Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Month: April 2015

The Myth of Doing It On Your Own

Alone

“Suffering is wasted when we suffer entirely alone.” -Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, p.85

There is a myth in our modern culture that we got to make it on our own. A month ago, I was working with a bright young man in his early twenties. Tommy (not his real name) has  a passion for the arts and literature. He hasn’t been able to sustain meaningful employment. He was struggling with bouts of depressed mood, existential crisis, and what I would call “analysis paralysis.” We hit it off well when we started, as we shared our deep love for the creative field. But I had a sense that he wasn’t too keen to continue. I wasn’t the first therapist he has seen. It was under the insistence of his mother to seek help.  I broached this openly with him, asking if he would like to collaborate further in our work together to help him out of this rut, and he confirmed my hunch. He went on to tell me something important, that is pervasive in our modern culture: “Daryl, thanks, but no thanks. I think I got to do this on my own.” I began to understand that this wasn’t just an issue with not wanting to seek help in therapy, but rather, he was buying that myth of independence across all aspects of his life; he was alone. He had no help in guiding, coaching, and feedbacking with him in his literary work.  He had no pastoral or community to walk with him in his journey of faith. He has cut off from friends since his was bullied in secondary school.

I suspect that this notion that we got to make it on our own is fueled by what we read in self-help books, popular media, and maybe even in biographical accounts of iconic personalities. When we think of successful people in the limelight, we are enamored by their achievements. They make even inspire us to persist in our dreams and aspirations. What we fail to realise is that we often only see the fruits of their labor. We see their outputs and not their inputs. What we also fail to see is the community of others that has helped them to reach great heights. In turn, we begin to value the myth of independence.

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What we fail to realise is that we often only see the fruits of their labor. We see their outputs and not their inputs.

~ Continue reading

Sacred Places: A Space to Be

 

Attic window

Places affect us. In the buzzing ambience of my home country Singapore, most public spaces have a drone of chatter from the coffee-shops (the orders of your “Kopi-O!” are yelled out by the waiter to the person at the counter making your coffee), a pan-zooming effect of motor vehicle, or the chimes of bells and announcements from the public transport system. Even when I am home in my apartment, my family and I are never spared from buzz. Like most average Singaporeans, we live in pricey Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, which are often stacked high and packed close to each other. You can either be entertained by the commotion of your neighbor in the next block, feel part of the percussive trance of sacred ceremonies of the hindu temple, or go to the Chinese temple next-door to watch the Chinese Opera performing for the dead (Humans are also invited). We can appreciate this necessity for closeness, due to the scarcity of land – the smallest country in the world (and also the most expensive city to live in).

The price is high. It is not just the exposure to prolonged ambient noise that can cause a heightened stress response (see Julian Treasure TED talk on how sound affects us), or the density of people that we are confronted with on a daily basis. There is also a lack of space that we can rejuvenate, replenish, and hold us quietly in a disquieting world. I hear this often with people that I work with in therapy. After exploring with them about their troubles, I ask them what do they need at that particular point. I hear them say things like, “I just need to re-charge,” “I need to go somewhere to relax,” or “I just need some peace.” Continue reading

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