On Womanhood…

What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?

Some key themes emerge, including:

  • Independence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Strength
  • Professional advancement
  • Education
  • Empowerment
  • Girl-power

Wonderful. What about key themes from previous times that continue to play an active role in the definition of womanhood today?

  • Home making
  • Compassion
  • Companionship
  • Motherhood
  • Spiritual devotion

Women are, as nature would have it, highly complex and adaptable beings. They are capable of absolutely anything. Yet, even in this generation that prides itself for its revolutionary admiration of women, society is severely lacking in its approach.

Every woman I’ve spoken to has a story to tell about exclusion, prejudice, judgement, stereotyping, abuse and marginalization. Yes, some of these situations are imposed by men, but this is no longer the global sentiment. More often than not, stories of microaggression are pointing to… other women.

You may have read my previous post On Feminism that addressed this matter. I feel compelled to write about this again after a small incident that occurred yesterday at my local bulk grocery store.

I was at the cash register with my husband, and I walked over to the end of the register to grab our cart of groceries as my husband paid. The cart was full of family oriented products: meat, vegetables, paper towels, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. The cashier, a woman, pushed the cart towards me with a smirk on her face, then dished out this line: “Oh! Let me just slowly move away from the cash register so that IIIII don’t have to PAY!”

She laughed. At first, I wasn’t really paying attention and just smiled back at her. Then I looked at my husband’s face, and quickly registered what this woman had said to me. He bit his tongue and I bit mine. We don’t owe anyone an explanation about how we run our finances, and we don’t indulge in conflict as we run our errands.

We both walked away from that exchange feeling appalled. He was taken aback, and I was angry. “What is it with other women?” I asked him, “Why do they have to be so cruel? What’s it to her who pays for the groceries? Do her parents split the bill on everything? Do people not understand what family is anymore?”

He pointed out that people who pick faults in strangers typically have an inferiority complex. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse the behaviour.

I hear women, every day, insisting that women have the right to freedom. They insist that women have earned the freedom of profession, of faith, of association, of expression, of thought, of choice, and of opinion. Right? Yet, I also see women, every day, judging other women and attempting, typically through microaggressions, to suppress those freedoms.

Feminism is not about preventing men from designing our lives for us. It is about taking ownership of our own lives, and preventing anyone else from designing them for us. Letting other women coerce us into particular trends of behaviour and lifestyle is not feminist.

Moreover, men cannot be left entirely out of the picture, and leaving them out is not feminist either. We have to coexist with them in this world, and barring them from playing any role in our lives is counter productive. A relationship is a give and take, and marriage is a partnership. Anyone who says otherwise is either single or in a failing relationship. No marriage/relationship can succeed between two people who can’t fight the fight together. A family that splits its finances splits its mission, vision, and values. Any professional woman who understands the tenets of successful business knows that such a model would be unviable.

To the cashier, the intricate details of my family life are invisible. All she sees is a handsome man extending a hand to pay for a bill. She doesn’t see how hard he works. She doesn’t see how he pours his sweat, tears, and blood into the soil of our lives, for us to prosper. She also doesn’t see me running from morning to evening between my office and home, working late at my kitchen table after the homemade dinner I whipped up.

Would it be worth explaining it to her? Would it be helpful if she knew that my husband and I are strategic, that every dollar is budgeted, that we don’t walk through life letting things happen to us, and that his paying for the groceries is an intentionally determined process we designed together?

Perhaps. But the real question is, why do women have to explain themselves to other women in the first place?

In just the last week, other women have demanded an explanation from me for:

  • Why I cook so often, “since I work,” as though work and feeding my family are mutually exclusive responsibilities.
  • Why I haven’t had children yet, followed by a lecture about how my time is running out.
  • Why I got married, with the insistence that my marriage is unlikely to succeed because “most marriages fail” (for the record, the divorce rate is raised disproportionately by people who have repetitive divorces).
  • Why I still wear my engagement ring post-wedding, and why I’d even let my husband spend money on a ring despite this being an “archaic tradition”.
  • Why I haven’t hired a housekeeper. Another woman smugly retorted to this conversation with her opinion that women who hire housekeepers are failing women.
  • Why I would spend any money on a wedding.
  • Why I work in my field when I could be making more money in another.
  • Why I’m eating that.

You get the picture.

Women never give women a break and, instead of drawing a line and saying NO when other women take a stab at them, they tend to turn around and indulge in the same behaviours.

Feminism is not only about saying NO to men, it is also about saying NO to other womenNo, I will not allow you to tell me who I should be. No, I won’t allow you to define types of women and categorize me accordingly. No, I will not answer to you, I will not explain myself to you, I am not accountable to you.

Every one of us plays a fundamental role in protecting the freedoms of fellow women. It is our duty, our sisterhood, to raise each other, and to strengthen each other against forces that seek to break our spirit, whether the source of the offence is a man or another woman.

So, what will you do today to make the world a little bit safer for women? I’ve written this post. The cashier who took a stab at me will probably never read it, but so many others will, and maybe it will prepare them for a better response when they, or someone else, faces unnecessary prejudice. This time, my response was silence… next time, it certainly will be louder.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Good & Evil…

Image property of Hack: Dream Life [Marian D.] ©2018. All rights reserved.

Current Fundraiser: to help Angelina: https://www.gofundme.com/angiefightslyme

During my university years, I faced the greatest warriors against my faith. I met people who fervently challenged everything I believed in. Their appearances in my life became so frequent that they could not be ignored. I found myself studying my religion, and every other religion I could think of, more than ever before, but this was not how I found the answers to every question I was being asked. I found the answer simply by asking to “find the words I need, when I need them.” Yes. It really is that simple.

And so it has been that way ever since, and I have never been left searching for words.

One day, an acquaintance of mine asked me an interesting question. “How can I walk into a Church if I feel unworthy of it?” I asked her what she meant. “I’m not that good of a person,” she said, “I don’t belong in Church. I wouldn’t be surprised if, the moment I stepped inside, I was engulfed in flames. I’m really not a good person. I mean I’m good-ish. But not really.”

The answer to her conundrum was so simple.

“It is because you believe you are unworthy that you are most welcome. After all, you have mastered a key lesson without even opening the Book: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).”

I remembered this brief moment last night. My husband and I were watching the second season of The Good Place. I won’t risk any spoilers here, but the basic premise is the question of how human beings define “good” and “bad.” Who is worthy? Who shall pass to The Good Place and who is destined for The Bad Place? Great comedies make us laugh even when discussing the most heart-wrenching and painful human questions of all. What is the answer?

There is very little that I can say on the matter. I am not a “spiritual teacher”… nobody is. We are all learners in this world. But I do know one thing. We are all loved by our creator, and this creator is rooting for us. We have to do our best, and do it with humility.

But if we cannot be sure of what’s to come, why should we try to be good at all?

The answer is simple, yet again. We may not know what this life is all about. We may not know where we come from or where we’re going. We may not know if God is waiting on the other side. But we all know one truth without a doubt: this life is hard.

George Eliot therefore answered the question for us: “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

While we are here on this Earth, we have one of two choices to make: to act with kindness and grace, knowing that it may sometimes hurt us, or to act with greed and cruelty, knowing that it will absolutely hurt us all.

The real question is: “What do we owe to each other?”

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Love…

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky.

What is love and where does it come from? Like luck, love is often perceived as a manifestation of random fate. Anyone who grew up with Hollywood (or Bollywood) movies playing in their living room recognizes the socially held notion that love just happens. It is out of our control, and is left completely to the whimsies of Cupid and his arrow.

I won’t deny that there is an element to love that is entirely coincidental. That being said, I don’t believe that coincidences are accidents. They are manifestations of the thoughts and desires that we project to the universe.

“How is that fair?!” my friend argues with me. “Do you want to give me the responsibility for never meeting a half decent guy?”

Yes. I do. We are all at least partially responsible for everything that happens to us. Bear with me.

Nothing is an accident, not even a car accident… our fearful thoughts can manifest in very real ways. Feeling undervalued? When was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back and thanked yourself? Feeling unwanted? What words did you use this morning when you greeted yourself in the mirror? Are you in an abusive situation? How many times have you been in that situation with the same person, or with different people?

Our lives can be mapped onto very clear and repetitive patterns. If we pay attention, and track our thoughts through writing or recording, we may look back in ten years and realize that the cycle of thought is repeating itself. It is only when we recognize this, and take ownership of it, that we can forge a new path out of the cycle.

I always had a knack for inviting people into my life who had their own severe insecurities, because I felt called to “help them”. These insecurities would very quickly be projected onto me because I was like a sponge, ready to absorb everybody’s pain. Every guy I met seemed to be dealing with some great heartache, and every one was quick to deflect that heartache towards me.

“Why can’t you be more carefree like those other girls?” asked the one who would walk into a room a completely changed man depending on who he expected to meet inside. He couldn’t bear to be unlike others because he couldn’t bear to be unliked.

“Why don’t you lose some weight?” said another who didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone because he was unhappy with the way he looked.

“You’re such a nerd. No wonder your friends are all nerds!” whined the fully grown man-child who was too embarrassed to be seen with thinkers because it only highlighted and confirmed his insecurities about his own intelligence.

“Why are you so conservative?”

“Why don’t you drink more?”

“Why do you need to travel so much?”

“Why do you dress like this?”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t tell them about your belief in God. People will think you can’t think for yourself!”

… because following the status quo of secularism equals thinking for yourself, eh champ?

It took me a very long time to recognize my pattern. All of that time, I thought these people were highlighting flaws in me and wondering what I had done to deserve it… was I made weird, or something? Did I like being a punching bag?

Over time, I began realizing that all of these statements came from men who felt very small. Why they felt small, and whether or not their smallness was warranted, is besides the point. They all used the same strategy to feel better about themselves, and that was through keeping women in check by repetitively verbally crushing them. They believed they were unworthy, and expected to be left behind, so they attempted to cripple people from walking away by instilling the fear in them that they, too, are unlovable.

This type of relationship is a good example of cyclical and repetitive thought manifestation. On the one hand, one party feels unworthy and he keeps attracting partners with strong personalities that cannot easily be “tamed”. On the other hand, the other party feels called to help and heal others, and this extends into her personal life by attracting people who feel “broken” to her. As a result, both people come to painful realizations: 1) You cannot force someone to love you, and inspiring love from others is especially difficult when you do not love yourself; 2) Mending someone else’s heart could require breaking your own.

Around the time I started seeing clearly, I came across a fragment of Rumi’s wisdom. He wrote: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I decided to drop the pattern. I know I make it sound easy… because it is easy. The hard part was recognizing that something was wrong. Breaking the cycle is easy when you see it clearly. It was only when I decided that I did not need to “fix” anybody in order to love them, that I met someone who is pretty whole all by himself. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t need me. It just means he doesn’t need me to fill an endless void. As for him, being unafraid of being left behind means that he doesn’t need to break my spirit to keep me around. He’s fairly confident that I’m not going anywhere.

It is 100% true that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Love is a choice. It is a series of actions and decisions. You are at a crossroads every day, and you have to decide what’s next. But, until you know the answer, until you know what you really want, it will feel nearly impossible to find it. Can you find a lost object if you don’t know what it is? No. You wouldn’t know what to look for.

And for those of you who prefer to believe in a little bit of coincidental magic… an Arabic proverb (derived from the Qur’an) affirms the role that fate plays beautifully: “What is meant for you will reach you, even if it is beneath two mountains. What is not meant for you will not reach you, even if it is between your two lips.”

Knowing what we want, and identifying the constraints that prevent us from reaching where we ought to go, removes the obstacles from the path of fate and allows it to do its good work.

Food for thought.

And remember… we design our own luck! 

M.

On Flying Solo…

Photo republished courtesy of Dean Petersen ©2018 all rights reserved. Check out his work at: @deanventures

Picture this:

You have a brilliant idea! You’re inspired to do something tangible to bring it to life. You excitedly call someone to bounce the idea, hoping for some cheerleading. They offer you a few “mhm” and “yeah” as you explain what you are setting out to do. You finish speaking and eagerly wait for the response. When it comes, it sounds something like:

“I mean, sure, everyone could do that if they could afford risking the money.”

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?”

“Why do you want to do that? You have it better than all of us! Just be grateful.”

“Well. Sounds interesting. Hopefully you’ll actually stick to it.”

“You don’t need more work!”

“That’s a great idea! I’m going to do it too. No harm in a little competition between friends, right?” Smirk.

“How are you always in dream land? I’m too busy keeping my feet on the ground.”

“Yeah, yeah. You and your big ideas. You’re always lucky, so I don’t need to wish you good luck.”

Sound familiar?

Each of us bears his/her own collection of dismissive, negative, and discouraging statements from friends and family. Over time, we carry more and more of them, and they become grey clouds hanging over our future adventures. Everything from taking a new job to changing up our nutritional menu is contested by people around us. Now, don’t go trying something really crazy, like moving across the world or going back to school to become a doctor.

Eventually, we start to doubt what it is we really want, and what we can really achieve. Whose voice is in your head telling you that “it can’t be done”? 9 times out of 10, it’s somebody else’s.

Keeping this in mind, I’ve learned something extremely valuable which I only put into effect recently. When trying to achieve a goal, there is nothing more powerful than keeping it secret. Being very selective about who we divulge personal information to is fundamental to our success, because we are easily manipulated creatures. No matter your confidence or faith in your idea, it requires protecting while it’s still a budding thought so that you can focus all your efforts on bringing it to life, without risking being swayed by others.

People can be risk averse self-doubters. Often, when standing in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, I’ve overheard tourists say things like “it’s impossible!” Even while cranking their necks back 90 degrees to look at the peak of the tallest building in the world, they express disbelief. If people have this reaction to what is already there and has already been achieved, why entrust your dreams to them?

People will tell you to fight for your dreams and be deterred by no-one. They will throw cliche quotes at you like a hail storm. That is, until you have an idea. It is only after the idea is born that the same people who once wrote you soliloquies about reaching for the moon suddenly become doubters.

When you set your mind to something, wisely and carefully select who you let in. If you cannot think of someone who has already proven unfailing confidence and support, someone whose criticism only serves the purpose of elevating, rather than destroying, your ideas – fly solo.

There will come a time when the idea has manifested powerfully enough that you can share it without leaving it vulnerable in destructive hands. Even then, be on guard. Remember that Burj Khalifa has an elevator that swiftly and smoothly moves up 148 floors in 60 seconds without a single hiccup, and that people make it all the way to the top and still don’t have the capacity to believe that it can be real.

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On Resolving Pain…

My readers know that I am an advocate for making the most of the present moment. I am always writing about the importance of intention and mindfulness when making decisions about how we live, think, speak, and feel. For the most part, I try to live my own life in this way, constantly checking myself in to the present.

The truth is, however, that fully immersing oneself in the present moment does not mean that the past can remain ignored. We are all products of our personal past, and of our ancestral past. Our histories are boundless and they extend well beyond our own life experience. Dissociating from our past can be incredibly dangerous because, one way or another, the pain bubbles back up.

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On Pain & Gain…

Nothing worth having in life comes easily. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I believe that even good luck, which seems to come out of nowhere, must be intentionally nurtured in order to manifest in our lives. Everything is hard work, perseverance, and faith.

You will be questioned most when you choose the difficult path. When you take the road less travelled, others will witness this and it will cause them to doubt the well-trodden path they favour. Nobody wants you to work harder to succeed, because your success will only prove that they need to work harder too. Nobody wants you to sacrifice and suffer to succeed, because this will show them that they, too, must sacrifice and suffer in order to gain what you have gained. Be prepared for the backlash.

What other people think of you is none of your business. What we focus on is what we succeed at. If you worry too much about what other people have to say about you and your journey, you will only become an expert at fielding criticism. Get over it and move on. Nobody promised that the road to your best self will include many friends. That’s part of the sacrifice. Quality over quantity. The winners stand alone, together!

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On Boundaries…

In my family, when we were kids, we were taught to respect everyone’s personal space. This meant keeping a fair distance unless invited closer, not asking extremely personal questions, and keeping our noses out of other people’s business. Moreover, under no circumstances were we to ever ask anyone for money, or about money.

Then, we grew up, and found people invading our personal spaces, asking us to divulge private information about ourselves and our families (both original and new), and running live commentary on everything we do with our education, careers, mortgages, family decisions, etc.

I am therefore a firm believer in boundaries, while maintaining community. 

I often work with young adults who are trying to choose an academic path. They ask me what they should do. They ask their parents what they should do. They ask teachers and friends what they should do. Sometimes, they resort to online discussion forums and ask strangers what they should do.

My advice always is: take your parents’, teachers’, and counsellor’s advice into account, ignore everyone else, and then make the decision that you feel right about.

This becomes more and more crucial over time. Not all advice is good advice. A select few people should be your guides; choose them wisely, and be sure that they are advising you towards your personal truth. A good coach helps you succeed by capitalizing on your strengths and ambitions. Choose the mentor wisely, then pick and choose the advice that aligns with your personal values, and finally do what you feel right about.

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