through many unknown paths and rugged routes of the Himalayas. Even though I have had a horrible experience with some people, I visited them (for my partner’s sake). I submitted my writing to be critiqued by strangers, and I made my newsletter an independent entity. I also reached out to friends long lost when I wasn’t sure if they even needed me.
Though not everything I mentioned above frightened me, many things made me uncomfortable. And putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations is one of the fastest ways to grow. I’m happy.
Are you content with the year gone? What was your resolution for 2021?
You know even if you couldn’t achieve what all you had hoped for, you can still be happy for just making it through 2021. Just being takes all we have.
What I look forward to in 2022
Planning long term makes me anxious, especially given the number of things I want to do. I doubt myself even if I’ve been successful in the past in the same areas. I get hurt easily when people are rude to me.
Alain de Botton says if we aren’t praised for being who we are in our childhood, we try to reassure ourselves in every contemporary situation. So if someone disrespects us, we find our fault. Or if we fail, we rush to blame ourselves. A broken relationship surely means we must be the worst human being on the planet.
I’ve often found myself approving or disapproving myself in daily situations. Even though I’ve achieved most things I set my mind on, I doubt myself all the time.
It doesn’t have to be so. We don’t have to establish every minute of every day that we deserve to be where we are.
So I’ve decided to take this year day by day with confidence. I’ll remind myself I can do anything with practice and patience. I will do the best I can every day. Not thinking too far ahead. Not thinking too far behind. Not undermining myself all the time. Not doubting my capabilities.
In this understanding emotions piece, I’ve repeatedly mentioned that people aren’t inherently bad. They are insecure about themselves and are trying to secure their position in the world. The more harsh someone is, the more afraid she is.
Even though I know this about human beings, I cannot help feeling bad when someone is rude to me. I forget they are expressing under their complexes and their behavior doesn’t say anything about me. They aren’t acting out of vengeance but out of ignorance.
And here in Auroville, many locals have been impolite to us.
Auroville is a green community that follows the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his ardent collaborator the Mother. It is situated a few kilometers away from Pondicherry. Several communities are spread within Auroville such that in between some villages — that aren’t part of Auroville — are also interspersed.
Auroville roads aren’t tarred, and they are laid with red earth and are quite narrow. And we should note that people here don’t like cars (one of the reasons is energy conservation but I feel the reasons are deeper, like because all foreigners set up this community no one had any car at that time).
Whenever we took our car out on the narrow mud roads of Auroville, multiple women and two guys on a bike made us uncomfortable by telling us to drive safely, that they weren’t going to wait for us the entire day, that someone just fell on her scooter so we should be careful, where are we going and we should close the gate after us — all of this in unpleasant and straight tone without any please or thank you.
Needless to say most of these critics were baseless as we were already careful. Those comments were more spiteful rather than helpful suggestions. After we were stopped for the fourth time, my partner and I decided to speak up the next time someone judged us. We took an hour to finalize what we should say on what occasion.
But somewhere I realized I don’t have to learn the responses. I possibly can’t rehearse the replies by imagining everything one might or might not say to me. I told our partner we should believe that no one has any reason to be rude to us and the responses will come to us naturally. Like in Mathematics we learn the formula for x + y and as inputs come our answers change. Similarly, our fundamentals and belief in ourselves should be set straight. What we have to say to someone will come easily to us then because we won’t be scared or we wouldn’t think we are at fault (all over again).
A couple of hours later my host in Auroville and I got talking and I told her about the rude Aurovillians. She told me many Indian newspapers had articles on the subject. When she did introductions to Auroville, she used to tell guests about this feature-cum-bug of Aurovillians.
I gasped. Why would people claiming to be spiritual, living in green forests, away from the city, learning different skills, doing organic farming, and taking life at a slow pace be so bitter? Maybe they don’t like outsiders. But they can’t shut their gates to guests because tourism brings money to Auroville, which the community needs to function.
My host said people came here for their spiritual journeys. “Not being nice to someone doesn’t say much about their spirituality,” I said. She nodded, “And how many know that?”
And that’s when I quoted Mother, the lady who considered Sri Aurobindo her mentor and was the one to gather his followers into the community of Auroville.
“Didn’t mother say all men from all countries will live like brothers here in Auroville?” I quoted. “Didn’t she imagine Auroville to be a place on earth that no nation could claim as its sole property, for all humanity with no distinction?”
And my host didn’t have much to say except that there was a lot of difference in practice and beliefs. I agree.
Those passers-by who had judged me for driving a car on their narrow roads didn’t know me or my circumstances. This blasphemy of humanity reminded me of the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett. She says, “What’s the best thing for your nerves? A human being. What’s the worst thing for your nerves? A human being.”
And because human beings are so unpredictable, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself or feel I’ve been wronged whenever someone is impolite to me. I either reply or ignore and move on.
I had resolved to face my fears in 2021. And I reminded myself of the goal whenever I was afraid or had to make a difficult decision. Throughout 2021 I did things that I wasn’t comfortable with and so my resolution for the year helped me move forward.
Living day by day, acting with confidence, and non-reaction to external are my keys to 2022. And by jotting these three down I’m making sure that in the face of difficulty I will remind myself of my weak points only to turn my ways around.
Wish me good luck.
Coming to Conclusion
On Sunday morning my partner and I sat in the garden and discussed the good and aware life we have built for ourselves.
We don’t hurt anyone consciously, we live with nature but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about humans, we’re never rude to anyone, and we ask for forgiveness and forgive people quickly. I’m deeply aware that who I’m and many of the riches I’m endowed with are a gift of the nature and culture in which I’m born and brought up. But I also take conscious efforts to think for myself and differentiate the right from wrong.
If one practice living an aware, conscious, and respectful life, they will live with other beings in harmony. Whether it is a frog, a snail, a fish in the pond, another human, a bamboo plant, or this red earth. And those who don’t know will never know unless they first accept their ignorance and learn from thereon. I wish them well.
Yung Pueblo correctly says, our courage to turn inward in the hope of uncovering and releasing all that stands in our way of becoming beings of unconditional love is what will bring harmony and peace to our world. unity with those around us is most possible when we become internally whole and loving. wisdom more easily flows through us when our minds and hearts are no longer reacting to the suffering of everyday life. this does not mean that we will become cold or distant; it means that we will learn to respond calmly to the inevitable changes of life without causing ourselves misery. we will learn to respond to life as opposed to blindly reacting to it.
What are your resolves for the year 2022? Do you also want to be more confident, mindful, or non-reactive to external? Tell me in the comments.
I hope you have a great 2022 full of peace, love, growth, and harmony.
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