Between the stimulus and the response is wisdom.
Aamir, 51. From London. Married, Dad, Grandad. Entrepreneur.
How are you?
Life is great, there’s not much structure to my day. I walk the dog and that’s about the only thing I do that’s routine. I sold my business last year so I suppose I’m semi retired. Everyday is different. I have taken on a non executive role for the NHS - it’s enough work that I have something to do.
I like fluidity and not too keen on structure. I have engineered my life towards that. I knew I didn’t want to be a nine to five person. I am bad at turning up on time. I wanted my own business and I am massively focused and driven but as I’ve got older it became a constant treadmill rather than fun. I wanted a more variety in my work life. I didn’t want to be full time running a business. It’s bonkers. It’s over the top, short term and crazy, especially in retail.
How do you see yourself?
Honestly I think I have a very ambivalent view about myself. The logical part of me says I am a nice person. I do good things for people but the other side of me is - you’re an arsehole! I am quite self critical. Almost certainly it’s come from my parents. My mum has always been very critical. I put myself down a lot but equally I am grateful for what for my life. I am very privileged.
I think my parents thought they were doing their best for their kids, they were driven. If I came home and said to my father ‘I’ve got 97% today in my exam’, he’d say ‘what happened to the other 3%?’. It has made me strive all the time - trying to prove that I’m not a failure. I’m constantly poking myself. I could tip over the edge by being too self critical.
What do you think about marriage?
We’ve been together 18 years, married for 8. I have always needed someone in my life. I’ve always been permanently in a relationship since I was a teenager. I think it’s really important to share your life with someone. Having said that we are not very coupley. We have a life away from each other too. We both have our own interests.
What do you think about children?
When I met my partner his daughter was 14. I became the Step Dad. When she was 21 she had a baby and the two of them moved in with us. It felt like it was the right thing to do. Being a Step Dad has been tricky at times. I am the boring dad with the boring dad questions but I’ve always loved kids. I’m not good at the daily upbringing of them though. Being tied to a child and the daily structure and routine would drive me mad but being a Grandad and dropping in and out is great.
What are your dreams?
I would like to start practising meditation and go on a yoga retreat. “It’s not about touching your toes it’s about what you learn on the way down”. (laughing) My friend does a 10 day silent retreat. I think that would be incredible. I’d like to try it. Maybe in a monastery somewhere. I’ve never done a festival mainly because of the chemical toilets but I would equally like to do a hippy Earth Mother kind of thing too.
What’s your most memorable experience?
I love scuba diving and snorkelling. We were on holiday in the Maldives and went swimming with a whale shark. This particular day there was a moment when I was completely on my own. Away from the other tourists I was swimming next to this enormous whale shark. It was like swimming next to a goddess. At that point I felt completely insignificant and blissful. Whale sharks travel really slowly, the same speed at which we swim. This enormous head and tiny eyes just drifting along in this massive ocean next to me. I didn’t want to leave the water EVER. If you’d said to me you can be a fish for the rest of your life, I would have. I couldn’t get out of the water - they had to haul me out. It was an incredible feeling of bliss and calmness next to this force of nature where I suddenly felt unimportant, nothing mattered. It wasn’t about me or anything else - it was magical. We live such artificial lives you realise - this is real, it’s nature. I was just a drop in the ocean.
Who or what inspires you?
Time on my own wandering. When you allow yourself to wonder without an agenda both physically and mentally. I want more time to do that.
What do you think about Life?
In summary I love life even though I have been through some shitty times. There are ups and downs but I think it’s really important to be grateful and look at the positives in life.
I’ve always had a mild form of depression. I definitely have had suicidal thoughts. It’s not the process of committing suicide but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be on top of a building and want to jump. It’s almost a joyous feeling. The problem with depression, it’s unfathomable. It becomes like walking though treacle. You can’t pin point it. It’s not logical, it just like bad weather. There are things you can do to make it better and worse; drinking, bad sleep ,etc can make you spiral. Keep the physical body working, exercise. I do think dwelling on the negative or being grateful for the positive is a choice. When you’re in that mood it’s very easy to become self obsessed, narcissistic and woe is me. Your world closes in. I think too much. I have to try and stop. Sitting in a darkened room on my own constantly dwelling is not the answer. Take time to do something for other people. I would never press that suicide button because it would awful for the people I’d left behind. So much of life is the reaction we have to the way things are presented. Between the stimulus and the response is wisdom.
What brings you down?
My mother pushes my buttons. My family has been a constant source of negativity. They set expectations like a lot of Asian parents do. I have felt my whole life as a disappointment to them. No matter what I did I could never reached their expectations. In our community the focus is on family responsibility and not your individual attitude. It’s about being a responsible citizen towards your family. It’s very suffocating. You always have to fit in. It’s all about what your friends think. The Asian community would say Western culture is lonely and selfish. You’ll never be lonely in the Asian community, they will be there ALL the time. It was bad enough that my character didn’t fit in but when I ‘came out’ when I was 21, it was awful. My parents fake friends were homophobic and my parents cared what they thought. They couldn't get over it. There were so many rows.
What’s your view on faith?
My family are devout muslim. They never forced it on us but I was definitely brought up in that environment. I don’t know why but from the age of about 11 I rejected it. It’s all bollocks. The whole man made part of religion - it’s just rubbish. That’s one half of my brain but there is another part where I have always been interested and fascinated by spirituality and religion. I’ve studied religions. In fact I probably know more about Islam than most Muslims.
I have a belief in trust, love, compassion and empathy. These are the core of what being a good person is. If my faith is anything at all then it’s to take joy in the people I have around me. I deeply dislike the word faith. Faith has an element of being unreasoned and that’s the problem.
What have you taken from this experience?
I think this is a great thing to do but then I’m a narcissist and I like talking about myself. I love this sort of process. Self awareness, what makes you tick, getting other peoples views. I would love to be a fly on the wall to hear what other people say.