Anyone who has grown up in a traditional community knows that one is strongly urged to never speak about the skeletons rattling around in both individual and community closets. As for me, I was so open with strangers right from the get go that my conformist mother would warn me to hush. “Your big mouth will get you into trouble,” she’d say sternly. “There’s no need to tell everyone how you think or feel. If you continue like this, no one will marry you.” I would snigger, thrilled at the thought that this innate habit of frank communication would repel prospective partners who didn’t appreciate honesty. Life had thrown enough chains on me already—why on earth would I want one more?
My mother was wrong. My wildness drew people to me. But I had seen too much already to be dazzled by the usual courtship rituals and already horrified by what I saw happen to women who were outspoken and bold—the patriarchy crushed them, and the matriarchy colluded in this, for often it was mothers-and sisters-in-law who did their worst to make sure that any new woman who entered the fold was made to suffer dire consequences if she dared to rebel. Yes, I knew quite well that if I fell into that age-old trap of marrying into the community, driven by the twin needs of security and approval, sooner or later I would be in for 50 shades of hell. This is how I viewed the scenario anyway and it led me to marry out of my community and move to Manhattan; now that marriage did not survive either, because we were driven by different value systems—in simple terms, he loved money more than honesty and for me honesty always came first— but that is a story for another day.
As I grew older, it became clear to me why secrecy was so enjoined upon us—in two words, Arranged Marriage, tan ta ra. Yes, this complex system honored in India for countless generations was behind the societal mandate to zip the lip. And marriage not just to another Indian, not just to a mate of the same community, but also, in many cases, within the sub-caste into which one was born.
Now, if something was off within the family—say the father had a vicious temper or drank heavily or beat his wife and kids or couldn’t pay the bills because he was gambling on the sly…or the mother had a depressive streak, muttered nonstop to herself, or couldn’t cook and clean for nuts…or a sibling was mentally or physically challenged or a kleptomaniac or whatever…or, in worse cases, if incest or sexual abuse of one kind or another had occurred within the family unit—then, to let the world know this dirty secret was to ruin the kids’ chances of getting a fine mate. No, you did not just bring shame to yourself when you opened your big mouth—you brought shame to the entire family/clan and ruined its reputation—because in most trad societies the individual does not count and can be sacrificed to the common good.
I moved to Manhattan in my twenties and was amazed at how open my friends were about their family’s worst secrets. Most came from broken families. Some had several stepfathers and stepmothers and many half-siblings. And these wonderful humans, free of the constraints of outdated institutions, spoke unabashedly about why things had gone wrong between their parents, about their own tumultuous lives that often involved drugs and wild affairs and whatnot—and the beauty of it all was that their honesty was lauded and appreciated within their circle.
It was at a spiritual gathering in Manhattan that I first heard the words: You are only as sick as you are secret. Wow! I thought, someone should teach this to Indians! Yes, to those familiar with the body-mind-emotional nexus (how the health of each affects the other and therefore the entire system), when we suppress harsh memories and feelings, the body grows sick and our entire life is negatively affected.
Now we live in a crazy world where predators (sociopaths and psychopaths) prowl, so naturally we have to exercise discretion in whom we choose to share our inner stuff. Long ago I read a poem about taking personal responsibility for all aspects of our lives and it impacted me deeply; yes again, if we are reckless or dim-witted in revealing our vulnerability to those who wish to harm us, then it is we who are to blame. If you can’t find someone trustworthy and intelligent enough to share your depths with, then write about them and keep your journal private. (Check out this post if you want some good ideas)
In eastern terms, our relative lives are considered to be ‘unreal’ – meaning that nothing about the body-mind-emotional egoic system lasts forever. (Check out this post). What does last is our consciousness, which the soul carries into future incarnations until it permanently fuses back into the Absolute. So, when we choose to fiercely protect and defend who we are in the world, when we choose to lie and deceive in order to present a false facade that we believe serves us, what we are really doing is building even thicker and higher walls around the ego instead of focusing on breaking them down altogether, so we can experience our true nature, which is unbounded, vast, blissful and immortal.
Indeed it is when we become so ruthlessly honest about who we are in terms of body and mind and emotions that we can laugh at our past mistakes and freely admit our present flaws that we allow ourselves to move on, to grow, to evolve into the sunlight of the Spirit. And we realize a powerful mystical truth—that beneath all the stories of our lives, there is a common thread, a Oneness that binds us in cords of gold, and this is when the journey into the infinite takes off with a bang.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva in the form of a sacred hill of fire and light, who vows to help us destroy all that keeps us from knowing that we are the immortal and blissful Self!