Identity crisis, social unrest and beauty pagents

“Don’t wear that dress to the temple, it’s a place of worship not a place to have a fashion show”

“Learn to respect our religious places at least. You show no respect for your culture”

“You’re a disgrace to our culture. I bet you’re only helping out at the temple to earn points for your pagent”

With these insults hurled at me, I get in my car and drive down to the local temple for some quiet and peace of mind. I have no pagent sash on me. I never intended to take it with me. 

Today, just like any other day, I was going to be just another helper at the temple. But today was different because I was going there after a long session of self talk.

Proponents of self-leadership place a huge importance of replacing dysfunctional self talk, beliefs and imagery with constructive thought patterns in order to boost performance. In order to replace old thought patterns, one must identify and interrogate first. That is exactly what I did.

I ended the self talk session with this idea: “One person’s idea of being Sri Lankan is not my idea of being Sri Lankan” and “This person’s ideas have distanced me from my own culture”.

I have often seeked refuge in churches, mosques and mandirs/kovils when I wished to experience peace of mind and a connection to something greater than me. Being the spiritual gypsie I am, this was liberating; having exchanges in my own way and my own time. 

I didn’t step into the Sri Lankan buddhist temples because of the discomfort and judgment one person would place. Judgements on my attire, my intention for visiting the temple and my faith in Buddhism itself.

Over time, my discomfort with one person’s criteria of being “Sri Lankan” translated into my own distorted views of Sri Lankans as a general group and cemented my outsider position to it all. 

Taking a look at the current political landscape of Sri Lanka, I can’t help seeing similarities between myself and the minorities there. Regardless of living and working in Sri Lanka, contributing to the social,  cultural and economic landscape there, our Muslim countrymen are considered less “Sri Lankan” than a Sinhalese person.

Being a finalist for the Miss Sri Lanka Australia pagent has made me think of all these things quite deeply. How can I be a representative for Sri Lanka when my cultural identity feels so fragile?

Well, I can take an empowering step and craft my own idea of being a Sri Lankan. I may be outspoken, opinionated , non-comformist but I have Sri Lankan blood in my veins. I may not be patriotic and support the majority views of rising rationalism but I am still Lankan. I may have left home, lived alone and that may not cater to the conservative sri lankan view but it does cater to the more liberal Sri Lankans. I may be tatted up and have regular urges to chop off my hair, but that hair is the only thing I share with my grandmother.

I came back from the temple at 2AM. During my stay, I didn’t feel like praying so I didn’t. I did something more enjoyable and fulfilling ; making flower arrangements with ladies aged 27 to 60, who were laughing loud, kind, accepting and as curious about me as I was about them. 

I would never have experienced this sort of community connection had I stayed away, my mind clouded by someone else’s ideas of how I should be. We all want to feel a sense of belonging, but we cannot feel it or extend our hand in friendship if we remain stuck in our outdated thought patterns.

Amen. 

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