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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Not yet a Buddhist



About two years ago, I wrote a silly blog about why I didn’t have a girlfriend and why I probably never would. It was an essay in self-pity because I’ve dated two wonderful girls since. But it got me thinking: I realize that I was linking my own happiness to my external environment. First, I was linking my happiness to another person (being a relationship is something I craved). And secondly, to a lesser extent, I was linking my happiness to the fact that I was living in India. Clearly, I would never be happy as long as I was in India, because for some reason I wouldn’t be able to find a companion there. Oh how the tables have turned. Now I feel dissatisfied for exactly the opposite reasons: I will soon have to end a relationship because I will be moving to the USA for university. It has left me with one lesson: I need to learn to be happy with myself.

How do you reach a state where you are happy with yourself, your life and what you have? I’ve always sought to steer clear of abstract topics like ‘happiness’. But I now realize that I’ve spent a large chunk of my life looking forward to the next stage of my life - looking forward to the next chunk of my education/career. Growing up, I was used to moving countries every few years, whether it was because of my dad’s job or my own studies. At first, the major turmoil came from leaving friends. When I left the UK to move back to India after I finished my undergraduate studies, I lamented being on a different continent to my best friends in Europe. The loneliness culminated in that infamously silly blog. But shortly after writing that piece, I dated P for a year and all was well in the world. I was suddenly happy with living in India. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about living in India or leaving India. I was just happy. By the time we broke up, I was in the throes of US college admissions and I was focused on the future. Again. I also applied for a three month summer fellowship in Germany, further reducing my time in India. I was going to get over the break-up by conveniently leaving the country. I was focused on pulling an Assange.

Then I met M and magically, life was great again. The future was irrelevant. The thought of leaving India loomed, but I was too busy living each day to worry. Weeks turned into months and we got closer and closer. When I left for Germany, we agreed that we would end things on a positive note and “see what happens” in the future. There was no point doing long-distance because, well, what was the end game? I would soon be leaving for good anyway and we are both way too young to be planning life around other people. I think it must have been a week into my German sojourn when we both realized that we didn’t really want to see other people and we have been de-facto long distancing ever since. My initial thought was to do an Assange; in fact I’ve pulled a Snowden. I’m abroad and I did the right thing but I’m not as happy as I should be. The thesis was that I would have an unmitigated blast in Germany but while I’ve had a great time, I’m missing the person I want to share it all with. I will be with M for a month when I’m back in India (inshallah) and then we will go our separate ways for the next few years at least.

It’s got me thinking: I am fairly certain that my future will involve as much geographical change as my past. I used to be scared of leaving friends. While it was hard, I made new friends, stayed increasingly in touch with old ones and this summer in Germany, I will have reunited with many of those I didn’t think I’d see any time soon. It’s been three years, but our meetings have been wonderful and memorable. I think I’m over missing my friends. But now I have to reconcile with missing my girlfriend and I’m not quite sure how to do it. She keeps telling me that I will meet amazing people at Yale and I know that’s true. But at the moment, that is meagre consolation because it points to something deeper I need to deal with. I need to learn to be happy with my life as it stands and not as I want it to be. And hey, it’s not like that has been mankind’s eternal struggle or anything.

While I love companionship, I guess I will have to reach a point where I am having such a good time or doing such meaningful work that I have different pillars to prop up my contentment. Perhaps it is healthiest for us, the confused space-mammal, to not need to be dependent on our environment or our company to be happy. Am I sounding abstract? Sorry. I think you should be able to go to a gig with friends and party the night away without thinking of ending it with someone else. I think you should be able to wake up on a Saturday morning in Mumbai or Munich and have a great day regardless of who you will meet. Now, all this is easier said than done. Especially when you know there is someone (a friend, family member or partner) who totally gets you – someone who acts as a catalyst to turn a good experience into a great one, just by being around.

What is the answer? Yoga? Meditation? Steak? Are they distractions from the human contact you crave or are they the ends in and of themselves? If I’m missing my friends, family or girlfriend, I try to work out, watch a movie, make new friends, eat great food, etc… but when you go to bed at night, there’s nothing left to distract you. Apparently Buddhists, at their spiritual healthiest, can live without want and flit about life without the burden of craving. I am not a Buddhist. I am a journalist.

I hope that someday I look back at this silly blog with the same pity for myself as I do towards the other silly blog.