This blog has now been active for a full 365 days. And what a journey it has been. When I started it I had no idea of where it would lead me. Instead of merely documenting my journey of self discovery, it has become an instrument in the process. I have met and connected with people who have added many important things to my life through this blog. Just the fact that you continue to read what I write has been immensely motivating to me in every aspect of my life. So first of all; thank you, each and every one of you!
Given the occasion, I think it is timely to write about a milestone I reached in my journey recently. And that was the understanding that I have lived a large part of my life bound by the restrictions of family, culture, religion and the expectations of others. It is only in the past few weeks I have truly begun to understand how exactly these bonds have shaped my life. When you reach this point in your understanding, you become an observer in your own life. When life throws you an opportunity or opens a door to a new place, it is those bonds that make you hesitate and react with a “I can’t do that”. Being able to observe this reaction in yourself allows you to stop and ask yourself “why not?”. Often there is no good answer other than our own conditioned responses.
Since I started actively wanting to understand myself, I keep stumbling across names of people and theories and practices with increasing frequency. Dr. Wayne Dyer’s name came up a couple of weeks ago and I started watching his videos on YouTube. In the very first video I watched, he was talking about three basic principles:
- You are not what you do
- You are not what you own
- You are not what people think you are
He talks more about this last point in the following video.
A lot of us spend a significant part of our lives trying to earn the good opinion of others. Parents, teachers, friends, neighbours, husbands/wives, children, in-law, other relatives, bosses and so the list goes. We try to earn their good opinion in the hope that if they are pleased then, that in turn would make us happy. Even when the evidence is to the contrary; when we do something we hate just to make someone else happy with no illusions that some of their happiness would rub off on us, we continue down this path. It is often because we think we should. That is what we have been told our whole lives and we continue to believe that into adulthood without questioning.
It was only when I learned about social control in our Anthropology class last week that I started seeing this phenomenon differently. There are various ways in which society tries to control its people. Formal methods such as laws and policing as well as informal methods like witchcraft in some societies and the fear of being laughed at in others. It was this last method that resonated with me. Growing up in Sri Lanka, everything we do in society is predicated by whether “people” would “laugh” at us. Family honour is paramount and if the individual members of the family do anything that is deemed socially unacceptable, then the entire family is in danger of being ridiculed by society at large. When our mothers want to demonstrate the most dire of consequences they would often say to us if we went ahead with our plans “people would laugh with their other side” meaning their nether regions. Although I hesitate to imagine such an anatomical impossibility:).
As young children we learn that we should have “lajha bahya” which translates into shame and fear. Anyone who grows up without these concepts will go astray and bring disrepute to their families. So we grow up with the understanding that shame and fear are good things. It is part of our culture, of being Sri Lankan and Buddhist. We fail to see it as a means of social control, a way of keeping us in line. And most of us are very happy to spend our entire lives controlled in this manner. The ones who question this way of living are few and far between and our society is quick to ostracise them before it leads to anarchy.
But living your life for fear of bringing shame upon yourself and your family is a debilitating way to live. We are imprisoned by our own beliefs. For those of us living outside of Sri Lanka, there is no rhyme or reason to be living this way, yet we continue to do it. Even back home in the very neighbourhoods we grew up in, life is changing. What used to be small close knit communities are evolving and expanding. People no longer know you by name. But our behaviours haven’t kept pace with this change. We still live like we did 20 years ago. And I am not talking about living without morals or a sense of right and wrong, good and bad. What I am talking about is looking closely at our lives and questioning why we do things the way we do. Whether they serve our best interests or those of our immediate families. What are the impacts of those decisions we make merely to please other people because that is what we have always done?
If you can break free of these shackles that bind you, life will feel much more joyful and there will be a new sense of purpose. Having reached this understanding, I would highly recommend it as a way of living……