Monday, February 20, 2017

Impermanence and attachment

I was brought up a Buddhist and if there's one thing Buddhism does, it is that the truth isn't sugar-coated. We aren't eased into the concept of Anittya, Dukkha and Anaathma. We are thrown, head-first, into the impermanence of things. And I'm glad we are, because from my youngest days, I knew that there will be a day when everything I currently know in life will be gone. My parents. Loved ones. Family. Friends. Books. Looks. Feelings. Everything I value now and have such attachments to will be gone.

And yet, most issues we face in life are because we aren't willing to let go of people or things. We think that everything will remain as it is forever. This is why we freak out when we discover our first gray hair. This is why we hope anti-aging creams will smoothen our wrinkles. This is why we refuse to let go of people, to move on. And this is why it hurts when things change.

But that's just the way life is and there's not a goddamn thing we can do about it. This post comes to you in five parts, each that have something or the other to do with impermanence and attachment.


Ink


One thing a lot of people with no intention of getting inked ask me is how I can bear to have something so permanent on my skin. "What if you are thirty and you regret having those words tattooed on your arm?" they ask. And I never have a well thought out answer prepared, because it's complicated.

I always expect the worst. I know people leave. I know minds and hearts change. I'm sometimes too scared to buy anything expensive because I don't trust myself to still want it or like it in a few days time. And yet, I also know that there's nothing you can do about some things. If, in seven years time, I find myself wondering why anyone who loves me let me have a phrase on flying pigs inked to my arm, well, there's nothing I can bloody do about it now, is there?

Sure, I can consider getting it removed or I can easily cover it up. Or I can think about my own life. At most, I'll have another fifty years of life left. After that, I'll die and then be burnt in a coffin and finally, my ashes will be thrown/swept away. And in those fifty years, I'm sure I'll have other, more important things to do than worry and lose sleep over something I can't really change.

If there's something you want to do badly, whether it's a tattoo or bungee jumping or just being honest about your feelings, don't talk yourself out of it because you think you will regret it. Now this may only apply to my life, but there's one thing I've noticed about regret and it's that you mostly regret things as long as there's room to change the way things for.

Because even though we may be reluctant to admit it, we know, deep down that, there is no use in regretting something that can't be changed or fixed.


People


It is extremely difficult to lead an isolated life. We all need someone to lean on, to talk to. Someone to make us feel alive, human. But we also shouldn't depend completely on people and we shouldn't be surprised when people leave.

Even today, two years since her death, I find it difficult to accept that my grandmother is dead. Even now, I sometimes forget that she's no longer alive. And there are times when I gasp for breath, tears burning my face, wanting more than anything else for her to come and comfort me. But I also know that she's not coming back to me and that that's no one's fault. I know that no matter how much we love someone, we can't make them stay with us forever. People leave. People change. People die. That's just the way things are.

But this isn't something that is easy to accept, especially when you are heartbroken over the absence of someone, whether its a relative, friend or significant other. When you feel like your entire life is falling apart because someone decided that they no longer wanted to be part of your life, you don't want to hear about the impermanence of things.

And yet, it's a truth we can't refuse to accept. When someone leaves, we blame them. We blame ourselves. But sometimes there's nothing any of us can do to make someone stay.


Places


I go for a yoga class and the instructress tends to talk about various things after the class ends. Sometimes we talk about friendship, other times we talk about the challenges we face in life. One day, she spoke about the importance of leaving a place of employment when the time was right.

I've always had trouble with this. I've only had three jobs and so it's not like I have tons of experience but during two of them, there have been plenty of moments when I've wanted to quit.

One of the first things I was told at the first place I worked was that I shouldn't work at the same place for more than two years. This may seem crazy but it makes sense in the field I work. I was at that first job for close to three years and would have stayed for longer if not for certain changes in how things were. I never quit that job. I just had to leave.

My second job, I quit. I was able to see that quitting isn't the same as giving up and that jobs aren't permanent. They shouldn't be. That's the beauty of life. With each new job, you get to know more people and more things. You can't move ahead in life if you choose to tie yourself to a certain place.

But quitting wasn't easy. As much as you may dislike the work you do, it becomes part of the routine you depend on to make sense of life. And we are too afraid of change to save ourselves sometimes. That's why I held on dearly to that second job for as long as I could. I was afraid to quit because I'd become attached to those people, the work and the way things were.

And I feel this way about a lot of places, which takes me to part four of this post...


Ownership


I don't own a lot of things in life but there are certain places that I consider 'mine' or rather, as a place that belongs to me and someone special to me. For instance, it can be a café that a friend introduced me to and I think is too important to me, to us, to introduce other people to.

And there's this poetry blog that someone I know online told me about. I love the poems, even though I don't know the writer. And I've only been able to tell around two or three people about this blog, solely because it feels too precious to share with every Tom, Dick and Harry.

And yet, it's not my blog. It's not my place to hide from anyone else.

But for all my talk about how attachment or forming bonds is what makes it difficult to accept the impermanence of things, I still hold on to such places dearly. And dear lord, the amount of heartbreak this has resulted in.


Words


*This paragraph is a spoiler for Paterson, a film starring the gorgeous Adam Driver so skip it if necessary* Paterson brought to me two of my favorite things: Adam Driver and poetry. Paterson is a bus driver whose days are lived in a very predictable manner. He wakes up at a certain time, has his cereal, goes to work as a bus driver, has his lunch, works some more, writes poetry, comes home, takes his dog for a walk, stops at a particular bar for a single glass of beer... And so on. Anyway, at the end of the film, the notebook in which Paterson writes his poetry is shredded to bits by his dog. He loses all those words he wrote.

From 2009 to around 2014, I maintained a personal blog on a not-known site. In this blog, I wrote freely about my feelings and experiences. The blog meant a lot to me for it was where I first started writing. And then suddenly, the blog was deleted by the site itself and I lost all those posts.

I was naturally devastated. When words are all you have, you don't want to lose any. But I had no say in it. And I was shocked and sad and angry.

Today, I have another blog, one which doesn't get to hear my most private thoughts. It's a blog that is still unfamiliar to me. But I've realized that, while I won't get those words written during some of the most important years of my life, there are more words to be written. There are more blogs to fill (which I'm doing a terrible job of because I have never before written so little in this blog. Sorry!).




But anyway, the point of this post, badly-written and useless as it is, is to remind myself that attachment is bad news. It's so that when it's a bad day and I'm reading through what I've written, I'll be reminded that it's okay that nothing is permanent. And that it's okay for life to change. That it's okay to move on.

That nothing -not how shitty life is or the ink on my skin or the bad decisions I've made- is permanent. It will be alright, and even if it's not, it will be different. And that's enough, sometimes, to get through each day.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cup Cafe: Post of appreciation

This one's for Cup Café.

I still remember my first day at Cup Café. It was somewhere in 2013. One of my closest friends and I had just spoken to this artist about a tattoo and we were in the Town Hall area, looking for a place to eat. My friend suggested this little place she had been to with her mother than had decent food and, if I remember correctly, amazing chocolate cake.

And so we walked there, to this tiny little café that I had walked past many times without having ever noticed the place. I can't remember what exactly we ordered but I'm sure we got ourselves a slice of their Death by Chocolate. And man, was it heavenly.

Somehow this little café became 'our spot' for meetups. We rarely met up at other places. Cup Café was everything we wanted. It was usually quiet, not crowded, the people were so sweet, the food was good, the drinks were amazing (lime mojito, I would die for you) and the prices weren't too bad. Plus it was at a convenient place for us both.

Some months later, I went there with a friend from my then-place-of-employment. We left office around teatime in search of a nice cup of coffee and somehow walked to Cup Café. We had our drinks and, again, a slice of cake.

Over the months, Cup Café became the place we went to when we needed a break from work. Later, when our group of friends joined different newspapers, we made Cup Café our meetup spot. Again, it was easy to get to and we could just sit there for hours, catching up and just chit chatting.

And so Cup Café became a place where we were comfortable talking about our many screw ups. Where we would bitch about work. We laughed, we sat in silence, we made plans. And we always sat at that corner booth by the window. We people-watched. We hoped and prayed no one would be seated there when we got there. And usually, no one was. We made it our spot.

And Cup Café was safe, for me, to be alone. Not in the sense that other cafes aren't safe to be alone at because most are. But, you see, I can't talk to just anyone. Hell, I can't even walk into just any place. Cup Café didn't have that effect on me. I could walk in all alone, feel comfortable being alone at that booth. I felt comfortable placing my order, smiling at those faces familiar to me, although to them I was yet another unknown customer.

I found peace and quiet there. I would read, work, write. I would just sit there, staring at the empty seat in front of me. I listened to the noises of the world outside. I felt safe.

We all have one such place, don't we? A place where we go to when we need time off life. I've been at Cup Café on my best days and my worst days. I've been happy, sad, lost, angry and confused. I've been able to leave some of the mess in my head behind as I slid into one of those comfy seats, removed my watch, placed it on the table, opened a notebook, and then just leaned back and relaxed. I've been able to feel like the world wasn't such a terrible place once I was in that cozy café, because it felt so removed from the rest of the world. It was a world of its own.


It was a pretty special place.


Today, I checked their Facebook page to see if they were open tomorrow. I was greeted by a post saying they were relocating and that the new address would be revealed soon. I read that and felt so utterly lost. I know they aren't shutting down but that journey I made there was something I could do without putting much thought into it.

I didn't go there often. But I feel like that bus ride there is etched in my mind. Outstation bus to Bambalapitiya. From there a 155 to Town Hall. And then walking past the people at the bus stop, the mosque, the little shops and finally, there it was. So easy to walk past. But once you walk in, you are home.

And so to think that this place I had become so comfortable with was finding itself a new home affected me more than it should. Because it's not easy to get used to places. It's not easy to feel at home at places.

I know I sound ridiculous, writing about a café as if I lived there. As I said, I don't even go there that often. But it's more than a place to buy food and drinks. It's more than a place to rest my aching legs.
We will most probably keep going to Cup Café, regardless of where it takes us. So this isn't a sort of goodbye post. It's just a post of appreciation, one that is long overdue.

Because, Cup Café, thank you for existing.