I guess 40 is the age when I should not be offended when people call me, “auntie”. It seems like many people are uncomfortable with ageing, but in general I like to age. It is ageing that has made me understand that I can have agency, it is also ageing that has given me perspective. I can now see why people mellow with age – so many things that used to make me boil with rage or shake with shame are now insignificant in the grand scheme.
If I could turn back time and make my younger self believe me I would tell her not to bother with the education system and instead take my self-directed learning journey more seriously. Yes, I am 40 and I still feel traumatised by my school days. Many experiences from that time still cripple me in many ways. I have spent my entire 30s trying to overcome the profound sadness I have felt in the first twenty years of my life.
I am 40 today, and I still feel profoundly sad. You know what they call an earworm? It is like a song that get stuck in your head. I think my sadness is something like that. It is a feeling stuck in the depths of my body and my psyche. But reading plenty of buddhism and psychology books had taught me that my feelings are not me, that the brain is designed to protect us and be efficient so remembering what used to threaten us will keep us safe by making us avoid those threats. I know all of that intellectually, so most days I try to make the best out of my time by somewhat co-existing with that sadness. It used to paralyse me.
Along the way I developed more compassion for myself. I used to get really upset with myself because I can’t function as well as other people, but now I understand it is just how my brain is wired due to previous experiences so there is very little I can do to rearrange those neurons in the short-term. There are things that we can do in the long-term like meditation or therapy, but I think what changed in the last year or so is my capacity to be more accepting when I regress or when progress is slow. The whole lockdown situation probably helped as I could no longer find distractions so I had to exist closely with my dysfunctional psyche. It was really unpleasant but only on hindsight – necessary. I became a lot more honest with myself. I mean, I always had the belief I was honest with myself but there are always deeper layers to unravel.
I am a lot more okay with being lacking as a person. To be irrelevant, behind, unseen. For me, that is one of the greatest sources of stability and peace. Because of society conditioning we are always trying to signal something whether consciously or unconsciously, so just plain giving up is really freeing. Sometimes I wonder if this is all something I could have done much earlier in my life, but maybe I had to experience the conventional life to truly know that is something I do not want. I am just thankful to know this early enough.
I am excited to start my 40s. When I became 30 I made it a personal goal to live my next ten years such that I can become an awesome 40 year old. My definition of “awesome” has dramatically changed. I think at 30 I imagined myself being some thought leader (hahahaha) somewhere doing world-changing things. Ten years are enough to know that it is tremendously difficult to change the world without harming it, because most of us cannot see the systemic effects of our actions. My ex-colleague used to tell me that she is skeptical of the word, “scale”, and I used to debate her strongly on that citing her of all the examples of how scale had changed the world for the better. It turns out now I think she was right, and “for the better” may only seem better in the short-term (see: my favourite fable on this).
Now, I just want to stop harming myself and the people around me (No I don’t go slashing people but psychological harm is a lot more insidious and long-lasting). My only wish if I may have one is to be healthier and that my loved ones stay healthy. 40 is the age when we start experiencing more death around us, and I am not prepared for it at all. It gives me terrible anxiety whenever I think about it (everyday). Tibetan buddhists spend a lot of their lives preparing for death, though it is in a different context because they believe in reincarnation, in my personal context I do hope I can develop the capacity to accept the inevitable with more grace. More importantly, I want to always be mindful of the time I have left with other people.
For the past few years, whether for new years or my birthdays I have probably wanted nothing more than inner peace. That’s probably because I had known nothing apart from inner turmoil. I cannot say I have attained inner peace – I don’t think even monastics lay claim to that, but I think I am feeling a lot more comfortable co-existing with my self and the world. I hope this is an upward trend as I age. I feel like I am only starting to discover my self because she was so deeply buried under all that societal conditioning. Who is the person when those layers are gone? Can they truly be gone?
In the right conditions (right conditions because inequality sucks), to be able to age, to be able to uncover ourselves as we become, is a blessing. I acknowledge this even as I am agnostic about the value of life. At every decade I am a vastly different person. I am unrecognisable from the person I was at 30 – my scifi mind cannot help but wonder if she would really dislike the person I am now if we’d met across time. She was narrow in both her worldview and her values. Maybe it is a good thing if I can say this about my current self if I get to 50, but maybe at 50 I can finally stop all this judgment.