Looking inward for inspiration
Therapy has encouraged me to put myself at the centre of my own story, to search for happiness and love within, no matter how vulnerable Ifeel
Getting my Masters degree marked the end of homework for me. I was naturally overjoyed at the idea of leaving behind that method of learning and revision that was so premised on obligation and the threat of punishment. Homework was something you carried with you in a notebook that served as an indelible link between two spaces — school and home. Just because you had left the classroom didn't mean you were relieved of the task of learning. Like most, I hated it. It was something on a to-do list; a job that had to be performed before you could enjoy your leisure. While I don't have nightmares about it as an adult, at least not in the same way I do about exams, the subject of all my recurring, stress-induced ones, I still had some residual panic when it came to the notion of homework. Recently, though, because of an upcoming bout of travel, my therapist suggested we double our sessions per week.
This in itself was not a daunting prospect, except my therapist loves to give me homework, which compelled me to reconsider my conflicting relationship with it, because her recommendations are always rooted within the realm of the imaginative. For the last session, for instance, I had to consider writing a letter to my 23-year-old self from my 33-year-old one. For the next, I'm supposed to construct a short story chronicling my journey from childhood to now. "You always seem to need a muse," she rightly pointed out. "I want you to put yourself at the centre of your own story, especially since narrative is so important to you." It's unsettling when someone who was, up until then, a complete stranger to you, offers you compelling insights into your behavioural mode.
You're tempted not to allow room for their interpretation because you're convinced they don't know you. Even then, even after you've decided they are too un-biased, you're still left with the wisdom of their perception. You start to play around with it and wonder how much truth there could be to the matter. Because, unlike when you were back in school, the homework revolves not around a mathematical problem or an assignment but is squarely focused on your self and your being, you begin to become more mindful about your intuitions, about your actions, about things you say and how you feel. There's suddenly so much room for vulnerability. At first you feel convinced that you're only going to doubt yourself. Then, unknowingly, you begin to feel stronger, surer, self-confident. You start to grow in self-awareness.
You witness first hand how exercising one's free will has to be the consequence of much soul searching. It's not just about goodness anymore. It's about learning to be better by putting your self at the heart of everything without descending into the cesspool of narcissism. It's not about imagining that the world revolves around you, but that you exist in relation to things and people, and can only truly arrive at a sense of happiness if you have greater clarity about what constitutes your being. You start to accept more responsibility for the behaviours you manoeuvre. Unlike the Catholic confessional, which is premised on the admission of sins and the recognition of guilt, in therapy there is no one else but you with the authority to forgive or exonerate both yourself and others. While I know this is a journey I'm taking with a sense of finitude, because I cannot afford to continue seeing a therapist, it's one within which I have begun to find pleasure. She was clear from the outset that we could only do this intensive homework if I was certain I had my basics covered. What constituted the basics, I asked.
"That you're waking up on time, sleeping early enough and well, getting adequate sunshine and water, eating healthy and exercising," she responded. I listed them all down at the end of my first session. By the second session I was convinced I was sufficiently nurturing towards myself, which is a feat. I know many wonderful people who struggle with depression, for whom the basics are a challenge in themselves. I even found that upon waking up, I would take my yoga mat and do several rounds of Surya Namaskar. There's a renewed commitment to discipline that wasn't there before. I've begun to work better, in a more organised fashion. I have greater clarity about my aspirations and ambitions than ever before. For the first time, really, I've begun to look forward to my 'homework', knowing well that the only reward I expect from the engagement is the acknowledgement of my right to happiness, as both a pursuit and a state of being.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to
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