This past weekend I was at a gathering and a scenario came up that has happened often in my life when I have mentioned that I don’t think I will be having children. 

A friend who recently had a baby was there with her mom. This was the first time I was meeting this sweet grandma who clearly loved her grandkid. 

She asked me if I have kids and I said no and that I don’t want kids.

I should say also, that the certainty with which I was saying this was surprising to myself because in the past 5-6 years when asked with similar question, I hear myself say “well, I am really not sure, but I don’t think I want to have kids”

What was really interesting to me about this interaction was that after she made sure that I know I can still have kids in my 40s but don’t want to and my only reason is that I don’t want to spend my days raising children but that I rather enjoy the children and give them back to their parents, the grandma came close to me and in almost a whispering voice, as if she was letting me on a secret said “nooo, don’t say that. you say that now but you will regret it”, “people who don’t have kids will regret it”

Of course this was not the first time I had heard this, especially of Iranians of the older generation or even some of my own generation. 

So this is how the conversation went:

The Persian Grandma: “you say that now but you will regret it”

Me, smiling:  “It’s ok. It’s not like regret will kill me. I’ll live”

Persian grandma looking somewhat surprised “but you will be depressed” 

Me: “It’s ok. I have been depressed in my life before. I didn’t die of it. Maybe I’ll take something if I am really depressed”

Persian Grandma seemed exasperated by my lack of understanding of the gravity of regret and went on to say in Farsi “No you don’t understand. Badbakht mishi” which per google translate is “you will have a wretched life.”

At this point, looking at how hard and with sweet intentions, she was trying to scare me of this childless future, it made me laugh and she laughed with me, and quickly emphasized that I should really think about this more.

Many of us fear regret. This comes up especially about not having children and especially for women. But regret, obviously can come up in many fields of life. What I have realized with doing the work of Byron Katie, is that when someone says “You will regret it” or when we think “I will regret this”, we are seeing an image of a future, where we are for example sitting alone, older, somewhere in maybe a house, looking lonely and sad, and simultaneously seeing images of all these other people who are laughing and having dinner around their tables with their families and multiple kids and the older, lonely us is perpetually sad. 

We, right here, at this moment, see an image of a future (that obviously hasn’t happened and we don’t even know if it will ever happen) of not only a snapshot of feeling lonely and looking with longing in to this happy, lively life of others but what the scared mind offers is that this snapshot will be forever.  What the mind shows us is that at some point, the older you will enter the stage of regret and from that moment on, you will be locked in to that state. Every day, every hour, alone, lonely, sad, miserable, at home alone or walking in the streets and seeing people with their families, all happy, every moment and forever. 

This right here is what people fear and try to scare others with, mostly with good intentions. This is the same fear that comes up when we break up or have the thought that I will never have a partner. Or lose friends or feel like we are losing our tribe or won’t have one if we don’t live similar lives to others. 

The fear of forever lonely and sad. 

What I find comical about this image, only after I did the work of BK many times on loneliness, is that even though we all have heard of “this too shall pass” and even have experienced that our feelings have come and go, we still fully believe the thought and images of “FOREVERNESS”. 

Even though many of us have experienced immense sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, envy, etc, etc and yet maybe later that same day or month or year experienced utter joy, laugher, happiness, connectedness, we somehow think that the regret of not having children or certain other choices, will put you in to a state of forever wretchedness. 

And one might ask this lovely grandma who seems so convinced that childlessness equals wretchedness, how can she know that for sure? Because obviously she has had children and so regret of childlessness is not her own personal experience. Did she do her own personal survey, finding those people, who amongst her circle, I would guess are a few if any, who didn’t have kids and asked them how they feel everyday and every year until they died and observed their wretched lives? Or is it perhaps that she has lived all her life with this image that was handed down to her by some other grandma?

I am sure there are people out there who by choice or chance didn’t have children and may say “I wish I had kids.” As are people who say, I wish I didn’t marry him or I wish I went to school or got that other job. And of course, while they think these thought and see, in their mind, images of their lives and compare it to images of an alternative life, they will likely feel sad.

How can anyone know with certainty what their life would be if they had taken a different path?  In reality, these are all thoughts offered by the mind, comparing an image to another image, taking us away from here and now and creating the feeling that comes up from watching the movie in our head.

Obviously, none of this is to say that having children, for whatever reason, even if out of fear of regret, is bad (or good). 

This reflection is merely a reminder to myself and anyone reading, who has heard these similar comments and maybe felt disturbed by it, to actually look at those scary images that are behind the word REGRET. Our freedom lies in seeing these images for what they are, imagination, not reality.

Thoughts on Two Spanish Movies

Been sick at home for the past few days, having had to cancel a trip I was looking forward to for my mom’s birthday. 

All I am doing, when I am not sleeping, is read and watch movies, mostly in Spanish. (Covid test Negative… phewww!) 

I saw two old Spanish movies that are incredible and although old, feels so relevant. 

One was the story of a woman married to a man who doesn’t know how to control his anger and beats her. What is incredible about this movie is that you get to see the struggle of the man (as well as the woman). The subdued woman who lives perpetually in fear. And the man who doesn’t know what to do with his thoughts and feelings of inferiority, jealousy, anger and has clearly learned to bully. This looks familiar, having grown up in Iran but what I realize is that this toxic masculinity has no borders. Iran, Spain, USA. In this movie, although you can’t help but hate the man and find yourself rooting for her to leave him but I could also see the immense pain of this man who didn’t know what to do with himself and who wanted desperately to change.

Today, I saw Mar adentro (the sea inside). One of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. The story (Which is a true one indeed), the characters, the incredible acting, the music (which is amazingly composed by the director himself, Alejandro Amenábar). 

I find that conversations around death and suicide are such taboo. The idea of death is so painful and permanent for us that we don’t really want to think about it or talk about it. My mom refuses to let me finish a sentence that starts with “if I die… or when I die”. she interrupts me and says “I don’t want to hear it”

This movie is the true story of a man who became a quadriplegic in his 20s and fought the next 29 years of his life for the right to assisted-suicide (since he couldn’t kill himself by himself) which was denied in every Spanish court.

Somehow suicide is heavily looked down at. Perhaps some think of it as a failure. In one part of the movie, a priest who is also a quadriplegic tries to convince Ramon (the main character) that life is worth living. That perhaps he is not getting enough love or attention, which of course makes his family and friends who lovingly care for him feel humiliated.

Can we really tell someone that life is worth living? Is life experienced by one person, perceived through the combination of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, hormones, neurons, habits, personality of one person is the same as another? 

In another part of the movie, Ramon who is overall a mild mannered, very lovable, smiling man is distraught, crying and saying over and over “why can’t I be like others? why do I want to die?”

I can’t even imagine how I would feel about my life if I was confined to a bed, unable to move any part of my body except my head, totally dependent on others for all my basic needs. 

A part of me hopes that maybe even in that situation I can find happiness by questioning and not believing the thoughts that cause me suffering such as “I shouldn’t be dependent on others”, or “life is better if I could walk”, etc. Thoughts that would make me compare my life to others or my previous life. 

But no one can know unless you are in it. Even now, being perfectly healthy, as hard as I try to do all that I have learned to stay sane and not suffer, I suffer at times. I suffer believing the thoughts that go through my head, that my life should look this way or that way. The comparisons that come up in my head.  

Some days, I suffer immensely because I can’t shake off the sadness or purposelessness that envelopes me. On those days I wonder if maybe my hormones are off, maybe my serotonin is low, maybe genetically I am predisposed to days of being down. 

All of this leaves me with this realization, if with all I know as a doctor, yogi, meditator, doing everything to take care of my mental and physical health, I still get so depressed or anxious or enveloped in utter pain, how can I judge someone else? How can I really know what is going on in someone’s head and what they have done to help themselves or not? 

If I can find even the slightest amount of compassion and self love at times when my brain becomes an utter judgmental bitch, then maybe I can be compassionate to others whatever they are going through. Wether it is the one who wants to kill himself, the one who stays in an abusive relationship, or the one who is learned to abuse. 

If anyone is looking for some great movies to watch and you don’t mind subtitles, I highly recommend “Mar Adentro” and “Te doy mis ojos”.

When you can’t imagine it, can it still happen?

If someone told me in 2019, that later this year, you are going to meet someone. It is going to have the same excitement and attraction as other guys you had liked, but what will be different is that you will feel a friendship and ease with this guy and that this relationship, unlike all the other ones that lasted a few months, will continue and make it even in to a year, I would say “no way! not in this lifetime!”

I just could not imagine the possibility of an easy, loving, relationship that lasts more than a few months where I am not perpetually anxious. 

I was so convinced that I would never have a long term, easy relationship and I had plenty of proof for it.

Some of my proofs were: 

1- All my relationships last a few months and this has happened for so long and so often, so why would the future be any different? And this is what I have realized is that we often take the past and project it as proof in to the future. If it has been this way so often and for so long, then it will definitely continue to be this way. 

2- I heard or read the advice that said “you have to know exactly what you want. You should even be able to imagine it fully, for it manifest”. Well…. I couldn’t imagine anything. Even when I tried to imagine myself in a good relationship with some ideal guy, in my own imagination it’d start going sour and I’d feel rejected in my own daydream which was comical. But I took this as evidence that I can’t meet someone since I can’t imagine it and I don’t know exactly what I want. Which caused further anxiety about this topic. So, I stopped trying to imagine it. 

3- They say “it happens when you least expect it”. This also was not really helpful. Because even though I had completely given up on the prospect of a long term relationship and wasn’t actively searching, but it was always in the back of my mind and I was open to it and still very much wanting to meet someone I’d like to be in a relationship with. So every time someone would say “it happens when you least expect it”, I’d think “shit, well I think I may be still expecting it”

4- I also heard at times or perhaps read somewhere “you may be picking the wrong men or can’t appreciate a guy who can truly love you if you don’t fully love yourself”….. so every time I’d realize I am somehow not loving myself, I’d feel more certain that I am nowhere near a healthy, good relationship and this will just be how my life will be forever.

When I met my current partner, it started with the same excitement of meeting a new person I like and admire. But maybe what was different is that I had just finished the school of Byron Katie and had had some epiphanies that made me decide to practice treating men exactly like women. Seeing them as friends. Not as a potential romantic partner that I’d want to impress. 

We met as friends but within a few days of him showing interest for something more, I thought “here we go, I wonder how long this will last. 3 months or 4 months?”. I kept doing the work of Byron Katie on every fear. and kept telling him everything that was going on with me as sensibly as I could. I kept practicing treating him like a girlfriend despite all that I heard in my entire life about “don’t say this to your guy or don’t tell him everything” And when I would open up about an anxiety or insecurity, he’d be surprise me by being totally like a friend with no trace of judgement. 

And every month, I’d think I wonder how long this will last. Even now, one year and 2 months in to it, practically living together, I wonder how long this will last. 

But what is obvious at this point is that, even if this relationship were to end tomorrow, my previous beliefs and proofs were not true. Because here is one woman who had repeated, short, anxiety-provoking relationships for over a decade, who was working on loving herself (but didn’t fully), had totally given up on a relationship and yet still very much wanted it, couldn’t imagine a good relationship and didn’t even know exactly what she wanted, who suddenly found herself in a relationship she could not imagine in her wildest dreams.

So here is my question to myself (and anyone whom this may resonate with), what other beliefs are you so sure of and have even evidence and proof for that are just causing you pain? What if your hard core beliefs that make you sad and hopeless were just not true? Who would you be without your story?

Journey of self love

For most of my late 20s and 30s, every romantic relationship I entered, after a few months, I felt anxious. Somehow feeling that this person is not in to me as much as they were a week go, a month ago or a day ago. I used to think I am right when I think “he is not in to me anymore”. My proof was that “he was chasing after me last week, telling me how amazing I am and now he is not doing that. he is calling less or he is in his head when we are together. or he didn’t ask to go out this weekend.” This thought inevitability would make me either break up with the guy or act strange (hurt, distant, mixed messages, etc) and somehow the relationship would not work out.

With every guy, I found myself inevitably in the same thoughts, in the same feelings. In the pat 4-5 years, I started to wonder am I just picking all these messed-up guys? or is it somehow me erroneously thinking they are not in to me and they actually are? is it me being insecure?

A friend told me that there is a whole category for people like me. it is called anxious attached. And the doctor in me thought, well this is great, if there is a diagnosis, then there is a treatment. but the more I looked, it seemed to be a cure-less diagnosis. the recommendations were to seek therapy (to see why you have anxious attachment issues) which I was doing for many years and to communicate it with your partner which I tried to do when I could muster up the courage. But with every break up, I felt really defeated. that I am just so wired wrong and inevitably fuck up all my relationships.

About a year and half ago I got introduced to the work of Byron Katie. I was watching a YouTube where a girl was talking about feeling jealous that her boyfriend is in a band with his ex and and every time they are together she felt very jealous. Katie took her through the work (the 4 questions and turn arounds) and I saw how she came to realize the fallacy of her fears, of her fear-inducing beliefs and seemed less jealous by the end of it.

This was so appealing to me. I wanted to let go of beliefs that made me needy and insecure in the relationship. I wanted to do the work of Byron Katie to get rid of those beliefs and be this super cool girl who goes in to a relationship and doesn’t care if her boyfriend is talking to someone else or doesn’t give her attention. I wanted to be this cool, care-free, not-needy girl.

It seemed to work at the moment that I would do a worksheet. I’d feel sad that this guy I was dating hadn’t called and I’d write down “he doesn’t care about me” and then I ask is it true? can you absolutely know it is true?, etc, etc. and by the end of the worksheet I was out of that mental hypnotism where I was convinced “he doesn’t care about me” and I was suffering less.

I started a new relationship and I did the work every time I thought he is losing interest in me. and many times I was able to let go of an intrusive thought by just going through the questions. My relationship continued (unlike all the other ones that would only last a few months). I felt ecstatic. I remember few months in to our relationship, we were traveling together and we had a conversation that made me insecure. I was feeling really anxious and sad thinking that the thought “he doesn’t really love me that much”…. we got home from a day out, I said I want to journal and went to the kitchen and sat and did the work and totally was able to have a different perception. I even was able to tell him about the process and the icing on the cake was that he told me how I had misunderstood him to begin with and how much he loved me.

But sometimes I would try to do the work and it wouldn’t work. I would sit with the intention of getting rid of a belief and it wouldn’t work. I’d feel frustrated and then I’d feel really fearful that this insecure, frustrated, angry, sad (or whatever negative emotion) is now behaving distant or short with my boyfriend and he will leave, that he won’t like me because I am distant and in a bad mood. So I’d sit and try to write and do what work again and again to see if I can get to that blissful and care-free state and sometimes it wouldn’t come……it just wouldn’t come.

And then slowly I realized the most important part of doing the work…..That you can’t do the work to get rid of a part of yourself. You can’t do the work with the agenda of self-rejection, even if that self is the one who is believing a thought that is not true.

I asked Tom Compton (a certified facilitator of the work) to do a session with me and that’s when it started to really sink in (well, after actually 10 sessions with him or more that he kept reiterating the same thing.

Here’s a snip-it of it:

Me: I am in the living room with my boyfriend. He is in his head. he is distant and quiet. I go hug him and he hugs me back but is still distant. I think “he is probably sick of me. he wants his own space. I am so needy”. I asked tom, what do I do when I feel this way?

Tom: Can you feel the needy girl in you and open your arms and welcome her?

Me: hmmm….. ok I feel her. I feel needy.

Tom: Can you welcome here even if she were to never change?

Me: WHAT? hmmm No! not really….. I am doing the work so she will change. if she doesn’t change, she will ruin my life. She will ruin my relationship. I will be alone……actually I hate her.

Tom: Then feel the hate… just really feel it. what is the purpose of this hate?

Me: To get rid of her. to get rid of the needy girl

Tom: has it worked? being at war with her and hating her, has it worked? has it made her go away?

Me: crying, no…. it hasn’t.

Tom: Are you interested in hating this part of yourself? you were under the impression that hating on it would work, now that you see it doesn’t, are you still interested in hating her?

Me: crying, no….. crying (tears of release, tears of sadness, tears from feeling hugged)

Tom: can you open your arms to her?

Me: I am scared that she will ruin my life.

Tom: ask her if she wants to ruin your life?

Me: hmmmmm….. me asking some imaginary part of myself who feels needy “do you want to ruin my life?” and I see this scared girl, saying no, just crying and sad and scared.

Tom: can you welcome her, just at this moment? you will see that these parts of us just want to be seen, accepted and loved. are you interested in unconditional love or conditional love?

Me: hmmmm…. wow, I really do want unconditional love.

Tom: then here is your chance. letting her know she is accepted even if she never changes. that’s really all she wants.

Sessions like this does remind me that this is also what I learned in the mindfulness course I took some years ago. or in the Radical acceptance book by Tara Brach. or what my therapist used to remind me. But somehow during these facilitations, I really felt like Tom showed me the road map. here it is, you wanted to know how to love yourself, here it is….. and only and only after you totally welcome this scared, insecure girl (even if she never changes), then you can say “hey love, let’s do the work together and see if this belief that hurts you so much is true or not.”

Which reminds me of what I read in one of Byron Katie’s books “do the work for the love of the truth, for the love of freedom…..not to change the world”

I am willing to experience this — how to be with one’s own self

This morning I woke up with a whole army of thoughts. Going over a conversation with some friends. Feeling angry of why she said that. Feeling sad at why they think this way. Why do they have this kind of standards. As I was laying in bed, looking at my phone, another thought said I should exercise before going to meet up some friends for lunch. And yet, I was still in bed looking at my phone, while the thought of “having to exercise, shower, get ready and leave and it is not enough time” was lurking around giving me anxiety. 

Then another thought “ugh, I always feel annoyed at this friend”. More thoughts and images of memories of past, so many years ago, when she would say this or that. And how I bet if I tell her this, she’d have this kind of smart-ass remark to give me……. And then I noticed I am having a full-on conversation in my head with her trying to convince her how she is wrong. How her ideas are old. How she should try to have an open mind, and thoughts of her responses that would aggravate me. 

I start exercising and realize I don’t have time. So after 5 reps of biceps curls in one arm, I put the weights away. And decide to go shower. but now I am thinking of how I should have woken up early to exercise. 

As the water pours over my head, I am taken out of my thoughts for a second and realize how tense I am because of all of these thoughts. All of these imaginary conversations that I am having. I am imagining how she would be so adamant in defending her position. How her ideas are so old and how she hasn’t questioned her beliefs. 

In the shower, I say a prayer, please help me see things more clearly. To see how I can be less bothered by these friends, by people. 

I get out of shower. Get dressed. As I am driving, I am still in my head thinking and thinking. But the truth is, I am not thinking, the thoughts are just going and going and going. I want to be present to this moment and yet they come and come and come. 

And all of a sudden, I realize I am kind of at war with myself right now. And what I want more than anything is to just learn to be with myself in peace. How can I be with myself in peace? How can I enjoy my own company? cause these thoughts don’t seem to go away despite all the work I have done on myself, here I am with a million bothersome thoughts. 

And then I had a moment of a miracle. I call it a miracle when a thought comes that is like a balsam to the wound, the peace-inducing thought. And the thought was “what if I was open to my thoughts?” I remembered hearing Tom Compton (who has a podcast and is a facilitator of the work of Byron Katie) say what if you were open to all of it? I said to myself, it is ok Niloo. It is ok to have all these thoughts. They are just a lot of scared little children. They just want everything to be good, for you to be loved, to belong. Even though they sound angry, but underneath it, there is the desire to connect (for my friends to change their beliefs and think like me, so we feel connected). I want to feel loved by them and feel love towards them. This is so innocent. Like a kid that just wants others to play with him and not take away his toys. For us all to agree. 

And at that moment, I felt a release of all that tension. To just be open to the torturous thoughts. Cause they are coming anyways. If I was willing to experience it, somehow the experience of the moment changes when I am open to it. 

I always wonder how to be with oneself? How to not feel lonely? I have heard or read somewhere “if you can’t enjoy your own company and thoughts, how can you expect someone else to?” 

I really think this is the way for me to be with myself, to enjoy my own company. Wether or not I want it, this is my company. These incessant thoughts are part of it. To say “I am willing to experience this” is like saying “I am willing to be here in my body and mind right now” and then feel how it feels to be open and willing to experience something vs. how it feels to not be open and willing, to really not want to experience something that is happening right now. 

Byron Katie’s famous “ Judge a neighbor” worksheet’s last statement is “what is it about this person or event that you never want to experience again?” and then you turn it around and reflect on “I am willing to or are open to experiencing it” why? Because frankly you are seeing it in your head anyways (so you are experiencing it in your thoughts anyways) and why else? because do you want to be free? 

Is he lying to me….. or…… do I not like me?

Last night I was talking to the guy I am dating. I was telling him that not being able to go to the gym (because of the gym closure in this corona times) has made me get anxiety about getting out of shape. At one point, he stopped me and gave me a complement about my body, smiling and saying how he is in to my body. It momentarily (like for 5 seconds) felt good, before the next thought crossed my mind “he is just saying that… maybe he likes my body but preferred it was more toned…. He likes it now but will not liked it if I gain weight” and my “problem areas” or what I think as “problem areas” flashed in front of my face strengthening the thought that “he must not really like my body that much”

Then it hit me. If I don’t believe I am good enough it doesn’t matter what someone else says, I won’t believe them. Which reminded me of the work of Byron Katie (also called “the work”), a self-reflection process I’ve been doing for some time. It is a process of identifying and questioning stress-causing thoughts.

When I do the work on insecure thoughts about my relationship…. for example; he will lose interest in me (a thought I have every time I date someone I am in to), I find out that I am actually looking at his words and actions through the lens of this thought “he is losing interest in me” and finding evidence for it. 

And when I do the work and realize this and go back and for example, read an old text message that at the time had made me freak out, I suddenly realize that I hadn’t even read the text right and dismissed parts of it. 

Forexample, in the first few weeks we had started dating, he had invited me to his friend’s house who was having a party. I texted him saying, do you want to meet up together and hang out before going to your friend’s party? And his response was something like: “I’d love to see you earlier and spend more time with you. I am already here early to help him out but why don’t you come here if you want and we can hang out here” 

When I first read this, the feeling that came over me was that subtle anxiety… thinking  “I am more in to him than he is in to me.”, “he is being nice and polite but doesn’t care much about seeing me as much I want to see him”

I decided to question the validity of this thought, “I am more in to him than he is in to me” by doing the work which is questioning the validity of the thought using 4 questions and then turning the thought around. (really sitting with each question with an open mind)

1-Is it true? 2- Can I absolutely know it is true?  3- How do I react when I believe this thought (as in what emotions come up? What images of past and future come up?how do I treat him and myself when I believe this thought) 4- Who would I be without this thought? (Who would I be looking at my phone with his text on it and couldn’t even think this thought?)

And then turn the thought around and see if the turned around thought (he is in to me as much as I am in to him or he is more in to me than I am in to him, etc) is true or not?

When I did this process, in the midst of sitting with these questions and turn-arounds, I had this mind-blowing realization that as long as I think I am not good enough, as long as “I am not in to me” (which was also a turn around), I won’t believe when he literally says “I’d love to see you and spend more time with you”. I see these words and think oh, he is just being nice. 

And how many times in the day, in our other relationships, we are certain someone is lying or just flattering us, or doubting them. And we are certain of it because in the past our experience showed that this person or another person had just been flattering me. And this is how we live in the past, never really giving the present person, the present moment, the words we are hearing, a real chance. The mind has a narrative that it gets from the past and it projects to now and future constantly. It’s our safety mechanism….. how we protect ourselves from getting hurt. 

I heard a friend once say, I am very good at profiling people. They say one sentence and I can read them all the way. And she was proud of this. But then life becomes dull to say the least. No chance for anything new.

I have heard Byron Katie say “if my husband didn’t wash the dishes last night and I see him in the morning, he is innocent this morning” I used to hear this and find it bizarre. I’d think but he is guilty of not washing the dishes last night.  But the more I sit with events that have hurt or bothered me and find the thought behind the emotion and question it, the more I am realizing how nice it would be if I could totally forget the past continuously and see only the now. And even though I can’t really forget the past, but questioning the validity of my perception of the past allows the past to show itself to me more clearly and often times it is a lot less painful than I had perceived it.

In my forever quest of how to suffer less, my newest friend is this work of Byron Katie but I find the essence of this work the same as what mindfulness (MBSR) says, the same as what my therapist of the past 3 years who describes her spiritual path as “a course in miracle” reiterated to me on each session or what Echkart Tole says. They say it in different wording but ultimately all trying to bring you to the pure experience of this present moment. 

So I guess a moment of victory for me was when I heard the guy I am dating tell me how he is in to my body and then immediately doubted him, thankfully, I then doubted my doubt. Is it him lying to me about liking my body or is it me not liking my body and therefor finding it hard to believe him no matter what he says?

This feeling lonely

Journals from October 2018…. some really lonely days…….

I wonder how many people at this instant feel lonely in the world. How does loneliness feel to them? 

I have realized that at times although alone I don’t feel lonely. And those are the times I feel somehow connected to others or something. That my life matters. 

But when that heavy feeling of loneliness sets in, it feels like I am not connected to anything or anyone. That I am irrelevant.

And today I woke up feeling like that. I had this full week. Busy and full of people and work. And I really enjoyed it. But it is interesting how a little thought comes like “I have no plans this weekend” and then a little phrase or text can … whoosh… take you to that lonely place. Perhaps touch that existential wound that we all have.  At that moment that I heard my sister say she had to get off the phone cause she was gonna have dinner with her husband. This phrase made me think” “Look at how much of a priority they are to each other” and made me feel sad that I don’t have someone in my life that I enjoy his company so much that I would stop my other conversations to go have dinner with him. 

And then while my mind was marinating part consciously and part not so much on “I am lonely”, I got a text from a close friend whom I love to spend time with and haven’t seen in a while. We used to have this weekend ritual together that I looked forward to. Every Saturday we used to start the morning with a dance class, then go to this diner for brunch. We’d share our feelings, laugh and many times cry our eyes out, going through so much tissue paper wiping our tears. But her life has changed. She now has a small kid and has become busy with family plans and even though I know she wants to see me, it doesn’t happen as often anymore. She messaged me telling me that she loves me and that she has seen this beautiful movie with her husband and that I should go see it. Instead of feeling happy that I got this loving text from her, my mind went in to thinking about how these days she spends her entire weekend with her husband and family and makes no mention of seeing me. 

I thought, here I am really looking forward to these encounters. To seeing my sister and to seeing my best friend but their lives are full with their husbands, etc and their priorities are to them. They don’t need me as much as I need them.

So I went from being in peace with my life this past week….Work was good, in appreciation for my medical assistant, my coworkers, my friends who I had spent time with, even how I got to randomly meet someone while on a run and thinking what wonderful surprises you get when you are single….. to waking up with these thoughts, my mind going down the quick sand of “how sad is my life and how un-needed I am to these people I need. And if I wasn’t even here, yes, maybe they would be sad but they’d get over it” 

In the midst of this sad saga, this story of feeling sorry for my self, I thought how can I get myself out of this and went to the only thing that works when I am willing to do it. I remembered the words of my therapist “befriend the loneliness, be with what comes up” so I reached for mindfulness. 

The RAIN practice of emotions – Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. I listened to Tara Brach’s guided RAIN meditation. Sat with it and just let it all come up. The waves of sadness so strong it feels like it is gonna rip through my heart and would never end. But then the ability to nurture, like a mother that holds an unruly, needy kid with so much love and tenderness. with no judgement. And then slowly and so slowly it is amazing how emotions subtly shift when we don’t resist them. And as I finished this RAIN meditation and started moving about my day, through the ensuing hours, wisdom became so much more clear and accessible. 

I was able to notice all that I love and is here around me. Like this willow tree by my window that dances in the wind and is so soothing to me. or this little kitty that sleeps so cozily and makes me smile or how I love to go run by the trees and feel the air in my hair.

And I was able to have some clearer thoughts. I thought no one can really take the place of someone else.  Yes, my sister has her husband who is her companion but it doesn’t take away from her connection with me. I remember times in my life that I was so busy with what was in front of my face, wether a relationship or new friends and studies in medical school and I had less time for my sister or other friends. Did it mean they were irrelevant? Did it mean that even if I didn’t see them or talk to them for days or even weeks that their presence didn’t warm my heart and give me reassurance? And if any one of them were to “not be here” there would be a giant hole the size of them in my life; their kindness, their wit, their touch… just like after all these years, there is still a hole in my life the size of my dad, even though at times I didn’t spend enough time with him or didn’t even feel fully connected to him while he was alive.

I think no one is immune to loneliness at least at some points in their lives. And when we are going through it, it feels like it will never end. And some of us have come to see  loneliness either as a deficiency on our part or fault of others for abandoning us or fault of universe for forgetting about us. But the truth is that it is just being human, part our need for connection and part our unhelpful and frankly bullshit conditioning depicted perfectly in the famous song by Dean Martin that says “you are no body till somebody loves you” or more like “till somebody shows you they love you the way you think they should” cause they could love you (like my sister and friends do) and your expectations of them makes you think they don’t.

Such is life, my love. This is what I hear from that wiser part of me, the sane part of my mind…. Such is life. And this is a season that has some lonely days in it. And it is ok. And when these self-pitying thoughts pour in your head and deepen the pain of loneliness, just see them, hear them and forgive them again and again, forgive your mind again and again and turn your attention to love, to that ever-present love that is right here, in the dance of the willow tree leaves, the cozy nap of the cat under that patch of sun, the joy of the wind in your hair when you run. Open your arms to all of life.

To share or not?…… the vulnerability hangover

I have realized that when it comes to open-ness, vulnerability and sharing, I have one foot in the idea that sharing and being vulnerable is healing and overall a positive thing and one foot in an old belief that perhaps comes from my culture, maybe parents or older relatives that “you shouldn’t be so open”, “some things are to be kept private”

My friend who has a podcast called “Sustainable Medicine” recorded a conversation of us for a podcast episode, asking me about my recent decision to quit my job, take a break from full time medicine and the time in my life when I felt very burnt out. As he would ask me the questions, the vulnerable answers would come to my mind and I would think “should I share this or share a less vulnerable version of it?”…. a part of me wanted to be as real as possible…. I wanted to tell any person who is listening and might be feeling the same anxiety and burn out that they are are not alone in all their thoughts and emotions and yet as soon as the words would come out of my mouth, I’d think about how my words can be judged by some people. 

After we had finished recording the podcast, I found myself not wanting to listen to it. It was hard to hear myself being vulnerable. I was wondering why am I having a hard time with this whole sharing and how much or how little to share. Why do I get a vulnerability hangover when I share? I write this blog and it makes it seem like sharing is easy for me. But the truth is, it is and it isn’t. Being open generally comes easy to me. But usually after I share something somewhat vulnerable, I get what I heard Brene Brown call “the vulnerability hangover”, which is when this judge in me wakes up and starts telling me how I shouldn’t have shared. This is probably the reason I stopped writing in my blog for over a year. 

I sat in inquiry (using Byron Katie’s method called the work) trying to figure out where I get this duality from. Wondering why I have a judgement about open-ness which is something that a part of me feels strongly about and frankly comes so naturally to me. 

Why do I judge something that is so me? 

I realized that I had gotten criticized by parents or elders as a kid or a teenager when I had shared what they thought should not have been shared “why did you tell so and so about this?” Or I’d hear in Farsi “you are so sadeh” which literally means simple but actually means gullible and in this context meaning not savvy enough to know what not to share with someone… mainly not to ruin your image. I guess the goal being to always give and maintain a good image. 

And come to think of it, the judge in me is also worried about image or what others will think of me after I share what I share and in general about being an open person. Will they think; whoa…. that’s too much sharing or will they feel uncomfortable hearing someone sharing about her insecurity? Will they like me less or think less of me? 

When I do the work of Byron Katie, the forth and last question is “Who would you be without this thought?” And in this case the judging thought is that somehow sharing is “bad.” Whenever I do the inquiry, I find so much freedom in question number 4. Who would I be without a thought that causes me grief? The answer is always a relaxed, pure me, just being me. When I did this exercise, asking myself this question, who would I be without the thought that sharing is (bad, stupid, unwise, approval-seeking, uncool, etc), I did find the same freedom. I’d be me. But then immediately came a fear… shit, what if without this thought, without this judgmental thought, I’d share too much. I’d somehow be really uninhibited and it would be unacceptable. 

And at the moment that this fear crept up is when I realized that I just hit the edge of my freedom at this moment and point in my life.

I remember I was in a meditation class of my favorite teacher and she always started the class with a personal story of some challenge she was facing and how meditation/mindfulness had given her insight in to the challenge. She’d share really vulnerable things like how she was getting older and had the fear of not being able to have children and had chosen to freeze her eggs or how she had gotten really irritated at her boyfriend earlier that day and had then had a moment of awareness which helped her not react. 

Her honest sharing was the reason I went to class. It was the reason I loved her class. I wonder if she ever experienced vulnerability hangover? If she did, I am glad she didn’t let it stop her from sharing. Her stories are still with me. They made me feel close to her and they made me feel less alone in my struggles. 

What to do with all these thoughts?

This morning I woke up with this subtle not so great feeling. Ugh what is the thought. What if I like him more than he likes me? What if I am more attached than he is?…. No in reality, the thought doesn’t even have a maybe in it. It doesn’t come as a question. It comes with certainty; “I like him more than he likes me.” 

So where the fuck is this thought coming from? I really don’t have any objective evidence for it but I know this is how my relationships go down. With this exact, subtle thought. It starts little like this and then festers. If I believe this thought, I subtly pull back. And then of course they react to me pulling back and then I get my self-fulfilling prophecy indeed fulfilled. Then I am sure he likes me less and I pull back more. 

So I do the only thing that I know usually helps me. Write and write. Write all my thoughts. What little word or phrase did I hear that has made my mind go there? When you are a sensitive person with a past that you believe as “failed relationships” and get attracted to unconventional guys who value their independence, it is easy to take little things as evidence for your story. The story I have in my head. I will need him more than he needs me. 

It was helpful to look at the little thoughts that were there as evidence behind this thought and to really ask my self; Is it really true what I am thinking or is it just habitual thinking? Just water down the old river. What is the habitual pattern of thinking for me? I start a relationship and slowly start to have thoughts like these that make me anxious or eat away at my peace and I can’t enjoy getting to know this new person that universe has brought in to my life. 

My habitual pattern is also to get really mad at myself when I have these thoughts. Why they hell do you think this way? Why can’t you not be so sensitive and just not take every little word as meaning something or other. But truth is that getting mad at myself does not help anything. 

So while struggling with all of these thoughts and feelings while trying to go about my day, I stopped and just remembered what I learned in this course I took “mindfulness self compassion” and I also remembered the promise I made myself a few months ago “I will never abandon any part of myself” and here is a part of me that is in pain (meaning anxiety, fear, confusion, etc) and the course said whenever there is pain, there is room for compassion. So I held this part of me that is so scared and confused, telling her she belongs too. It is ok if she is sometimes so sensitive towards every little word and is scared and even wants to pull back. I literally held that part of me like a scared child. It’s ok. You have the right to be here, even thought ultimately you are believing some thoughts that are not valid but still, you are here and if you are here, you deserve to be here. 

I would have never allowed myself to do this before. I used to think that if I am giving room, or saying ok to a part of me that says “I am not liked” or “victim” or “needy” that it will get worse, but what I have realized that it doesn’t. In my case, accepting and loving all of me, even the parts I really wish I didn’t have, actually feels much better ultimately and makes me be able to think more clearly. 

I realized the thought is: what if the kind of closeness I want in my relationship is not what he wants. What if I am fooling myself and making it seem like I want a more distant relationship. The truth is that I don’t exactly know what kind of relationship I want. It’s been so long since I was in a a long term relationship. 

We walk around together talking about how unconventional our lives are and I find myself out of the blue saying “I don’t think there is anything wrong with living in two separate houses and having a relationship like that, some people do it”. Or that “we don’t have to label anything” and I totally and utterly believe it when I say it. 

And then out of the blue I wake up and I also have thoughts like “what if we are dating for months and months and he never introduces me as his girlfriend or what if he wants tons of space to himself, or what if I want to live with him and he doesn’t” Which one of these thoughts are really me? When I am thinking the former thoughts I feel ok about myself. I feel independent and when I think the latter thoughts, I judge myself for being needy.  So realizing this, again, I decide to not judge the thoughts, but see them as my children.………  if you are here, you belong…. It’s ok for me to want more closeness and if he doesn’t, then we want different things and maybe I won’t be with him ….. it’s ok… it’s ok… it’s ok…. It doesn’t make me needy or lesser or not as strong….. it’s ok” 

And that’s exactly what happened. After having this brief moment of accepting all my children; the needy, the scared, the confused, the one in doubt, the one who wants to pull back, the one who may want more closeness than this guy may want, I reached some moments of clarity. 

I realized that the opposite of this could be true as well. In fact I’ve also been there. I could be with a guy,  and he is dropping his life to be with me every moment. He is only wanting to spend his time with me over his other friends. He is telling everyone I am his girlfriend after only some weeks of knowing each other and asking me to do the same. He is planning his entire life around me….. and I can easily imagine the thoughts I would have at that time. Of course I would initially be happy that someone I so admire, is so in to me but I can see that I will probably have thoughts like “do I really want to be with him everyday of the rest of my life? Do I really want to only be with him and have such an exclusive relationship where I am not free to meet and experience conversations and friendships with other men (and I don’t mean sexually but even just friendships) ….. I started to remember my first relationship of almost 10 years and how enmeshed our relationship was….. no room to meet anyone else, no room for new experiences, only me and him all the time and our small circle of friends. I know I don’t like that. I know I’d feel suffocated in that. 

And then the clearest thought hit me. These are all just thoughts. None of it is real. The mind is always looking to improve our situation by pointing out possible “threats”. In the first scenario my mind is trying to look for how I can get hurt, how I can be more attached to him than him to me and can get hurt that way, how my needs may not be met. In the 2nd scenario (remembering my first relationship), the threat is losing my independence, losing my experiences of fun and new, being bored, mundane-ness. 

But what is real? Reality is that at this very moment, I am sitting very comfortably on this seat, typing my thoughts on my laptop, in this adorable, cozy cafe where everywhere I look gives me a good feel, sipping really good coffee in no physical discomfort.  Looking up, there is a few people here in this cafe. There is a plant hanging, a dog curled up comfortably sleeping on the floor, the barista busy pouring coffee, a woman at the bar sipping her coffee. It’s a cold day here and I have my jacket on and feel warm. 

What is really missing? What is the problem? Nothing. 

And what was the problem this morning when I was having all these thoughts. Nothing. I was in the shower, warm water with perfect pressure pouring over my head. Nothing hurting in my body. I had soap, shampoo, everything I needed. And yet, my thoughts about what could be in the future, and what that or this means is exactly what was taking me out of realizing the comfort of the present time and in to discomfort of the unsatisfactory imagined future. 

Really it comes down to this; observe your thoughts, question them, don’t identify with them and in my case, don’t hate on yourself for having the thoughts. As one of my favorite teachers, Byron Katie says “I love what I think, and I’m never tempted to believe it.”

….. and if I can be brave and honor where I am, then also talk to the person I’m in this relationship with, ask him my questions from a place of kindness, and trust what unfolds.

Who pays for the date?

A few nights ago I was in a gathering with some friends. Somehow this topic came up. A friend was recounting a story of years ago when he had been on a dinner date with a girl. He was saying how he hates it when the girl pretends like she wants to pay, slowly taking out her wallet and making a fake offer that she wants to pay or split the check, but all the while wanting the guy to pay for the bill. Apparently on that date, he had let her pay and she had then become sour-faced. 

As I was hearing the story, I was feeling a mix of confusion and a bit of shame. I was thinking “Wait, what is so wrong with that? Isn’t it better to offer than not, even if you ultimately think the guy should pay for the first date?” I asked my friend, how he would have preferred it. That she just sat there and let him pay or to mean it and pay for their dinner? He said he thinks that it is the guy’s responsibility to pay for the date and so yes, he would have preferred it if she sat there and didn’t give this fake, lukewarm offer. And in return, she can buy him a nice thoughtful gift after their second date. It was interesting to me hearing this from a guy who I think of as a forward thinking person.

He went on to bring an analogy that made me realize how much gender roles are still alive for all of us. This friend lives in a nice cabin-like house surrounded by woods and he mentioned that if I am sitting here with my girl and a scary noise comes from outside, obviously I am the one getting up to check on it, not her.  This got me asking him and the group about their opinions on gender roles. For example, whether cooking is the woman’s role, etc (which interestingly no one ever thinks, or at least would admit to) 

As thoughts were circulating in my head of “what kind of person this makes me that I have also done the lukewarm offer in the past”, another friend mentioned how he hates it if the girl just sits there and doesn’t at least make an offer and that he wouldn’t let her pay for the first date but expects her to pay for the next thing they do together. 

At that moment, I realized a couple of things:

1- Here is a group of relatively young, educated and as far as I know progressive men who totally differ in their views and feel very strongly about their opinions on this topic.

2- If even amongst my own circle, people can’t agree on this topic, then how can any one person be right? 

3- There is no reason for me to feel guilt or shame about however I’ve been or decide to be about this topic as long as it is true to my own ethics and beliefs which seem to evolve all the time. 

In my first relationship in my 20s, I was with a guy who was old-school and Iranian and very over-protective and considered it his role as a man to take care of me. And yet we were both around the same age and didn’t make much money and although he would get the bill most times especially when we were with groups of friends, but I remember a period when he was unemployed and I paid when we went out. Although I do remember he didn’t feel good about it. 

Later as I became single and entered dating life in my late 20s and 30s, I always felt awkward just sitting there and letting the guy pick up the check without at least making an offer. And I guess, if I got honest with myself, the ideal way I saw it, is that I offer and he rejects my offer and pays for at least the first few dates and then after that, sometimes he lets me pay and other times (more times) he pays. 

Throughout the years, I have met men (friends or dates) who get offended if the girl offers to pay and men who get offended if the girl doesn’t offer to pay or doesn’t pay equal times. 

And so many conversations with girlfriends come to my mind. 

One girlfriend (a doctor) told me that while on a second date, with the check sitting on the table and the guy (a lawyer) not having made an effort to pick it up, she straight up told him that she believes that the guy should pay for all dates (and this guy, who is now her husband, obliged from that point on)….. When I heard this I thought, wow, gutsy, good for her for voicing what she believes. 

Some other tidbits of conversations around this topic that I remember are: 

“A man wants to feel like a provider and when he pays for the date it makes him feel like he has taken care of the woman”

“If you feel like you are worthy, you will let the guy pay and spoil you and if you are insisting to pay, then you have issues around worthiness and you should work on it” 

Another girlfriend said when she first met her husband, they talked about this issue and he told her, I’ll pay for big stuff and you pay for little stuff. Interestingly as they went in to the marriage, there were periods that she financially supported him. 

And a recent conversation with a friend (also a doctor) who feels conflicted about wanting a guy who makes more money than her and pays for the dates and also feels guilty and ends up splitting the bill on most of her dates.

I still don’t know how I feel about this. But I know that as a woman who makes a doctor’s salary which may be higher than other jobs, and as someone who has been interested in dating not just doctors, but men from different walks of life and careers who may make less money than me, and living in an expensive city such as LA, I don’t see it as fair for the guy to have to pay for every date. I also, somehow feel that some of the guys I have dated in the past who didn’t let me pay for anything, had this expectation of me to be somewhat of a trophy girlfriend with my appearance or mannerism, etc. So I have been really leaning more towards having an equal and maybe a friendship – feel in dating, where perhaps we’d alternate paying for things.

Having said this, there still exists a part of me, maybe the conditioned part, maybe the evolutionary wired part, that does like it when once in a while the guy really takes charge and says “I am taking you out”, makes plans and pays for the date, especially the first date.

Reflecting on all of this, the thing that I am most sure about at this point in my life, is that there is no one recipe or hard rule that would apply to all relationships. I feel that with every person, there is a new opportunity to see how we would be as a duo. An analogy I heard that resonates with me is that a relationship is like a play doh/dough that slowly and together you play with and get to mold it in to the shape that works for both of you and perhaps if you stay together long term, the shape of this dough continually evolves as both people grow and keep making new agreements that are unique and work for the both of them.