The Quest

I could not answer Anita's question.
Her greatest desire was to be herself and she wanted me to tell her how.
I couldn't.
I knew the theory.
But I couldn't walk the talk.
And I have long given up on this.
I have never been myself. Ever.
Even when I go home, shut the door to the world and hold myself in the light of my self, I flicker like a candle in the dark, as thought afraid to switch myself off, and be myself.
But the incandescence sets my innards ablaze.
I know there are times when I want to blow it out.
But the wick would burn fiercely as though it was afraid that someone would castigate it for not burning in the dark.
No, I could not answer Anita's question.
So I asked her why she wanted to be herself and what made her think that she was not being herself.
"Sometimes I feel so out of place, I don't want to agree with people, and yet, I don't want to confront anyone and say that they are wrong or that I beg to differ. I feel suffocated in such a situation."
I looked at her, knowing exactly what she had felt. I had felt like that so many years back. People like me who often have a strong feeling or opinion about something serious and are unable to express it because of our reticence.
But over the years this feeling has watered down to a sense of muted acceptance and an amputated spirit. The dead will not complain if its lifeless self is assaulted again and again. I know how I used to tag along, going with the flow of things even when I was in company that I had no interest in being, engaging in a conversation that did not have any contribution from me and basically drifting through, nodding my head, smiling, laughing and agreeing to everything, even though it did not make sense to me. It is suffocating. You know how you feel when you drag your suited and booted self back home after a horrible day and then slump on your bed unable to even take off your tie. That is how bad it gets when you don't become yourself. That is how bad it got when I didn't become myself. I knew how Anita felt in that straitjacketed life she was leading.
I even know how to answer Anita's question but did not know how to explain all that to her. It's complicated.
Yet, I didn't want her to go the same way that I went.
I wanted her to be herself.
The first thing to avoid is one familiar pitfall, I told her after sometime.
She sidled up and listened to me.
There will be many people who would want to 'change' you. They would want to make you change your lifestyle, talk like them, walk like them, and be like them. What is wrong in this? Is it wrong to grow, to be better and the like? Not at all, but what is important is that you don't get to do it, just to please someone else. Maybe it matters to you Anita, but then one day, you will suddenly wake up wondering how false everything has been; how you have been donning another's clothes, and passionate about someone else's cause. That would be a sad plight to be in, especially to those who are dying to be themselves.
You may suddenly realise that your own growth has been stunted because you had allowed everyone to walk over you because you had a heart as big as the 'welcome mat' on your doorstep.
Now that your purpose has been served, you are no longer 'welcome' in the scheme of things and when the boot is on the other side, you know who gets the kicking.
Anita, there is no sense in beating your head against the wall. One day or the other, you have to realise that you also need to satisfy yourself and there are times when you need to meet your needs too, and not just continuously hurt yourself by only satisfying other people's needs. That will stunt your growth, destroy you.
You need to listen to the voice inside you sometimes, which is crying out to be heard. If you continue to ignore it, the voice will die and will no longer be heard.
The danger is one day, you may be wailing, dying to be heard by that voice in you, but what if it ignores you the same way you had ignored it all this while...

By Adarsh Madhavan
Anita's Question(article)
Full Stop(column)
Y Magazine, Date: unknown.

Humility is the virtue of the cultured... It is but human to make mistakes, to fall prey to some temptation, to get enchanted by some false emotion, or to get carried away with a wrong intention. But how soon can one regain one's original goodness measure one's spiritual poise acquired. Fall as often as you must, but don't lie down where you have fallen! Be like a rubber ball; rebound and reach again the summits from which you had fallen.
-Swami Chinmayananda (Sacred Space, TOI, Date: unknown)