A People Person in a Misanthropic Age

Aashna and her father.

Aashna and her father.

How do we see ourselves? What are our deepest desires and insecurities? Do we have a purpose here? For Aashna Dayal, expressing her emotions help her answer life's big questions. Her world is bright because she’s formed profound connections with people who support and understand her. "And I'm always open for more!" she proclaims.

"I am almost always so very happy," the Windsor native tells me. "I think I experience emotions on very polar wave lengths, euphoric highs and then crushing lows when I feel sadness."

Known in the local community as a force for good, it's hard to picture Aashna down in the dumps. Whether she's cooking a warm comfort meal or lightening the mood in a group setting, she is indubitably one of the most thoughtful and emotionally available people I've encountered.

@aashyd exudes a sort of pensive contentment that isn't characterized by passivity; rather, a somewhat goofy charm. She employs a unique vocabulary, which is best viewed on Twitter dot com (where she never skimps on the exclamation marks)! A veritable ball of energy, she admits she never wants to stagnate.

Her signature move? Conscious gratitude. According to her, it's the key to happiness. "I've been beyond happy and so grounded ever since I started to practice conscious gratitude," she shares. "Just taking moments to appreciate who and what we have. It starts to become habitual."

We don't have to be Oscar winners to acknowledge the good people in our lives. When given a platform of any kind, Aashna uses it to profusely thank others. Even in this interview, she thanks her family and friends for their willingness to exert themselves (mentally and physically) to care for her. "I'm so very grateful and lucky to be surrounded by such kindness always," she says.

Throughout the following interview, she alternates between weighing her words and emanating tenderness without hesitation. "I feel sorrow for people who don't spend time with their emotions learning what makes them tick," she says. "The way we feel things, and what we take away from that is a grand learning experience. I've come to love my emotions very deeply."

But was the twenty three year old always so at peace with herself?

Aashna decided that feeling uncomfortable in certain situations can be a catalyst for growth. "I think there's a time most people experience in their life where they're finding themselves or just kind of putting on this front," she shares. "I felt that sort of thing very deeply as an adolescent … so unsure of what was really me, I suppose? It's intensely fulfilling to get to a point where you know yourself well and deeply and can be that honestly and purely with people."

She says she finally feels comfortable in all the ways she represents herself now - from the clothing she wears to her mannerisms. "It's so interesting to me how that sense of self starts to develop in you," she adds sincerely, as though observing a houseplant that received just the right amount of sunlight. Keep reading to learn more.  //

RS: What is it that you do?
AD: What is it that I do?! What a big question! Not to sound cliché, but what I do and who I am are two very different things. I think many people default to "what they do" as an excuse for who they are. It's the first question we jump to when we meet people or are getting to know people.

RS: That's true. Even in France… "Qu'est-ce que tu fais dans la vie?"
AD: What I do is merely a means to sustain living I think. In a nutshell I work at your local Zumiez (sk8 or die!!!) and have dabbled in teaching at the college.

RS: How does capitalism affect you?
AD: Isn't that a large question… it's our societal structure. I think capitalism is wholly unethical so in some ways I am like hell ya Marx!! What startles me is that we're in an era of hyper-capitalism. I don't like the idea that my inherent human value is any more or less depending on my career. Capitalism is a cloud that surrounds me and my jobs serve as a means to an end. I hate that I always feel bound to working and how much money I am or am not making. I also hate that there is privilege and opportunities that are available to few. None of us are more or less deserving of anything, yet our circumstances allow us to thrive ... or to suffer.

RS: I've always felt the same way - that our inherent value as humans should not come from the work we perform.
AD: At its worst, capitalism sets us to value ourselves and others based on their monetary merits, pushes us to think of our time in terms of money, and serve only ourselves in the work we do.

RS: Or serve only corporations!
AD: Currently I’ve only lived through capitalism. How can we overhaul a society completely and have it still be functional? Even political parties that agree on the same capitalist philosophy are so polarizing, so what would be the case if we were to change society so completely? I’m not sure if in our lifetime it would be possible, but I do think hyper-capitalism is reaching its peak and something is going to give, whether that is the finite resources we use, the exploited working class, or the consumers who cannot afford the goods. At times it all feels a bit too much to me, so hopefully one day I make myself move to a remote place and live on a little self-sustaining farm where I will be unaffected by all those parts of capitalism I dislike.

RS: So for now what's your biggest passion?
AD: My biggest passion lies in putting energy into being the person I want to be, and to be that person for other people. I think the connections we can forge with other people is the basis of humanity. My biggest focus is on being a person who puts kindness at the forefront of their every action.

RS: Besides practicing gratitude, how do you stay so open (and maintain those euphoric highs you mentioned)?
AD: Most times the things people do that upset us are as a result of something going on with them or just ignorance. Trying to understand people and forgiving them for their humanity does wonders in not harbouring ill feelings or anger or jealousy, which definitely helps keep me happy and positive.

RS: Do you ever worry that people will interpret your positive attitude as disingenuous (or a form of irony)?
AD: Yes, I do think there may be people who interpret my positivity as disingenuous. At the end of the day, I know who I am and who I'm trying to be. There are many people who will not try to understand me, and if they aren't trying to, then why would I exert myself in trying to prove that to them?

RS: True. What kind of people do you hang out with?
AD: People I feel proud of and whose company fulfills me. I admire all of my friends in different ways, but look for people who are genuine, compassionate, honest, and kind.

”Just exploring Essex County. Adventures don’t always have to be super far and I love taking them places!” - Aashna on Erieau

”Just exploring Essex County. Adventures don’t always have to be super far and I love taking them places!” - Aashna on Erieau

Aashna’s parents.

Aashna’s parents.

Aashna at age 8.

Aashna at age 8.

RS: Can you tell me about your upbringing?
AD: I think the environment I grew up in affected the way I work in general, because I come from a family of immigrants and am a first-generation Canadian. My parents always raised me in a somewhat critical way, in the sense that there was always room for improvement. They also instilled in me a very important focus on being responsible for my every action. I understand that this way of being raised is tough for some people (or they may find it unkind) but I think that it has really pushed me into always striving to do the best I can and taking pride in everything I do. I'm beyond grateful to have been raised in this environment because I've been pushed to be independent since I was young.

RS: And that really affected your interest in food as well.
AD: I was allowed (and encouraged) to cook and use a stove since I was probably 7. My parents have always been phenomenal cooks and do everything from scratch, from making their own spices to just doing things the old fashioned way like making their own samosas by hand. I think that's why I have such a strong affiliation to food and try my best to cook in a way that I focus on doing things the right way and not just the quick or easy way. I think I've been so very lucky to grow up the way I did and that my parents just modeled to my brother and I to be independent and capable, but also stressed the importance of kindness. My mom always told me growing up, “You never say no to sharing food or water with someone,” and that openness and generosity I see in them has left me inspired for life.

RS: To you, cooking is something that is meant to be shared.
AD: I enjoy it because I enjoy the moments I get to spend with people with that food. It's creating something with passion and love because you want to take care of those people in your life for even a brief moment.  My favourite recipes are really ones that are communal and encourage sharing, with family-style plating. Let's all eat together, and be encouraged to touch our food and have fun with it and enjoy it fully as well as the people we are with right now.

RS: What's the role of language to you?
AD: I technically speak two languages. I can speak English to a degree of effectiveness, and I can speak Hindi/Gujarati to a much lesser degree of effectiveness. And I understand/speak French in probably the most rudimentary of ways. The depth to which our lives are affected by language is grand. I put a lot of conscious thought into the way I communicate with people, how I word things, how my message can be interpreted by the other party. When all I have to make sure you and I see eye to eye is my voice, I must make sure that I take full responsibility for that.

RS: What did you take away from your communications degree?
AD: Being more democratic in my approaches and appreciating and even encouraging this idea that most times the answers really are not in binaries. The fact that this is how we socialize and connect to people is really just awesome.... like why wouldn't I want to hone in on these capabilities that allow me to connect deeper and more with people?

RS: You make me want to be less of a misanthrope.
AD: I am human... I exist to be human among other humans. We have this personal responsibility, that we can choose to accept or rebel against, to be conscious of the ways in which we affect people. Every time I smile at someone or I speak to them, it's a ripple effect in their life. Unbeknownst to me is the exact degree to which it has affected them, but it always does.

RS: You said, "Failure to me is any act or behaviour I've engaged in that isn't rooted in compassion.” You're quite mindful of your approach. We're constantly affecting other people.
AD: Through our activities and body language, and our words, and who we project ourselves to be in person and on social media. It's really just mind-blowing to me how intertwined we are and how much we can affect each other. And I can always work to be a better communicator, and in turn, better at understanding people and being understood. At our core we as people are just looking to be understood and validated. How can I work more to understand people in their intricacies and encourage them to be themselves around me? Foster a feeling and movement of open communication that is welcoming and genuine. Let them feel ease breathing and at speaking and being. I don’t want you to be anyone else in this moment other than yourself.

RS: I think you do a great job of facilitating that, online and off.  
AD: Thank you, what a generous compliment coming from someone who I look up to in many ways!

Wistful Aashna hiking a live volcano park in Costa Rica.

Wistful Aashna hiking a live volcano park in Costa Rica.

RS: Thank you so much!
AD: I like feelings of intimacy yet openness... which is quite the juxtaposition I understand. I hope for you to feel here and right now with me, yet free to do and be whatever it is you desire.

RS: What are your favourite places?
AD: Places, mostly outdoors but can be indoors as well, that make you feel as though it is just you and whoever you're with. For example just going on a hike with someone, and it feels as if it just you two in that moment, in a place that is just beautiful and natural and vast and mysterious. I suppose that has more to do with the person than the place, but I feel so full and deeply satisfied in those moments. Being alone can be nice too though, and I like places where I feel a resounding fullness and contentment. Like letting your chest rest and breathing out, feeling as if there is nowhere else you should be but there.

RS: So nature is really important to you.
AD: I love to be outdoors. If I have that chance to go camping or hiking, I'm there. In nature I see who we are at the core. It is so grounding and humbling to be out in the world recognizing that this is the space we inhabit. It reminds you of all that there is in this world and that we are such small people in a land so big. I always feel like my stresses and worries are very fixable and small in those moments. My favourite travel destinations have been anywhere I've been camping. I feel so alive and so free and so myself in those moments, as if the space and place I am in in those moments is exactly where I am most true.

RS: What do you find romantic?
AD: When you are kind to me it makes my heart feel full. Knowing that someone is just thinking of you and wishing the purest of intentions upon you feels so lovely, it makes me giddy. Love is so powerful, it can break us and heal us all at once. I don't really know what I would live for other than the people in my life I love, and will love.

// twitter / instagram / the good food crew

At the beach in Costa Rica with a dog named Susan.

At the beach in Costa Rica with a dog named Susan.

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