Zen and the Art of DelvingPosted: June 19, 2013
Love, Inshallah is happy to showcase our resident geek. We take this opportunity to wish her a wonderful, magical birthday!
Last year, I wrote about turning thirty years old and defying the hype and expectations that surround that number. I felt brave and strong and true, fortified by my ideas and the steps I’d taken to finally start following my own expectations. I was on a journey dammit, and nothing was going to stand in my way.
This week, I turned thirty-one years old, and here’s what I learned: other people’s expectations don’t let up, they intensify, and even the best-made plans experience hiccups along the way. Brave aspirations are only part of the inventory you arm yourself with on what turns out to be a longer quest than you had anticipate.
Twenty-nine going on thirty is so different from thirty going on thirty-one The struggle between your heart and your mind intensifies, as does the struggle between who you were, who you are, and who you want to be. According to an article in The Atlantic on how happiness changes with age, our behaviors shift as we age “from promotion motivation — seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation — seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly.”
Our twenties are defined by constant epiphanies. Ideas are built up only to be torn down, and one is constantly reminded that what you learned last year, yesterday, or even five minutes ago is wrong, as new ideas replace the old. A twenty-something brain is constantly evolving, ever hurtling towards the next experience for the next big idea. At twenty-nine, I was looking forward to thirty. I was determined not to fear it, but to embrace it.
If the twenty-something brain is in perpetual fast forward, with tiny big bangs erupting in the stardust that encompasses our being, the thirty-something brain is more in flux, somewhere between rewind and normal play. It’s as if we have expanded outward at a rapid pace and are suddenly suspended for a brief moment before beginning our slow, inexorable pull back in to ourselves.
No matter how busy you keep yourself, things slow down. You take more moments to simply observe and ruminate. Ideas are no longer bright new things to boggle your mind, but templates in which you recognize patterns, built upon foundational ideas that are familiar. There is beauty in the quiet, in the stillness. But there is also a fine balance between experiencing the stillness and allowing it to center you, and giving in to the mundanities of life. I don’t fear actual aging itself (aging is sexy) but the defeatism that I see come with it. We give in to that life of stability not risk, of routine not excitement, of security not passion. Boredom and soul-crushing tedium are the only things I truly fear.
Last year, I listened to a TED Talk by Brene Brown, a research professor who spoke about authenticity, shame, compassion, connection, and most importantly, vulnerability. The findings she shares in her talk indicate that humans are most fulfilled through true connectedness, and that connectedness only arises through fully embracing vulnerability. I would argue that one step further: the secret to life is having the courage to dive in.
When (in my early twenties) I learned how to immerse myself in everything I did, I learned the zen of the nerd. We’re used to being the misfits, the outsiders, and our skins are toughened by ridicule and by being misunderstood. But we know what we love and are willing to stand stubbornly by it. We are then perhaps more resilient to disappointment, unwilling to sit on the sidelines of life while our obsessive curiosity beckons to us to move, explore, and learn. By embracing this mentality, I’ve (thus far) warded off boredom in my life. I’ve avoided the calcification of my soul under the numbness that other people want to attribute to aging. To allow the brain to constantly thirst for knowledge is the best antidote to atrophying vivacity, and the best cure for the film that falls over our eyes as we age.
I’ve finally begun to feel comfortable in my own skin, and to follow those dreams I dreamt so fervently in my twenties. Between twenty-nine and thirty-one, I’ve started my own blog, The Memorist, spending a feverish two weeks trying to learn the ins and outs of WordPress. I’ve taught myself marketing, via social media and email. I’ve found a merry band of misfits on Twitter, on Facebook, and in real life, members of my particular tribe. I’ve spoken about blogging and content creation.
I write for online publications and blogs like this one, about ideas, love, loss, and Doctor Who. I’ve undergone a makeover that finally helped me understand and appreciate my own body while remaining true to who I really am (thanks to the wonderful ladies over at VicaireNY). All to keep the boredom at bay, to delve ever deeper, explore ever further. Every change, every idea, and every step towards doing more of what I love begets more opportunities, and introduces more people into the gravity of my nucleus. We are atoms, swirling about one another, creating energy and starbursts and light out of sparks of inspiration.
At thirty-one years old, I still don’t have all the answers. I don’t completely understand love. Or magic. Or God. But I still believe in all three. Which is perhaps the best birthday present I could ask for.
LoveinshAllah.com columnist Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and as a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets @TheMemorist.