Being Normal, Being You!
Cover Photo By @rosiekerr
By Deepak Sridhar
A few years back I had an opportunity to visit and meet with a Tamil Siddha (literally translated as a man of perfection) in South India. He was a man of few words but his saintly presence and his smiling silence spoke more clearly than one can even comprehend. I sat in front of this old wise man wondering why I had come there and what could I ask him. And then he spoke, “How are you now?” he asked. I had been going through an extremely dark phase in my life and it was in this darkness that I had been searching for some meaning. “Im better. I’ve been meditating a lot. Still finding my answers.” I replied. He nodded and immediately asked “How are your parents?” “They’re very worried for me. They still feel that I am not normal.” It had been 2 years since I had lost my wife and 2 years of intense soul searching. And then he said something that will stay with me forever - “There are two words in english. Average and Normal. People often confuse the two.” If there was ever a profound moment in my life, that was it. Average and Normal - they are not the same!
We all, at some level, think that normal is what everyone else is. But is that what normal is? If THAT is normal, then WHAT is average?
Over the next few years, as I continued my journey of seeking and soul searching, I constantly pondered over and meditated on this question - What is Normal? And as the years passed, with my meditations getting deeper and mind clearer, a few things became apparent to me.
Everyone around me, including myself, have been living with this confusion all their lives. We go through all our lives trying to fit in and trying to be what everyone else is or what everyone else considers normal. But normal is just the opposite - it’s only when we're being completely ourselves and natural that we’re normal. Being normal is all about taking a journey back to our own selves and along this journey we continually shed masks that we don't need and impressions that we’ve accumulated.
As gratifying and incredible as the journey is, it’s fraught with challenges and one can really do with some signposts showing the way. Here are a few mind-markers that worked as my compass.
Don’t get thrown around by opinions
Over 75% of people have at some point of time or other experienced the fear of speaking in public. Why is this? We perhaps fear saying the wrong things or we are afraid of how our words will be perceived but even more than that, underlying, is the fear of being judged - we fear what other people will think of us. The funny thing though about opinions is that THEY CHANGE!
A boy and his father once set out with their donkey to the local market, to sell off the donkey. As they were walking, a couple people who passed them remarked “How foolish! They have a donkey and yet both of them are walking." The father then sat on the donkey and the boy walked alongside when another passerby quipped, “What a cruel man. He’s making his young son walk while sitting comfortably." The father then swapped places with his son, and sure enough someone else said “Look at that young boy making his old father walk in the sun!” The father and son then both decided to ride the donkey when a group of men yelled at them “Don’t you have any love for animals? You’re making that donkey suffer with your burden." Thoroughly vexed and confused, the father and son then decided to carry the donkey and show it some love. The donkey kicked them off, leapt into a nearby stream and died. The father and son went back home empty handed.
This story is somewhat analogous to what we do in our lives. We constantly change ourselves and our behavior in an effort to please others and to appease their opinions. However these very opinions change and we continue to pursue being liked and approved, often ending up empty handed. The more we get kicked around by opinions, the further away we are from ourselves, and the further away from being normal.
The key is to take opinions, evaluate them and take to heart what truly resonates with us.
Accept others, accept yourself
Many a times in our lives, we are faced with situations where we cannot accept certain people around us. These people are probably arrogant, cruel, selfish, boorish, shabby, needy or many other things that we do not like. We try to change them, we try to make them see our point, we fight them or worst of all we suffer in silence. In every single scenario, we end up being completely frustrated, un-natural and not our own selves.
There is a solution to this, which is to just accept the person as they are. Acceptance is a very misunderstood word and concept. When we truly accept a person for who they are, and do it actively, then we can completely be ourselves and respond to the situation. Not react.
A couple of years back, my boss called me into his office and as I was briefing him on an issue, he suddenly blew his top off and went into a complete rage. After weathering his massive outburst, I went back to work slightly bewildered and a bit shaken. I reflected on what had happened and decided to let it go, not judge him on it and rather work on a few valid points he had made. Instead of feeling angry or outraged, I accepted what had happened and decided that I’d complete my assignment and later give him feedback that he should have handled it better. Later that evening, as I was beginning to leave, he quickly walked up to me and shared how his mom had been diagnosed with cancer the day before and he had been very stressed.
When we judge people, we use certain yardsticks of right and wrong, good and bad. Knowingly or unknowingly, the very way that we judge other people, we judge our own selves too, often leading to self loathing, self pity or even arrogance. This self judgement often stops us from being true to our own selves and makes us artificial.
Can we instead let go of any judgement, and just see things for what they are? As we drop judgement about others and accept them for who they are, we will start accepting our own selves as well. And this is a giant leap towards being normal.
Find yourself in silence
If there is one place I have found myself truly, and felt completely at peace, it is in silence. The silence that I mean here is not one of external silence but that of one within. This has been experienced and taught by great masters and teachers to us again and again, only for us to not understand, for we’re too caught up in all the noise.
After prince Gautama's enlightenment, he once had a very interesting encounter with a curious stranger. Looking at the serene, and godly appearance of Gautama, the man asked “Are you a god?” “No” replied Gautama. “Are you a saint?” “No” came the answer again. “Are you a prophet?” “No” he said again. “Then who are you?” the man asked exasperated. “I am awake,” said Gautama. Hence was born the Buddha, the awakened one. Buddha is not a person. It is a state of being, one of complete awareness and wakefulness.
So how do we experience this inner stillness and peace? The key is in the breath. Every single emotion has a breath pattern associated with it and just changing the breathing pattern will directly change the mental states too. My go to tool over the years has been daily practice of the very powerful Sudarshan Kriya, alternate nostril breathing and meditation.
Every single one of us is a potential Buddha. It is up to us to find our Buddha within. For all we know that might really be the true “normal."
Don’t settle for average. Be Normal. Be You!