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Freeing Yourself When You Feel Limited or Stuck

The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” ~Thucydides

The society I was born in—urban, rich, conservative India—did not encourage women to make life choices for themselves. I was not given a vote in my own education, or in the choice of a husband when I turned twenty years old. These decisions were left to the family elders.

And yet, my heart was always a bit of a free bird.

Despite being “expected” to be a homemaker after marriage, there was always a yearning in me to be somewhere else, doing something else. I could not cook, and as a wealthy man’s wife, I had no household chores.

All I had to pass the time were lunches with other young homemakers. And I found those boring—all that talk of mothers-in-law and school admissions. I yearned for intellectual stimulation, which neither my then husband nor these women could provide.

Within a few years, I had two kids, no income of my own, a dysfunctional marriage, a sickly constitution, and no way out. The free bird inside me almost choked and died—until it asserted itself.

I began writing after a hiatus of eight years. They were anguished poems, which I posted on a poetry website. The owner of the volunteer-driven portal invited me to edit the site, which I accepted, as I had nothing else to do.

Soon, he decided to compile those poems into books and I found myself in a part-time book-editing job. Of course, the walls of my tenuous marriage began to show signs of strain.

Then one day, out of the blue, one of the world’s biggest publishing houses offered me a full-time job—in a real office, with real colleagues, with my own seat and computer, reading books all day. It was mind-blowing. How could I resist?

As expected, the family did not take it well. My marriage deteriorated into shouting fests and suicide attempts.

My in-laws complained to my parents about their wayward daughter who wanted to work in a petty job despite having all the money in the world. Why couldn’t I just be happy with all that I had, everyone wondered.

Within a few months, though, something happened. A colleague at work introduced me to Buddhism. That, and the idea of having my own paycheck and designation, gave me an identity, an inner strength, and an opening of the eyes. I felt like I had just been born.

Around me, things were falling apart; inside me, they were falling together for the first time in my life.

In one huge shift of the heavens and earth, on a violent September night, I walked out of my marital home with two little girls after ten years of marriage.

Thus began my life’s real journey—of court battles and ugly police-station scenes. Of being forced to stand up in front of fifty strangers and recount the most intimate details of my life. Of having the neighbors shun me for my bad fortune. Of watching my kids go through the agony of a breaking home in a conservative land. Of life without money.

Despite all of that, I was looked after. In another miraculous turn of events, I landed a job in an international women’s magazine then just launching its India edition, and my parents let me stay on in their vacant flat and assisted with housekeeping expenses.

Over the next few years, the job took me places—metaphorically and physically—as I met successful people and traveled the globe.

The “real me” began to take shape and form—almost like I was waking up after a long, deep sleep of ignorance. I began to love myself.

Divorce proceedings in India can go on for years. Despite many laws being pro-women, the scenario on the ground is potholed with patriarchal mindsets. I battled for years before putting down the guns in surrender after returning from a meditation retreat.

The miracles continued. Some time later, the husband put down his guns too and we had a smooth divorce by mutual consent.

I got my legal freedom after seven years of physical separation. And then there were even more miracles—a wonderful new life partner, a glamorous well-paying job, and an apartment of my own.

In a relatively short and intense period of time, I learnt plenty of lessons in courage and happiness:

Look inside.

An Indian teacher, TT Rangarajan, once said at a public lecture, “It’s easy to grow horizontally by acquiring more money, cars, homes. Vertical growth is when you stay in the same place but grow deeper and deeper down into yourself. It’s when you can say, ‘Five years ago, I would lose my temper in a few seconds. But now it takes ten minutes.’ This kind of growth is rarer.” But that’s the only real growth there is.

When things go wrong, my first instinct now is to look at how I am feeling, what I am thinking, and how I am going to respond. I no longer blame circumstances or other people for my sorrows. I have accepted that my happiness is my responsibility.

You cannot always change what’s outside of you, but you can change your perception of it. Oddly enough, when you change the way you look at things, the things themselves change anyway.

Detach from the results of your efforts.

A lot of internal change came about from letting go of ingrained social fears, superstitions, and doubts. I jumped into single-motherhood in a conservative society with nothing but total surrender in my heart, and faith that I would survive. And not only did I survive; I also managed to inspire several others along the way.

By letting go of what “should” happen or what “could” happen, you free up your life to various little surprises and joys. You may not lead the life you want, but you will lead a meaningful, miraculous existence. Guaranteed.

Share your story.

I guide lots of young women today who come to me with personal or professional issues. There’s no point in keeping my story to myself. Our experiences are not ours alone. They were given to us for a reason.

You, dear reader, are not going to remember my name after you shut this screen. But you will remember my story, and it will surface in your mind when you need it the most.

Practice gratitude for what is.

People tell me I have been lucky in the way things turned out in my life, but I know what it’s taken. It’s taken courage, for sure, but it’s also taken deep gratitude for the unbidden, silent miracles in my life.

Send up waves of gratitude every day for how far you’ve come. Take nothing for granted. The trick is to feel wealthy not just in your bank account, but in your heart.

Feel free to be you.

By allowing myself to be myself—even if the realization came at age thirty—I allow others to be themselves around me too.

In a society with limitless conversation taboos, I have learned that you can only fight social judgment with naked honesty. When you speak up about your life’s challenges and open yourself up to receiving care and support, you allow others to do the same.

We’re all in the same boat, undergoing the same learning process and internal struggles. We are all equally perfect in our imperfections.

Freedom lies not on pieces of legal paper or in the physical space you have around you. It lies in your mind. As long as you cling to others’ definitions of truth, beauty, and happiness, you’ll always be chained. Create your own definition. Carve your own path. Chances are, it’s going to be mind-blowing.

Photo by chaosandcreations

Avatar of Aekta Kapoor

About Aekta Kapoor

Aekta Kapoor is the editor of three lifestyle magazines in India. She blogs at 100paths.com. Follow her on Twitter @AektaKapoor.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • FionaC

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing. You really made me think about our personal experiences being something we should share. Well done on your journey so far, it is inspirational. I think maybe you should write the full story as I and I am sure many others would love to read it.
    Good things to you

  • Rohit

    Most incredible, uplifting article. I am in a similar situation and have taken a battering in life for my daughters happiness. I wish I could be courageous and make the decisions you made. Thank you for a moment of freedom.

  • Dporter

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget this post. Thank you

  • ABG

    This is wonderful and inspiring along with so many other things. Thank you kindly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586811170 Mary Kate Dallavalle

    I feel the same….this post is life changing for me. Thank you!!

  • Allie

    This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. I will always carry your inspiration with me. It has come at a good time in my life as I sit here and feel chained down, but feel my inner bird wanting to fly. Thank you again. Wishing you happiness always. xo

  • Kathy – www.yinyangmother.com

    Very inpsirational story Aekta, so glad you shared it. It makes me really question why I feel stuck at all inside myself when I don’t have the external pressures and societal expectations you faced. And I love the quote about growing deep into yourself.

  • K

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you for sharing your experiences, they are truly an inspiration. I will remember your name and your story. Wishing you and your children the very best x

  • http://twitter.com/HopePerlman Hope Perlman

    Terrific post. I like the honesty. You don’t sugarcoat how long it took you to get where you are.

  • Lisa

    Thank you for sharing your story. You’re exactly right. I don’t know nor do I need to know your name. I love and WILL remember your story. Your story relates to many. Thank you. I especially like the comment about restructuring your mind. Although a very difficult separation/divorce, the end is what absolutely MUST have happened. I am a new “better” me.

  • Searching

    Outstanding article and teaching for us all. Thank you.

  • Nelsilya Huang

    I really love your post, it’s really inspiring! I’m going to step out of my comfort zone, and yes sometimes I feel fear and doubts, but deep inside my heart somehow I know that everything will be alright. Thank you for sharing!

  • Alesha Chilton

    This post is SO inspiring. Your strength is amazing! Thank you SO much for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/taraelenaprice Tara Elena Price

    You’re right, I WILL remember your story. Especially this: “when you change the way you look at things, the things themselves change anyway.” Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring life with us! P.S. I’m subscribing to your blog, too!

  • http://twitter.com/GwynMinerva Minerva Gwyn

    I loved this post. I’m very happy for you, Aekta! I’m also in my thirties, my life is completely upside down, so it’s very helpful to read stories about those who have been through such hard times and have overcome them. :) Congratulations for your blog!

  • Sheila

    I am incredibly inspired by your COURAGE and incredibly STRONG Spirit, Aekta. Thank you so much for sharing and allowing my Light to connect to your Light in reading your Truth. Sending you love and many blessings, sweet sister….

  • frances light

    Wow, wow, wow! What an amazing story of courage and love xXx

  • abowlinglane

    Namaste, Aekta. I really needed to see your message of courage, faith, and freedom. Thank you.

  • still_learning_and_growing

    POWERFUL. This post is bound to create significant changes in the lives of its readers. I especially was struck by your last statements: “As long as you cling to others’ definitions of truth, beauty, and happiness, you’ll always be chained. Create your own definition. Carve your own path. Chances are, it’s going to be mind-blowing.” AMAZING. I actually feel like carving my own path NOW. What a courageous story – your daughters are surely blessed to have you as their mother.

  • Dochy

    Aekta, there’s only one thing I wanna tell you – You ROCK!

    I am from India and I so totally know how grueling a legal proceeding can get and most importantly the social taboos and rules! You are one amazing woman to have been so strong and won! Awesome! Kudos! :)

  • anonymous

    Very brave . I tried to leave but always went back though nothing is better I couldn’t survive alone and felt my child would suffer. But I am alone . How old are your children ?

  • Looking4theRainbow

    I, too, was married young and now at 30 have 4 children. I’m am in a horrible relationship but am also heavily involved in my local conservative Christian community. It would be very looked down upon if I walked out on my marriage. I have never worked and have no qualifications so I feel immense fear at the prospect of being financially responsible for my children. Little by little I feel my soul dying as I stay on in this relationship yet everyone on the outside tells me how lucky I am to be with my husband. I’m terribly confused but happy to read this article to discover I do have a choice. And sometimes that’s all we need to know.

  • Jeeps

    I read this ‘knowing’ the truth in it and ‘knowing’ ts my time to love myself and grow. But its easy to imagine it, not so easy to do. I keep falling back in to the old Karen because its what I’ve known for the last 45 years. I don’t want to fall back again.

  • Liz Roberts

    Thank you for this great post. I admire your courage and inner strength! What a wonderful example you provide to others. Sending you much light! Liz

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you for your thoughts :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    We ALWAYS have a choice. Even not choosing is a choice. In my country we have a saying: “God gives you children, God will give you the means to provide for them.” Never fear lack of resources. Be fearless, the resources will come.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you for your kind thoughts :) I hope so. Right now teen angst decides a lot of how ‘blessed’ they feel :-P

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you so much. I know many courageous women in India :) We find each other.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Everything WILL be alright — as they say, if it’s not a happy ending, the story isn’t over yet. :) Have a great week!

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    I wish you happiness too Allie, and I know that you have it already. Lots of love.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you Hope. What a lovely name. You live in every living heart.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Light always welcome Liz!!! Light back at you too!

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Hi FionaC and thank you for your thoughts. Yes there’s lots more to share where that came from, hehe :) Just too busy to sit and write, but I will some day :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Maybe that old Karen is so amazingly lovable and wonderful that you can’t help falling back into her again. Give yourself some credit! The old Karen has done the best she could with the resources she had. She’s brought you here. Growing is not a duty or a chore. It’s a natural outcome of discovering how wonderful you already are. Lots of love your way.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Once you know your direction and start living your truth, the universe will already set the path for you to get there. It will open up like a blooming rose. My kids are (almost) 16 and 13. :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Namaste (I bow to the light in thee), and thank you for your kind thoughts :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you thank you thank you :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you Sheila! Much love and blessings to you too :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you Minerva! I think our 30s are the best time ever of our lives! Though I think I’ll say the same for my 40s and 50s too when I get there, hehe :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you for your thoughts :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you for your appreciation Alesha!

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    That is very kind of you. My brother joked with me when I told him I write about God: “How many readers do you have, two?” At least I can now tell him I have three :-P

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Good for you! Lots of love and light.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you K, lots of love and light your way.

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank YOU Mary for reading and appreciating!

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thank you too ABG :-)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    Thanks Kathy for your kind thoughts. May you feel unstuck starting now :)

  • http://twitter.com/AektaKapoor Aekta Kapoor

    We all have our own paths, mine may not be yours. Just be true to your heart — it deserves your attention and respect for its feelings. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Grayc

    That statement and its application will live long in my life..and thats a decision i have JUST made.Thanks Aekta :-)

  • http://twitter.com/an_prita prita

    Thank you for sharing ^^ your post is full of courage , it really helps me alot :)

  • growing to love myself

    This was an amazing post. Coming from an Indian society I can see how difficult these decisions must have been for you.

  • Smita Green

    Wow..!! Out of so many posts,this one is so well written and spoken from the heart,I refuse to call it a story,but a factual truth. Many indian women and young girls are going through the same,the other confused face of modern India,which is going through a changing phase at the moment,for better,but I guess,it will take a few more decades probably,to shun old traditions which are no longer useful or beneficial,one has to remember that not all traditions are worthy ones excuse it is going on forever. Women must be given their choices by the society to be made by them. I am too living in Hong Kong and I am an Indian lady,it’s great to meet another courageous individual like you. Well done and wish you a warm good luck for your present and future…!!!

  • sade54

    I think this is a wonderful piece. Congratulations on landing in a perfect place for you. Unfortunately, I have yet to become unstuck. Intellectually I know what I could do to become whole, but just cannot get there. I will print this and keep it close at hand hoping someday I will be as courageous as you and can open myself up. Thank you – and i will remember your name.

  • Sam

    I love this article! I can relate to the feelings. I feel that this is the life I want. A great husband my gorgeous 4 girls (includes twins) but I still feel stuck. I guess what I’m trying to get at is I have everything I want and need but its not with love. Hes never home (even when hes home). I love him dearly but I love FAMILY more so it feels I am missing that piece to complete it and until I feel I have that I am going to keep feeling stuck. This stuck feeling is affecting everyone around me because I am unable to feel. Hope I made sense.

  • Princess Taaiebah :)

    I heart these words so bad <3 Thanking you with a big hug Aekta <3

  • Hassan

    Amazing and inspiring story of a hard yet beautiful journey.Loved it.Thank you for sharing your story.I can understand the difficulties you had to face in the make dominated society of the sub continent.It must have took every ounce of your courage and determination to make it through.May God bless you even more!

  • Hope

    Good for you! I’m from a conservative culture & family myself, but I’m only 18 & live in North America. I feel so lost & misplaced – you gave me hope. Things turn around, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but they will some day..

  • Pal

    Aekta this is just what I needed to read to keep myself going today and in the future! Thanks for sharing your story and being so honest about it :)

  • Vanya L. Marinova

    dear Aeeda,
    It must be incredibly hard for you to be an Indian woman with free spirit considering the limitation of your society. and it is so heroic to win the battle and to follow yourself.
    I have always wondered how comes that India is the cradle of spirituality on one hand and on another hand is to put people in so many limitations?
    Sometimes limitations motivate you to be yourself but when you are about to shut down the inner voice because you gave up on it with no hope it is hard to bring back the hope… its hard to follow the voice. you get lost in the society rules. you sank down. The more you sank, The harder you could get your pieces back together.
    I am glad you did! I am happy for you.
    Everybody deserves to be him/her self because it is our natural state of being.