Moments of Self Awareness

“I’m glad you are having a great time. I miss you. Come back soon”, said my friend from Delhi. Grinning broadly at the statement, I cut the phone and happily joined my friends for an evening swim while vacationing in Matheran, just before dusk. It was the sealing of an unspoken bond of deep friendship, unlike any I had known before. To me, it was a revealing moment when I realized that Delhi was now like my paramour. Mumbai had always been my first love but now, Delhi would torment me every time I came away from it. I was on my yearly trip to Mumbai and was vacationing in Matheran with my closest childhood friends. However, I missed Delhi and my friends there. I missed them so much that it was almost like an ache. The ache made me happy. I felt tender and vulnerable. The vulnerability heightened my senses and emotions, so now I was more aware of a sense of peace at being amongst people I grew up with, who I am most comfortable with. I was aware of the happiness and a sense of deep contentment flooding through me. I was also acutely conscious of missing Delhi and my friends there and the resultant ache, which was a happy ache. It told me that I would finally, after years of crying over Mumbai, return happily to my paramour and let him engulf me and torment me as he always does. I reflected on this sudden awareness that I seemed to have while at Matheran but sadly allowed the noise of regular life to drown out this amazing feeling.
Powerful moments like these bring about self-awareness. Self awareness is the single most important realization in life. Every single leadership school, book or guru will stress on it, including Warren Bennis who wrote ‘On Becoming a Leader’. In his chapter on Knowing Yourself, he used this excellent quote, ‘I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to speak out the mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me”’ (James, William; Letters of William James) Self-awareness makes a person more confident, self-assured and controlled. It makes people calmer and more at peace with things. It does all the practical things like better decisions and greater productivity but transcendentally it puts to rest the turbulence of the mind. It is a flickering moment when you will feel alive like you don’t usually do and it is that moment that has to be grasped. That time in Matheran, I was more aware of myself than I had ever been. That was my flickering moment to grasp, to voice my state so that I would know myself. I lost that moment. What my feelings were saying to me then was a deeply troublesome and uncomfortable realization of how a lot of things in life were spiraling out of my control and that I needed to check them. However, the sheer hedonism of surrender took over and I did not seek to hold that moment and learn more about myself and maybe, begin a process of self-awareness. I have never felt like that ever since and I do not know how to become aware anymore. Hopefully, life will give me a second chance.
What was more important was the moment I lost. A moment when I should have told my friend that I missed him too. A moment when I should have strengthened a bond. This is more general than self-awareness and something people do very often. It is a rare moment to be struck by unexplainable emotions and people feel the intensity of their emotions in those moments but let them slide away. Those moments never return and are only regretted later in life. Such moments are powerful. They give you a glimpse of what it is like to be truly alive and happy, how exhilarating emotions can feel and the kind of pure joy which can only be aspired to. Pure happiness and joy is an aspiration, the highest one since everything we do in life is finally building up to that one moment itself. Like Ayn Rand says in The Fountainhead, “Love is reverence, and worship, and glory, and the upward glance. Not a bandage for dirty sores. But they don’t know it. Those who speak of love most promiscuously are the ones who’ve never felt it. They make some sort of feeble stew out of sympathy, compassion, contempt and general indifference, and they call it love. Once you’ve felt what it means to love as you and I know it – total passion for the total height – you’re incapable of anything less.” (Rand, Ayn; The Fountainhead) People don’t realize that emotions are to be achieved and that is why, moments when a heightened emotion is felt is a lucky moment indeed. In this journey, a moment lost is many years lost. Every moment that affects you in a powerful way should be pinned down, written about and pondered over. It will not necessarily mean something then, but will build up to a person’s knowledge of themselves later.
I realized this when I saw the most colorful, beautiful tent I have ever seen. I went to the Jaipur Literature Festival in January and this tent was one of the venues for the various sessions. The ‘Baithak’ tent was a riot of bold, inundated colors amidst a mass of winter colors in the cold January morning at Jaipur. It stood out boldly and proudly, letting the sun make it look transparent and delicate. I was overjoyed at seeing this tent. The clean simplicity of a splash of bold, uninhibited color aroused an indescribable feeling in me. It made me feel happy. It made me feel stronger yet tenderer. It made me remember emotions I had felt at bitter-sweet times in my life. It was a mix of exhilaration and a heightened sense of pain. The emotion was all positive. Unlike the single, unadulterated color that caused it, the emotion was a crazy tumult of many emotions coming together to make a happier me. It was like many bright colors coming together to make the white of the rainbow. These single colors came together not only to create a powerful image but also a powerful emotion. I loved seeing a power play between two entities that complement each other. Here, the objects and the people were against the color of the tent.
This moment I captured in words and my friend captured it for me in a beautiful photograph. The tent was on object of art for me and I wished I could take some of the color back home with me. This moment told me what colors can do to me and I have recorded this moment, to come back to later in life, when it will all make sense. It was one of the most powerful emotions I have felt and remember. In low moments, this brings back a smile on my face as I remember what I felt then and re-live it.
All said and done, moments are the strong building blocks for life and its experiences. Sadly, people lose some of the most important moments in life by not paying enough attention to them. They enjoy them and let them fade away without realizing that if they only stopped to think about why they felt how they did or even articulated what they felt, the moment would become a memory and comfort them at other times. It would become a building block, a dot that could be connected with others to make sense of what life has been. As Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford Commencement Speech,

“You can’t connect the dots going forward.”

All that people can make sure is that they mark that dot and all else will fall into place.
Next time you feel different, stop and think what is it, why is it and let the moment become a part of your memory. It will only help you create a clear picture out of a haze of ideas and opinions. The knowledge of what people felt at these moments can be the most empowering bit of knowledge ever. Take a little time to get it from yourself.