Day 2: Tolkien

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His name is Tolkien.

While I call Lewis my “problem child”, Tolkien was one of those instantly perfect creatures that just makes you want to protect him from the harshness of reality. Every once in a while, he makes me wonder at how different his life could have been. He could have been born a lab rat, or a sewer rat. He could have been experimented on and trotted over. Instead, he was born to a breeder and adopted by me.

The first night in my house, he was so frightened that he ran to Lewis for protection. The second night at my house, I opened the cage and he walked right up to me, crawling into my hands and licking my lips, my nose, and my cheeks. From that night forward, Tolkien would do anything it took to cuddle with me, including struggling against the bars of his cage until I open it for him.

There is a quote by the writer for whom Tolkien is named, which begins with him saying: “I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size”. For this, I believe Tolkien is very appropriately named. He is a simple rat. He loves food and playtime and just about everyone he has ever met. He never complains, not even when I wake him up in the middle of the day. He has never bitten me or shown aggression. Although he will steal treats, he will also make sure that his brother gets some as well, even if that means giving Lewis a peanut when he is without. Tolkien is pure, and I adore that purity in him. Through his purity, he offers me a glimpse of the good in this world every day.

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Don’t Get Comfortable

Don’t get comfortable.

You’re going to want to do it. Throughout your life, you are going to find people, places, and things that are going to make you feel safe. You’re going to want to hold onto them, to keep them near even when you’re starting to get bored and tired. Because even if they’re predictable, at least they’re comfortable. At least you know it all, inside and out.

But you can’t get comfortable.

If there is one absolute in this world, it is that things change. Things change all the time. People change. Circumstances change. You change. And if you aren’t prepared for that, then things are still going to change – they’re just going to rip the rug out from underneath you and leave you reeling. They’re going to make you feel lost and confused. You might know that one thing really well, but if you haven’t weighed your options and kept your mind open, then that is the only thing you know.

If you are not prepared for change, if you resist change, then you lose out on your opportunity to grow from that change. You are so preoccupied with holding onto that safe, easy past that you forget to notice the doors that this change might be opening for you. Nothing is forever, and you need to move on, but you won’t move on if you don’t allow yourself to. If you’re too comfortable in what you have today.

So don’t get comfortable.

Don’t take the good things that you might have today for granted. Remember that you will eventually lose them, and it isn’t a matter of if, but of when. Remember that, and let it happen when it does. Mourn its loss if you have to, and then find out what’s before you. Don’t get comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean don’t love; it just means that you need to appreciate that person, place, or thing in exactly the way that it deserves to be loved.

Don’t get comfortable. Sooner or later, life will reach right for you and drag you out of your comfort zone. It’s going to happen, whether you agree to go easily, or try to fight it tooth and nail. The only difference that the latter option will make, is that that transition will become so much harder for you.

You Cannot Change People – And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

We as a society tend to romanticize the idea of changing someone.

It’s a common romance story trope to have two people meet, one flawed but with a heart of gold (usually the man), one more or less perfect already (usually the woman), and through their love, they both become more or less perfect, compatible, happy lovers.

A more recent example of this might be the Fifty Shades of Grey movies, which have come out with a new installment consistently around Valentine’s Day since 2015. These movies follow Anastasia Steele as she meets and falls in love with the wealthy and conventionally attractive Christian Grey, only to find out that he is emotionally distant, deeply traumatized from childhood, emotionally abusive, possessive, and uninterested in a romantic relationship. Yet, through her love and her love alone, she manages to train him into becoming her husband and (presumably) a better man.

Now, I wish that I could say that the Fifty Shades of Grey movies invented this trope, but I sort of feel like it’s existed since the dawn of time. Growing up, I had this notion that romantic love was supposed to be a force so strong, that it could not only withstand but defeat anything. If you were a bad person, then the compulsion for romantic love would be enough to lead you out of your habits and into the light.

And I think it’s significant that women, in particular, are told that this is possible. From the time that we’re small, girls everywhere are told to romanticize the ‘fixer-upper’. The rude, disrespectful, selfish man who we can teach to respect us with time, patience, and love. The beast to our beauty. We’re encouraged to put up with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour because “we can change him”, because he’s really a good guy “deep down”.

But here’s the thing that I think everyone should hear, whether they be men, women, flawed, or somehow, impossibly perfect: you cannot change people.

That isn’t to say that people can’t change. They most certainly can, but they need to be the one at the helm of that change. Not you. Because you can stand beside someone for their entire lives, telling them what to do, how to act, what to say or think, but if they aren’t hearing you, then it won’t matter. You can have the best intentions, the best advice, the most confidence that they can be a better person, but you cannot help people unless they want to be helped.

I think that this is an important lesson for all of us to learn, regardless of which side of the change that we intend to be on.

Because if we want to change our loved one, and if we believe so whole-heartedly that we can do it no matter what, then we set ourselves up for failure. When they inevitably return to their harmful behaviour, then we blame ourselves for it. We wonder what we could have done differently. We wonder why our love wasn’t enough to stop it. We tell ourselves that it will be different next time – and maybe it will be, but only if the other has perfectly, completely understood that they need to change. If they don’t understand this, then they’ll just end up doing the same thing again, because they don’t have a reason not to.

If we hold onto this idea of being able to change someone, then it allows us to excuse their behaviour and stick by them, even when we have no other reason to. Even when their behaviour harms us. They might even use this idea against us, telling us that it will be different next time, that they can change, but not if we leave them or hurt them. They might hold desperately onto us, taking what they need and giving nothing back. And we allow them to keep doing it, all in the hope that they might eventually stop.

If someone in our lives is flawed, self-destructive, or outwardly toxic, then we really only have two choices: we can accept them as they are, in full knowledge that they might never change, or we can decide that what they do doesn’t serve us and only hurts us in the long run. There is no shame in either option. There is nothing wrong with you if you leave, because there was nothing you could have done that would have fixed them. Their flaws are not your responsibility. And there is nothing wrong with you if you stay, so long as you understand and are prepared to deal with the potential consequences.

And perhaps all this sounds a little bit harsh, particularly for the people who are dealing with some sort of flaw or habit that they hope to be able to change, but I don’t think it should be. On the contrary, it can be a very liberating thought.

Your salvation does not lie in another person. You do not need a hero; you can be your own. And, no, that isn’t as easy as it sounds: you need to want it. You need to be able to recognize that what you are doing does not serve you or the people around you. You need to know that you deserve better. You need to put in effort and you need to pick yourself up after bad days and you need to forgive yourself when you inevitably fail, and you can do it. It is possible, but there is a reason why very few people succeed. You need to be strong. You need to be a warrior.

And you cannot do any of this if you put all of the work required for your change into another person.

This idea of romantic love being strong enough to incite change is incredibly harmful – for both sides. Romantic love can be a powerful force, sure – it can be what inspires people to want to change, and it can bring out the best of people, but it cannot be the sole reason for any permanent change. For that, we need a very different sort of love: we need to find self-love.

 

The Problem With Stealing Lives That Are Not Yours

Jealousy is an easy rut to fall into – especially in this day and age of social media.

All you need to do is log into Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and all that you see is just how well everyone is doing. Your childhood bully just got married to the hottest, sweetest, richest person you’ve ever seen. That girl that you talked to once at work just had the most beautiful baby you’ve ever seen, and all that she can talk about is just how happy she is. Your ex just found the job of their dreams, and is taking everyone they know (except you) out for sushi to celebrate. And here you are, sitting in your underwear on social media, wishing that you had even half of what they have.

A year ago, I got pretty caught up in my jealousy. I was at university, pursuing my bachelor’s degree and getting pretty good grades. But at the same time, I was single, I was unemployed, and I was feeling like I was missing out on something. I mean, I was good at the whole academic thing, and I enjoyed it, but other people had such different lives, and they all seemed so much happier than I was.

And upon graduating, I saw the perfect opportunity to get out of my life. I was going to pursue a so-called ‘normal life’, like everyone else had.

I tried to live like the people I was so jealous of. I tried to talk the way that they talked and do the things that they did, but it never felt natural to me. It always felt a bit like I was a puzzle piece, trying to force myself into a spot where I didn’t belong. I couldn’t get the happy and stable relationship that I saw advertised on social media, because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted. I couldn’t be satisfied with how I was filling the time, because it just wasn’t me. I found myself missing my old academic life, because I enjoyed it. It felt natural to me. And there was certainly nothing wrong with this life that I had forced myself into – I knew that it suited other people fine. It just didn’t suit me.

I began to understand this feeling a little better when I began to read about the yogic principle of asteya.

Asteya essentially means ‘non-stealing’, which might make you wonder how in the hell asteya has anything to do with what I just said. But the purpose of asteya is not to simply refrain from taking material goods from other people when you do not deserve them. Rather, asteya urges one to look deeper into themselves, to try to discover the reason why you feel the need to steal from them.

In the scenario that I just presented to you, I was stealing a bit of a life that did not belong to me. I didn’t fit into it, it wasn’t made for me, but I wanted it. I wanted it because I thought that I should have it. I wanted it, because I thought that what I had wasn’t good enough. I thought that wasn’t good enough, because I was good at reading and thinking critically and writing long essays, but I wasn’t good at all those things that you see people bragging about on social media. Getting an ‘A’ on an assignment doesn’t exactly get you the same kind of attention as receiving a diamond ring from your sweetheart, even if you pulled an all-nighter to do it.

But the thing is, we all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. We can work on our weaknesses, most certainly, but being honest about ourselves, being aware of who we are as a person, will make it much easier to work on those weaknesses than ignoring them ever would.

And maybe we will have the picture-perfect, bragging-rights-on-social-media type of life someday. But if we are ever going to achieve that, then it shouldn’t be forced, and it shouldn’t be created despite discomfort; it should all happen naturally. Otherwise, we aren’t really happy, are we?

And maybe we won’t ever achieve that sort of life, and that’s okay too. Maybe your happiness comes from sources different from other people’s happiness. Maybe your happiness isn’t found in a baby’s laugh, or a lover’s embrace, or a high-paying so-called ‘real job’. Maybe you have to create your own happiness – but just so long as it is happiness, does it really matter? As long as it is peaceful and natural and fulfilling, then it is valid. You are valid. You are enough.

I think that many of us get so easily caught up in jealousy because we have this internalized idea that we aren’t right, or we aren’t enough. We might not even be aware that this is so, but we feel it nonetheless. And when we are jealous, then we try to take lives that are not made for us. We try to force ourselves to do things that we are not ready for, and that we did not want, just because we think we aren’t valid if we don’t.

Just because you haven’t fulfilled the same accomplishments as some of your peers quite yet, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever fulfill them. Every single human being is different; every single human being grows and develops at their own pace. There is no need to rush if you are not ready, because what you want will come to you in its own time. It’s okay if you aren’t there yet. So, for now, just have faith in that, and find comfort in the knowledge that what you are right now is exactly what you should be.

This article is part of a series about the yamas. To read more, click here:

Ahimsa

Satya