Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to Zero

In Yoga, there is a concept called “going back to zero”, which means going back to a state of rest, of stillness. Yogis believe that this state is a way of wiping the slate clean, erasing past regrets and “mistakes” as well as fears and anxieties about the future; there is no yesterday nor “earlier”, no tomorrow nor “later”. There is only today, “now”, the present moment—also known in metaphysics as “the point of power” or the point at which we are able to make things happen.

Like a blank canvas, focusing on the present, in the “now” (as in, “What do I feel now? What do I think now? What would I like to do now? Who would I like to be with now?) or “zero”, is a necessary state for creation to begin—for something new and vital to emerge. Nay, more: it makes creation inevitable.

Put more simply: If we just STOP for a moment—you know, just stop whatever it is we’ve been feverishly pursuing, incessantly occupying our minds with (that promotion, that salary increase, the esteem of our colleagues, the girl or guy of our dreams, the attention of our spouses, the respect of our parents and children…), we might actually see that we’re just trying too damn hard and we may proceed or start up again in a more relaxed, more intelligent, less do-or-die fashion. As Salma Hayek once said, “The universe doesn’t operate on desperation.” (As the lead and producer of the difficult-to-make Frida, she would know.)

Last year, without realizing it, I went back to this zero in a big way: Tired (OK, exhausted) from years of trying to live my ideal of the strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, I finally decided to give the whole thing—and myself—a much-needed rest. At thirty-four, I gave up my independent single-girl life in the city and temporarily moved back with my parents in the suburban south of Metro Manila. At that time, I already had a feeling that this homecoming was different from all the other ones in the past, when I’d show up at my parents’ door, bags of clothes and boxes of books in tow, feeling every bit the way my brother had summed me up: “Para ka’ng OFW na di pumatok sa Saudi.” 


All the elements of the big production called Tweet’s Return were still there—the bags, the boxes, my brother’s pang-asar—except for one conspicuous thing: the huge Balikbayan-box sense of failure at not having made it out there that I also used to lug home on such occasions.

As soon as I moved back into my old room in November last year, I marveled at how different everything felt. Instead of feeling smothered and defensive, I was surprised at how right it felt to be at my parents’ house--the house I’d been forever plotting to leave, to escape from. Although I suspected something like this would happen the moment I decided to go home, it was still something of a shock to realize how truly happy I was to be at the place that, as Pico Iyer called it, I had “always longed to flee.”

I was hyper aware of how grateful I was that breakfast would be on the table when I woke up, that I had no rent and utilities to pay and to stress over, that a laundry woman comes to the house every Friday to wash our clothes, that I have family to sit with me at the table and who I know will be there, ready to join me for tea and boiled bananas, when I emerge from my room after a day of writing. It struck me as silly that I had spent most of my supposed adult years running away from my family, pulling myself free of their clutches because they had seemed to stand in the way of my pursuit of complete freedom. But I suppose that was necessary then. My family seemed to have changed a great deal. I no longer felt them encroaching on my space, of feeling entitled to my time or sucking out my energy.

But while I knew something had definitely changed, I didn’t have the words for it then.

It wasn’t until I had been back in my old room for five months that a whole new way of looking at zero—that it didn’t necessarily equate “loser”--was introduced in Yoga class and I realized that something of a miracle had taken place: My mind had changed. (Woooow.) And so I had changed. That was it! While the act of coming home was the same as all the other times in the past, I was no longer the same person. No longer the same person who walked in her parents’ door with the long face of someone who felt and acted as if she were there by no choice of hers. No longer the same person who lay in bed sighing heavily, feeling the walls close in on her as if she were a prisoner. No longer the same feeling-kawawz girl who spent her days wondering when and how she’d be able to leave her parents’ house again.

Somehow, my perspective had shifted so that instead of looking at my situation as the depressing dead-end it always had seemed to me and, thus, was always something I was desperately trying to get out of, I now saw it as a beginning, a starting point. Of what, I wasn’t so sure. I only knew that I wanted to approach my family and my role in it differently. I didn’t want the old drama playing in my head, anymore. It was definitely time for a new script. 

Hmm…what was it about this place that made me want to escape it so much? What was it about my family that stirred up such strong mixed emotions? Why did I have such a great need to prove my strength, independence and self-sufficiency? Was I not convinced of it?

 Soon, it became clearer to me why I really came home: I wanted to stop running—running away from people, circumstances and feelings I didn’t like, on one hand, and running towards my ideal, on the other. I wanted to just stop and catch my breath for a while. To learn to be happy just sitting still, enjoying the calm. But old habits do die hard and I complained about this a lot in my journal. In an August entry, for instance, I complained about an unwieldy tendency: “Sometimes I still find myself looking for something to do, as if I don’t have enough to do at the moment. As if I’m not in the middle of a project. We really do tend to seek out the obvious highs and lows, and are suspicious about cruising calmly along. Some people are lucky enough to trust the calm. I’ve wanted to be one of those people for some years now…” I found it both poetic and practical that I learn to do that in the one place I had, for the longest time, been trying to get away from because I just couldn’t be peaceful in it.

It turns out that by coming home, by “going back to zero”—a place and a state of being that many of us have learned to fear and try so hard to avoid--I was actually, if subconsciously, setting the stage for new things to happen to me. Nay, more: I had made myself a blank canvas on which the creation of a new and vital (a.k.a. more mature) life now seemed inevitable.


No comments: