Stories That We Tell Ourselves

Very recently a medical development of a close friend of mine jolted me out of apathy. Within the course of a month, “these damn headaches” had turned to “carcinomic metastases in the brain”.

Overnight after that exchange, I woke up alive.  Opening my eyes without dreading prognosis, diagnosis and mortality filled my very being with melting intensity. The whole world had till now seemed to unjustly pamper me.

Till yesterday I was counting on what I had. Today I was celebrating what I did not have. In this state of delirium, I continue drinking in every sense’s detail with a blind man’s appreciation of new sight.

My friend had been planning a road trip across India towards the end of the year (and I am sure as hell rooting for him on being able to do it) but plans changed. Quite a bit I suspect. In his process of loss I gained perspective.

That small pile of dollars I was scrounging for rainy days lost its reassuring shine. The uncertainty of next week’s revolving meetings lost its immediacy. With these shifts in perceptions, contrary to what I thought, I loosened up and got work done easily. I realized, for a brief period of time that I was in the zone. Hurtling tasks and decisions slowed down to a snail’s pace so that I could tackle them with startling clarity and confidence. My very existence was euphoric.

What changed? The Story.

I picked up Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” because till then I had nowhere I could position myself mentally to read such an emotional book. I finished the book in one sitting, something that I could not do with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies“. Mukherjee had time on his and therefore wrote a long book. Kalanithi died halfway through.

Kalanithi was forced to extract meaning out of life. To live every moment of his remaining life with complete awareness, picking and choosing from myriad decisions and to dwell on thoughts that only matter to him, a sped-up Thích Nhat Hạnh.

Today, I can smell drying cement on the pavement, hear the crunch of tires on tar and even feel the rhythm at the crosswalk stop light.

Today I live.

whenbreathbecomesair-1

4 thoughts on “Stories That We Tell Ourselves

  1. “…a sped-up Thích Nhat Hạnh.”

    I love this, Madhu. Love it.

    Are you writing things for Mira? I am asking that question because what moved me the most in Kalanidhi’s book was this passage.

    “That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

    Pema Chodron mentioned in one of her books that the moment in which the monks are most alive, are is when the gong goes at the end of a session. Just that moment. Those several hours of strenuous meditation don’t count, apparently. So our meetings, investments, anxieties, none of it counts? Just a book, the gong? I have come to believe that, Madhu.

    Have you read ‘You Can’t Have My Hate’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deepika, just read an amazing article on “You Can’t Have my Hate”. Generally I wouldn’t have chanced upon it, given my reading preferences, but it looks so amazing. I think I might pick it up (ditching HP of course).

      Pema Chodron’s (haven’t read her works either) take on vitality is amazing. It very well could be. It is tough to simmer all the zen into words for us folks in its entirety!

      For Mira, my only hope is she reads voraciously. There there will be Miras, not just a Mira. But she is her own person too, so who knows!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ‘You Can’t Have My Hate’ is too short, Madhu. I wanted to hear more from the guy. But that’s me for you. I love books like that now. I was a bit hesitant to ask or recommend for obvious reasons. I hope you would write about it.

        And please stop reading HP. I just had to stop another friend from rereading GoT. Gosh. You people make me sound so old. 😋

        Pema Chodron’s works heighten my neurosis, Madhu. It makes me SO SO mad that I even slip into the crack. But that is the point of her writing, I understand. To make me face all the uncomfortable things in life. I read four books this year. And those months were the toughest phase on my life. She really fucked with my head. I don’t think I would go back to her. At least, not for a while. I am all for being ‘grounded’. She is all for ‘groundlessness’.

        I hope the Miras would read voraciously.

        Liked by 1 person

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